A teacher asks: Why teach?
Managing teachers through intimidation is not working. Our morale is at an all-time low. Experienced, inspiring teachers are retiring early. Bright, caring young teachers are looking for work elsewhere. Teachers who have loved their jobs are discouraging their own children from pursuing careers in education.
I teach English at Wasatch Junior High School in Salt Lake City, which consistently ranks near the top in standardized test scores. Most of our students are supported at home by educated and employed parents and have had childhoods filled with music lessons, sports, and vacations. We freely admit that our students' test results do not truly reflect our teaching skills.
Yet even serving children with fewer problems than many today, we feel exhausted and demoralized by the avalanche of mandates from the state and district. These mandates are often counter-productive, diminishing teacher effectiveness. While legislators constantly raise expectations and think they can motivate us by publicly posting test scores, our time for teaching has shrunk.
I now administer 19 days of standardized tests, costing me an entire month of instruction. This doesn't include the days the testing site is down or the system crashes, eating up even more days. With our computer shortage, end-of-year tests are given weeks early. I am held accountable for nine months of curriculum without enough time to teach it.
Students are suffering from test burnout, unable or unwilling to give their best efforts. Since scores don't affect grades, apathetic students simply refuse to try.
Some end-of-year tests don't even cover the core information teachers are required to teach. Tests cannot measure critical thinking and creativity. Computer-scored writing tests cannot evaluate the originality and depth of a student's reasoning.
In core academic subjects, a number of students transfer to new teachers mid-year, a practice vehemently opposed by most educators. Who deserves the credit or blame for these students' scores? Secondary teachers' class sizes and overall student loads vary drastically, making any comparison unfair.
Although I signed a pledge to give tests under the conditions stipulated, I am told to administer 60-minute and untimed tests in a 45-minute period. Students still working when the bell rings are interrupted by another group, disrupting their concentration. Students in seventh period rush through to avoid staying after school. These testing conditions alone invalidate my scores.
Students with academic or behavior problems are often placed with teachers who are particularly gifted in helping them succeed. How are their heroic efforts reflected in on-line evaluations?
This year, Granite District has required teachers to learn the new Common Core, use a new grades program (which crashes regularly), design a new honors curriculum, use a new online system requiring the scanning and posting of all assignments and a daily summary of class activities, and learn to analyze complex data from a new standardized test.
Weary, distracted teachers are asking, "When can I teach?"
The National Council of Teachers of English recommends that language arts teachers be limited to 80 students, so we can give the personal attention required to produce excellent readers and writers. I have 192 students. The Legislature should receive an "F" for that.
No test score reflects the number of students who return to thank a teacher, the number who fall in love with reading again, gain new confidence to speak up in class, find solace in a teacher's support, decide to try one more time just when they want to quit, or become more caring and empathetic human beings because of one person's commitment to their moral and ethical development.
We are tired of the threats and disrespect. We are tired of having our dedication reduced to a number. Educating children is an art, a science, and a life's work that deserves the highest honor.
Ann Florence began her teaching career at age 50. Her husband is now teaching high school as a second career, and her son is an artist-in-residence/teacher at a charter school.
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