Teacher resignation letter goes viral: ‘I will not subject my child to this disordered system’

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.

downey0817In 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.

Best,
Wendy Bradshaw, Ph.D.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

31 comments
Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

For a similar perspective, folks should give this teachers letter a read as well:


https://elonaschreiner.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-one-reason-i-quit-teaching/comment-page-3/#comments


Certain posters are sure to conclude that these teacher simply couldn't cut it in the classroom, but if you look at their writing and the comments from other teachers in support, you will notice a trend.  These are well educated, articulate, high achieving educators with years of experience. These are veteran teachers who were around BEFORE all this political nonsense started consuming our schools.  These are NOT the low intelligence, non-standard English speaking, low GPA teachers that people claim are ruining education.  These are the kinds of educators the anti-public education crown claims they WANT in the classrooms... apparently, until those teachers start making waves and pointing out the same problems that the rest of us are attacked for mentioning.



Just like many other professions, business school graduates and bureaucrats have infiltrated education and are attempting to apply   a data drive approach to a profession that is not easily reduced to numbers and stats.  But rather than realizing the approach is not a good fit for fields that areas much about about community, social interaction, emotional well being, and the human touch as about scores and data points (like teaching, health care and nursing) they attempt to quantify all aspects of teaching.  IT DOES NOT WORK!  All it is doing is destroying those aspects of teaching which nurture the whole child and strengthen the community. 


Ask yourself, has education really improved over the last 10 years as these approaches have taken over?  Has healthcare? Has nursing?  If not, then MAYBE we should start actually listening to people who are active involved IN THE FIELD and not to people sitting behind a desk who have never stepped foot in a classroom but have a background in data collection and number crunching.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Quidocetdiscit 

Every person would benefit from reading the words of this former teacher.  I wish to cut and paste the following words, lifted from her longer essay, for those who have not read the article and have not understood this teacher's accurate perceptions through the rich stories of some of her students, by anecdotal reference:

"We are in a people business, not a numbers business. It is not that teachers do not value data and information systems. We absolutely do, so that we can know where each child is in their mastery of the concepts that we have taught. Record keeping, evaluation of scores, and calibration of lessons based on the data are important parts of being a teacher. Data is just not the entirety of what it means to be a teacher. Teaching and learning are about more than test scores. There are so many more verbs that describe good teachers other than data collection. However, this piece of our profession is now emphasized above all other traits and qualities. It is more important to value the child, work with the family and teach at a pace that makes sense for the learners than it is for teachers to know yet another way to compare data on spreadsheets. Current teachers are doing all of this and it is too much, and too unnecessary. The only educational reform that should be considered should be designed by experts; our experienced teachers, parents, community leaders and students."

BCW1
BCW1

I am retiring after 35 years myself due to philosophical differences with the way education is going on all fronts. The DOE, PC'ness, breakdown of the family unit...you name it.

Mike
Mike

Basically she just got old and tired and gave up like Spurrier. She will be replaced by younger and stronger minds. It's completely natural.

Desperado
Desperado

@Mike Moron!!  What part of "On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter" do you not understand??  Old and tired?  Come on.  Quit being a smartarse and grasp what she is saying!!

BearCasey
BearCasey

@Mike  You could use a little work on reading comprehension.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

It will be very interesting to see how few people read and comment on this blog if and when they put it strictly behind the pay wall.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@dcdcdc


Well, you won't see me here.  


(Probably should not have admitted that as some will now rally for this blog to go to paid only just to get rid of my blathering.)  


I only read the educational blogs, so it would not be worth it to me.  And on my paycheck, every penny counts!  <And yes, that was a tongue and cheek aside folks...>

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

I'm shocked, shocked to find that a PhD in Education couldn't cut it in an actual classroom.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Current PC thinking is that all issues in education can be traced back to too much testing (and too little money).

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@class80olddog

That is  not PC.  It may be an opinion with which you disagree.  It may even be a current talking trend, but it is not PC.... PC is trying to keep from offending anyone by abstaining from anything the least bit controversial.  

