A teacher’s resignation letter published by the Wapo:
My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.
I don’t know where this magical land of quasi-professors creating their own curriculum out of their own academic brilliance ever existed outside of a movie like Dead Poets Society. And that’s the problem: this was a very elite, very WASPy world. For every teacher that was capable of pulling off this feat, and there were and are many, in a school like some that I attended, there were two that simply handed us dittoed sheets of crap.
It’s not that I think that testing and reform are everything (or anything) they claim to be. It’s not that I don’t think that teachers shouldn’t be treated as professionals. It’s not that I don’t think that there are problems with one-size-fits-all mentalities in education.
But I don’t disagree with these things on the basis of a past that didn’t exist.
After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.
I think Mr. Conti maybe is experiencing a nostalgia for an idealism he once had, but I don’t want to deconstruct him too much. What he ought to realize is that it’s not just testing that’s the problem. It’s not testing that has created a conformist mentality in our schools. When public schools were invented in Prussia in an emerging German nation-state, this is exactly what they were supposed to do. We adopted the model almost wholesale.
Of course, the elites in the East went to private schools where they had less hamburger and more filet and got to spend more time convincing themselves that years of indulgence in the existential meaning of Hamlet’s failure to man up is a priority in an impoverished world.
I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings.
Ahh, the accursed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics! God forbid we train more of these people! What we need is more waiters at the local Italian restaurant who can talk to me about Proust when they take my drink order and less people who can build bridges, cure disease, understand the massive data-deluge that pervades our world in 2013, and land probes on Mars!
Assuming we have not moved to eliminate the humanities (which is true; we have not), where exactly is the error in prioritizing fields that benefit society instead of the individual? Maybe you can have a more authentic individual encounter with the universe through these means, but does it really make you a better contributor to society? (Not that people who study these things can’t contribute, but does this knowledge in and of itself do so? A little, but not as much as STEM.)
It’s unclear if his criticism of one-size fits all is simply with respect to the curricular axis or whether it is a criticism of not separating students by ability level or whether it’s not separating his school from somewhere else where a standard curriculum would be an improvement. It’s a multi-headed monster, fighting against one-size fits all.
Teachers should be paid more money. Probably something like twice what they’re paid. Any capitalist would agree that this would increase the demand and improve the supply like magic. There are a lot of “shoulds” in education.
But most of them ignore the underlying social reality: we have great inequality. Education doesn’t fix it on its own, but it helps. We have a job market where college graduates are stealing jobs from teenagers at McDonalds to pay off student loans and are living at home until later and later in their lives. One of the most popular features of Obamacare was letting “kids” (i.e. mid-20s) stay on their parents health insurance for one more year!
Try walking into a room full of people with English degrees who graduated since 2008 and you have a corps ready for revolution, not a bunch who are totally stoked on their artistic self.