A great deal of attention is paid to eloquent teacher resignation letters that speak to over testing, too much kill and drill and joyless classrooms. I try to use discretion in sharing them here on the blog as I think we ought to give more space to the views of teachers staying in the classroom.
That said, this letter from a Florida teacher makes strong points worth discussing.
In commenting on her letter about how stressed today’s students are due to unreasonable reforms and expectations, here are some issues that warrant consideration.
When I talk to college students, they often contend too little was expected of them in K-12. We read a lot about the high-achieving high school students who spend hours on homework, but a large segment of teens do not.
In fact, an annual survey released this week found American teens on average now spend nine hours on “entertainment media,” including texting, online videos, mobile gaming and social media.
Common Sense Media reports:
On average among teens 39% of digital screen time (computers, tablets, and smartphones) is devoted to passive consumption (watching, listening, or reading), 25% to interactive content (playing games, browsing the web), 26% to communication (social media, video-chatting), and 3% to content creation (writing, coding, or making digital art or music).
While teachers complain even young students are overly stressed and crying in school, a retired and well-loved kindergarten teacher remarked to me that she chuckles when young teachers report their charges cry in school, explaining that kids cried a lot 40 years ago, too.
But if young children are more stressed, the veteran teacher says we ought to look to the hectic pace of today’s two-career households more than schools. Her own grown children lead lives she describes, “as moving at lightning speed with everyone always running behind or running late.”
Indeed, a Pew Research Center study released this week found working parents are struggling with all that’s on their plates:
“…a significant share say that parenting is stressful all or most of the time, and that sentiment is much more common among parents who say they have difficulty balancing work and family life (32% compared with 15% of those who say achieving a work-life balance is not difficult for them). In addition, four-in-ten (39%) of those who say it is hard for them to balance their responsibilities at work and at home find being a parent tiring at least most of the time; of those who say it’s not difficult for them to strike a balance, 23% say being a parent is tiring at least most of the time. “
With that background, here is the teacher resignation letter gaining a lot of traction this week:
To: The School Board of Polk County, Florida
I love teaching. I love seeing my students’ eyes light up when they grasp a new concept and their bodies straighten with pride and satisfaction when they persevere and accomplish a personal goal. I love watching them practice being good citizens by working with their peers to puzzle out problems, negotiate roles, and share their experiences and understandings of the world. I wanted nothing more than to serve the students of this county, my home, by teaching students and preparing new teachers to teach students well.
To this end, I obtained my undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees in the field of education. I spent countless hours after school and on weekends poring over research so that I would know and be able to implement the most appropriate and effective methods with my students and encourage their learning and positive attitudes towards learning. I spent countless hours in my classroom conferencing with families and other teachers, reviewing data I collected, and reflecting on my practice so that I could design and differentiate instruction that would best meet the needs of my students each year. I not only love teaching, I am excellent at it, even by the flawed metrics used up until this point. Every evaluation I received rated me as highly effective.
Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process. I am absolutely willing to back up these statements with literature from the research base, but I doubt it will be asked for. However, I must be honest.
This letter is also deeply personal. I just cannot justify making students cry anymore. They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten-year-old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.
The children don’t only cry. Some misbehave so that they will be the ‘bad kid’ not the ‘stupid kid’, or because their little bodies just can’t sit quietly anymore, or because they don’t know the social rules of school and there is no time to teach them. My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five-minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging.
The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.
On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself. Please accept my resignation from Polk County Public Schools.
Wendy Bradshaw, Ph.D.