A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, January 16, 2006

Elegy for a Master Teacher

One of my dear friends has decided she's going to try to call it quits in the classroom after this year, and I am mourning. If you care about students and about excellence in education, you should mourn too. She is a master teacher who has trained other teachers in methods to teach one of the most underserved subjects: math. She mentors and encourages and herds kids along the road of life with equal parts mothering and steel. She does countless tasks for her district gratis. She has further added stars to her crown in Heaven by teaching in a middle school, which I believe is one of the toughest places to teach, having done it for 14 years of my career. I have seen the grass on the other side, and let me tell you, the grass in the middle schools these days is sere and withered.

She is leaving because the middle school teachers have been told that if their district doesn't make AYP, it is THEIR FAULT. The TEACHERS' FAULT. I could speculate as to the reason why such a message has been handed down in such a preremptory fashion-- it could be the principals who have a collective five years in the classroom who are yes-people to the higher bureaucracy (also light-years removed from a classroom, much less one that faced the high-stakes testing game). It could be the final deathmatch of accountability versus the feel-good mentality of the middle school philosophy as practiced 'round here, which so stresses affective development over academic development. I remember it well: the accusative "don't fail the kids" by assessing their performance accurately; being constantly asked, "Isn't there any way you could have fewer failures?"(NOT that we retained students even if they failed every single subject!)-- I mean, did it ever occur that we fail our students by not holding them accountable? It could be the fact that since these students have never been held accountable for their actual performance, they don't give a jolly ding-dang about these high stakes tests and so do not actually try (if rotten grades on their transcripts don't faze them, do you think a standardized test matters?) It could be that the early adolescent has other fish to fry than to write a ridiculous essay about early washing machines. It could be the fact that it takes TWO FULL WEEKS to give these tests and that is too much for attention-span limited middle-schoolers to bear.

She and her colleagues stay at school until 9 pm, and then they take work home. They plan. They assess. They write assessments. They grade assessments. They learn new non-sequential ways to teach which fly in the face of reason and pedagogy just because some high-paid tsunami of consultants says so. When she has finally asked for some rationality to be utilized in the workload assigned to her and her colleagues, she has been rebuffed without a second thought from the ring-kissing Capo Great and All-Powerful Oz-- pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain! future superintendent principal.

One just can't continue in this path and survive. And so she will be buying back years in the retirement system which she spent staying home with her own children so that she can retire while she still has her health and at least some of her joie de vivre. She does this with sorrow in her heart, but basically, she is gnawing off her own leg to get out of the trap. She loved the teaching, once. She loves the kids still-- and not just that, she attempts to hold them accountable to actually LEARN something.

She will be gone next year, playing with her grandbabies and finding less stressful ways to pay off that mortgage. And she's not the only one. And after this exodus, who will lead these kids through the wilderness of early adolescence? Not administrators who are either barely out of adolescence themselves or who are clinging to the frayed edge of senescence. Who will they get to take her place?

Who CAN take her place?

12 Comments:

At 1/16/06, 8:58 AM, Blogger Amerloc said...

That's a good part of why my humans bailed a couple years earlier than they otherwise would have. Neither of them regrets the decision - life is more of a dance now for them than a desparate trudge.

If your friend's decision is indeed set in stone, I would urge her to enjoy being ten-feet-tall and bulletproof this final semester. Once everything was set and secure, Alpha had more fun that last semester than he'd had in years.

 
At 1/16/06, 9:12 AM, Blogger anybody said...

I can see what you describe comin' 'round the corner in my part of the world. Generally speaking, the American public has no faith in our system. NCLB is designed to ensure that schools fail.

These are dark times for educators, but then again one could argue that it's always been that way.

 
At 1/16/06, 10:16 AM, Anonymous Jeri said...

Would you please suggest to your friend that she try the private sector? We need her!

Private schools, while they don't offer the salary or benefit package of public school, do offer other benefits. Families choose the school, so there is great cooperation and focus at home to support what students are given at school. Many students are very aware of the sacrifices their parents are making and so they apply themselves diligently. And math teachers, even part-time ones, are GOLDEN.

This might be a way for your friend to continue to have an impact and to use her skills.

 
At 1/16/06, 3:40 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Sad. But I don't blame her. Or any other teacher that decides to exit this whirling puke-inducing ride now known as NCLB. As for your school leadership telling their teacher's "ITS YOUR FAULT", what can you expect from administrators. "Those who can, TEACH, those who can't teach, Administrate" I wish your friend well. And a Happy New Life!

