Sunday, June 12, 2011

Teacher Frustration - We're Losing Great Teachers

Last week I wrote that I'm the problem with education.  It was a post in which I expressed that teachers should spend less time complaining about things they cannot control and more time focusing on what they can do better.  That post created more conversation, debate, and discussion than any other post I've written this far.  One of the conversations I had was so meaningful and illuminating, that I felt I had to share it.

After school one day, a teacher shared that our current culture of standardized testing and pressure to "teach to the test" makes it almost impossible for those in our profession who want to be great teachers to do so.  She explained how she wants to teach her students essential skills like critical thinking, responsibility, and collaboration, but is instead forced to teach what will be on the tests that her students will have to take.  Even if she wanted to pursue something her students find interesting or important, she can't without risking some of her students failing the all-important test, which leads to the majority of her students being totally unengaged.  
fickr/Zach Klein

Basically, she complained that she is forced to teach content instead of teaching students, and this makes her job increasingly frustrating to the point that she may not be able to stay in the profession.  

I must stress here that this is an excellent teacher with whom I was talking.  This particular teacher is meticulous in her lesson planning, cares deeply about her students, routinely gives up her own time to help her students in any way she can, and is well respected by all who know her.  This is the kind of teacher that every parent would want their child to have.  This is the kind of teacher that we cannot afford to lose.  

Yet, I believe that she expressed a feeling that many in our profession are sharing right now.  We want to do what's best for our students.  We're desperate to make school meaningful and relevant for them.  We're frustrated because it's almost impossible without being almost insubordinate to administrators who are forced by the current laws to demand test results over anything else, including the very things that make school relevant and meaningful.  

As I said in a previous post, the most important things we do in school can't be measured on a test.  Show me someone who disagrees, and I'll show you someone who doesn't know what's important.

Great teachers are being forced out of teaching because they are being forced to do things in their classrooms that they know are detrimental to students.  As Sir Ken Robinson would say, we are educating the creativity and passion out of our students.  Our students believe that what we teach them in school will have no impact on their lives, and that the time they spend in our classrooms is a waste of their time.

Unfortunately, they are pretty much right. 

What's worse, teachers who want to change that feel that they can't.  Almost every teacher I know went into education because they thought they could make a difference for the next generation.  If you take that away from them, what's left?  

If we don't dramatically change what we're doing, I'm afraid we're going to find out.  


  1. Your post is so relevant that it touches the absolute heart of today's teacher.
    As a high school Special Ed. Teacher I keep coming back to the question, "what's best for this student?" Despite what's best for Dylan or Ryan or Meg or Cole or...the overwhelming edict is to get them to pass the Regents or for SWD (students with disabilities), RCT exams. Even RCTs are difficult for students with language or some processing problems. Now, NYSED in its infinite wisdom has eliminated the RCT exams for the students entering 9th grade during 2011-2012, an action "threatened" a decade or so ago. We'll have more students with IEP (e.g. USELESS) diplomas in four years than we ever anticipated. My heart aches- for NYS teachers, kids and their parents.

  2. Do you think the change to Common core standards will help or hurt? It seems to me the common core will allow us to dig deeper into concepts which may help with this frustration.

    1. Kari, I would like to think the common core will help but it is not really about the curriculum but about the assessment. What will be assessed and how it will be assessed will ultimately determine what is taught. We test what is easily measurable, we teach what we test. For many teachers now student performance is linked to evaluation and even salary. Putting more pressure on the teaching for the tests. Until the assessments are known the 'true curriculum' is not known.

  3. First, thank you for introducing me to Sir Ken Robinson! His books are now on my "to read" list! My comment is in the form of questions about the arts (creativity!) in our schools: How/when are they scheduled? How much time is allotted to them? Budget? Do they even exist in your school? I love Albert Einstein's quote: "I get the most joy out of my violin, I often think in music, I see my life in terms of music." I heard a university commencement speaker years back who believed that primary grades should be centered around the arts and play! I vote for him!

  4. COMMON CORE IS WHAT NEEDS TO GO! This stuff is removing art, creativity and even putting skewed history into things. No one does math the way that CCSI standards are teaching it. I was a school teacher in the public system and quit after five years because I saw this coming once No Child Left Behind was implemented. It's worse than I thought it would be in many ways. I homeschool my own two children and they are getting the chance to explore interest, read, create and dive in with what we do. Until the system gets rid of this common core mess, gets big business OUT of education and basically takes full control of education away from the government as a whole and puts it back into classrooms and the districts our future as a society is doomed where literacy is concerned and we are going to lose the people that can make a difference towards better standards and change in the classroom.

  5. I have been a general music, band director in upper NYS for 31 years...a subject that kids have always gravitated to for creative release. I am getting out of the public school this June not because I am tired of teaching but because I feel I can no longer be true to myself or my students...I simply can't teach band, prepare for performances and do justice to the expectation of teaching Math and ELA as well in a 15-minute, once a week lesson without cheating the kids of what they came to me for. There has got to be a better teaching experience out there...I'm no where near ready to hang it up but this has become totally RIDICULOUS!

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  7. I shall return to your blog. Anyone who knows and quotes Sir Ken Robinson knows what is up in education and where we are going astray.

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