A writer must “know and have an ever-present consciousness that this world is a world of fools and rogues… tormented with envy, consumed with vanity; selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions… He should free himself of all doctrines, theories, etiquettes, politics…” —Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?). “The nobility of the writer's occupation lies in resisting oppression, thus in accepting isolation” —Albert Camus (1913-1960). “What are you gonna do” —Bertha Brown (1895-1987).
Letters from the Inside: Active Teachers Describe the Effects of SB7
A Dinner with an active colleague in
“Sorry, you guys, but while you have been fighting for us
in pensions, they’ve come under the cracks in the door.You missed what happened since you left,
since the Performance Reform Evaluation Act.The classes you remember no longer exist.The teachers you remember no longer exist.We are miserable and defeated; I’m not
kidding, all of us are either counting how much time we have left, or we’re
trying to figure out some new kind of life outside of what has become a surreal
nightmare of mandates, testing, and enduring outcomes.”
Another younger, talented teacher responds to query regarding that
“You hit the
nail on the head with the term 'defeated'. That captures it perfectly. We're
beaten down, convinced that we're stuck in a downward spiral that will end with
the corporatization of our districts, the elimination of our pension funds (if
not our jobs entirely), and the demise of public education in general.
in a data wheel now, expected to produce only quantitative results at the
expense of the very qualities of relationships, values, and knowledge that
inspired us to pursue this noble profession. The nobility and art is no longer
valued. What IS valued is an adherence to strict data models, and finding ways
to prove we've actually done our jobs. We are guilty until proven innocent
under the Danielson model of evaluation, which in our district demands certain
practices that we as teachers are legitimately against both pedagogically and
philosophically (the daily posting of ‘learning targets’ is one of them - this
is required now by all staff members).
“We are all
treated like we have no ability, intellect, or motivation, and while a good 95%
of our teaching staff is among the most capable, professional, and intelligent
any school could hope for, we're all being treated as if we are in that 5% of
teachers who aren't quite cut out for the rigors of the job. This assumption
about our professionalism and ability is demoralizing on its own, but it's just
What’s your perception of students within this ‘new culture of testing
and performance expectation for you and them?’
“Students are less and less able to solve problems and
think critically now because we've trained them not to. We've trained them to
get the right answer at all costs. They're less and less responsible for
themselves because they no longer need to be - if they fail, it's on someone
else. If they fail, the teacher did something wrong, not them. If they did not
turn in the work, it was because the teacher was not 'creative enough to figure
out how to the tailor the work to their needs, and shame on that teacher for
being so arrogant as to expect the student to fit into their deadlines' (that
quote is nearly verbatim from a guest speaker our district brought in last year
to usher in new grading policies). The amount of anxiety and depression among
students has never been higher - I've had six students this year alone
hospitalized for severe school refusal behaviors related to anxiety.”
Another teacher/administrator describes his relationship with students
after changes in SB 7:
“If I can just get through another 37 years.
remember actually knowing students, their interests and needs.That’s not in the picture anymore.I tell you honestly that I don’t even know
them really until over halfway through the year.Even then, I don’t really ever have the
connection I used to have.Those days
are gone.It’s all about expectations
now, delivering information on an hourly basis to parents who complain that
it’s my fault if the student is under performing.
off to differentiated learning where I must deliver a singularly individual
program of learning to anyone who is not with the rest of the class.You either face 27 different learning lessons
or you yourself learn to find ways to accommodate the lesser learning outcome
so all are together.Meanwhile, the kid
who finds some joy in a certain part of the text as it echoes some deeper part
of him…well, that’s lost in the morass of skill building.”
How do you survive this pressure day in and day out?
'defeated'? Yes. Despairing? Yes. Exhausted, angsty, and hopeless? Yes. The
amount of energy it takes to prevent these emotions from entering the classroom
and affecting our students is staggering, and it has us all on our last
legs. Everyone has their head down now, muscling through the day at their
desks, desperate to get as much done as possible in a time when we're being
asked to do more and more and more.
initiatives and policies coming down at what seems like a constant rate, we are
in a vicious cycle of reactivity; most teachers I know trend towards the
proactive in terms of their personalities and approaches to conflict and
adversity, so to be relentlessly put in the position of reacting to the latest
browbeating has us feeling like we're on the losing end of a boxing match.
Every time we pull ourselves up, someone's there to deliver the next sucker
punch and knock us down again.”
When and how do
we stop this absurdity?
come to call this 'new' mentality, 'If it ain't broke, fix it until it is.' It
is rampant; it is tragic; it is destroying our profession, and it's destroying
the system of public education that our society has come to rely on.
“And on top
of that insult, they're now taking away our retirement security, our salary
advancement opportunities, and our partial reimbursement for advanced education
(which we're required to obtain to maintain our licenses). It's a full-on
assault from every possible angle, and we don't even know how to fight against
it anymore because it's so goddamn big!
love to teach, to connect with kids through the art form I love, and to bring
positive change in my small corner of the world to the best of my ability. But
along with my colleagues, I'm increasingly convinced that my days of doing
those things are numbered."