 
At 1/16/06, 9:21 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Amerloc, I hate the fact that your humans are out of the biz, too. We need them!

Donna, the American public are meant to have no faith in our system so that millionaires can get tax breaks for sending their kids to private schools the rest of us can't afford, vouchers or no vouchers. It's a set-up-- and the public is biting!

Jeri, she may teach at a parochial school-- she has before, which is another thing that put her behind the 8-ball in terms of retirement.

And Polski, they're not MY leadership-- I saw that little weenie that is the principal on the horizon, and I BAILED. Call me a coward, but I didn't need that snivelling little worm in my life on top of everything else.

 
At 1/17/06, 12:38 PM, Anonymous k said...

Who can replace her?

ak! It looks like me.

As in I am half way through a masters in teaching degree (set up for those of us with bachelors in other subjects and going back to school after years of raising kids - in my case).

Kind of scary. I'm spending all this money to take on this job. And I want to teach middle school. What am I thinking?!?!?!

 
At 1/17/06, 7:24 PM, Blogger Janet said...

This post is near and dear to me. So much so that I've been trying to compose something along the same lines. Now I feel like just hyperlinking and naming the post,
"Yeah, What She Said".

 
At 1/17/06, 9:38 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

k: I love the fact that you're willing to jump into the breach.

Janet: Why thanks very much!

 
At 1/19/06, 10:51 PM, Blogger Teaching Truth said...

Kicked the tires, lit the fires and slammed the throttle to wide open as I escaped the life sucking gravity of the death dance that education id doing with state mandadted testing. Who was I? A sixteen year veteran with a master's in my subject area, a national fellowship and teacher-scholar recognition,and National Board Certification - all of which earned me the opportunity to have NO choice in where I taught or how I taught. Who am I now? A respected professional able to shape the standards and practices of my profession with the blessings of my boss and a salary that exceeds the maximu I could've earned if I stayed another 15 years. Godspeed to your friend

 
At 1/20/06, 7:41 PM, Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

No one will take her place, and that is the sad thing. I am very happy actually that she finally decided to leave. I am sure someone talented like her will be able to find something better. Every time I hear of a good teacher joining the exodus, I think of that line in the film _The Shawshank Redemption_ where Red speaks about the bird that flies away, "I have to remind myself some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that more drab and empty that they're gone."

I think of this because I ask how much more do professionals have to tolerate before they finally say "enough," before they realize they can do better. And before someone snaps, let me note that I have a high respect for those teachers still in the trenches. I was one of them once before I said enough. Teaching is one of the higher callings in our society, yet society treats it no better than a prison. Between the bars of the educracy, connected parents, misplaced priorities (can we say millions of dollars for a football field while kids can't read, for instance?), the poor pay when compared to other professions (the book _Teachers Have It Easy_ discusses this very well),and so on, I left, though I stayed in education, just a different level. I bet many more will gradually leave. That's probably what it will take for some serious reform to actually happen: to be faced with a situation where no one serious or good will be willing to step in a classroom. Those who remain have my admiration, but I have to ask, how long before they decide to leave too?

P.S. I found this through the Carnival of Education. Best, and keep on blogging.

 
At 1/21/06, 10:16 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And once again, I wonder if further destroying the schools by driving out seasoned veterans who don't need this kind of hassle in their lives wasn't one of the goals all along.

God, I HATE being this paranoid.

 
At 1/24/06, 2:12 AM, Anonymous nancy said...

It is bittersweet to read these posts and perhaps it's okay to leave one of my own. I joyfully got a teaching degree, raised 4 children, and started substituting to help pay the college bills. One year I took a long term job and spent 60-80 hours a week re-training myself on current curriculum and the usual teaching tasks. My principal was encouraging, supportive and complimentary about my work. Unfortunately she retired and though I was rehired by the new principal, from almost day one nothing I did was right. One of my colleagues told me at the hiring meeting that the principal really wanted a "new shiny penny" for the job, but the team that had worked with me the year before pressed for my rehire. How can I go from being great at what I do, and the next year being awful? Did the union help? No, they didn't even have time for a meeting about it. I'm back to subbing, but looking for another line of work. Trouble is, I love the kids, the work, and other teachers and don't want to have to start all over in another profession since I'm not that far from retirement age. This is piddley stuff compared to the big picture, but it's just one more stick on the pile for how amazingly random the system is. Thanks for reading.

 

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