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@dsw2contributor


She speaks truth, but you choose to disrespect her and ignore her message because somehow putting her down makes you feel superior.  What does that say about you as a person?

grumpster
grumpster

Ok, I'll give the contrarian view. 

I dealt with rigid developmentalists when my daughter was young.  Children can do this at this age, but they can't do that.  Uh huh.  Some children have better fine motor skills at 3 than others do at 5.  Practice, maybe?  Some kids read at 4, others can't read at 16.  Again, practice maybe?  Or maybe each of those groups has an aptitude for the things they are good at and consequently develop faster than others. 

Each child needs to develop at his or her own rate.  If that means placing the child with children of a different age group for activities in which they excel, so be it. 

My own daughter (she's grown now) always liked hanging out with older friends.  They understood her better than kids of her age group.  She often helped them with their homework. Maybe that was because she was the smart kid in her class. 

Maybe she should have been allowed to "skip" a grade.  Maybe she should have been assigned more advanced work by her teacher.  We'll never know, because the "developmentalist" principal at her school didn't believe in that. 

OK, maybe this hit a nerve with me.  I might be a little bit passionate about this issue.  But I wish the principal had been willing to try something different.  She wasn't.  

Bummer.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@grumpster 

"Each child needs to develop at his or her own rate."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

How often I have stated this developmental truth to posters on this blog.  Thank you for giving your daughter's story which confirms this instructional truth.
I am not so certain, as you, however, that your thinking in this matter is contrary to that of Dr. Bradshaw.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@MaryElizabethSings @grumpster


"I am not so certain, as you, however, that your thinking in this matter is contrary to that of Dr. Bradshaw."


Indeed, I do not think it is contrary at all.  Dr Bradshaw points out that we are asking children to engage in activities that they are not developmentally ready for - it does not necessarily follow that NO child is developmentally ready for those tasks.  Further, she mentions that teachers are not being allowed to differentiate appropriately.  Had your child's teachers been allowed to differentiate for her in ways outside school and district policy, then perhaps she could have been allowed to skip a grade, or attend certain classes with developmentally appropriate peers who might not have been grade level peers. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I agree with your thoughts on this, Quidocetdiscit

Moreover, I believe that Common Core Standards could be handled in the same way if state DOEs and the national Department of Education were instructionally savvy leaders, in this regard. For example, it would be helpful for teachers and parents to be able to identify the "norm" developmental academic skills for certain grade levels, while, at the same time, allowing teachers the autonomy and jurisdiction to decide when individual students are ready to learn those academic skills/concepts.  Some students may be functioning well beyond given standards for grade level; however, some students may be functioning well below established standards for grade level norms. This will always be true with instruction when it is looked at with precision and with instructional clarity because students of the same age will have differing developmental histories and abilities.  Every child must be taught where he or she is functioning at point in time in order to grow, beyond or below those grade level standards, if necessary, in order to enhance student growth to an optimal degree.  When educators evolve to understand this instructional truth, across the board, high school may need to incorporate grade levels 13 and 14 for some students to master the requirements for a high school diploma.  Time is the variable that is essential to vary when instructional delivery must be varied according to skill/concept mastery.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

As a teacher, Dr. Bradshaw has an opportunity, with more knowledge and experience than most folks, to work toward developmentally appropriate instruction.  I feel sad about her withdrawal from her teaching assignment.

straker
straker

Yet another victim of social experimenting in education.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I am so glad that you shared this letter, Ms. Downey.  It is pitch perfect in explaining what happens detrimentally to students and teachers when our society insists upon trying to implement a business model within an educational arena.


Children must be nurtured as well as instructed on academics because emotional stability enhances the ability to concentrate on those skills and concepts.


It has occurred to me that, having read this letter, I believe that this business model based on the routinization of schooling and the excessive emphasis upon standardized test results for students - who, invariably, will differ in a wide range of skills/concepts achieved, at point in time - to be harmful to students.  "First, do no harm," should be the motto of professionals the field of education as well as those in the field of medicine.


Society would fare much better if the nurturing, contained within the educational model, were applied to employees in business arenas rather than having the business model applied to students and teachers in educational arenas.  We are doing harm, and this excellent teacher stated howso in succinctly stated and impacting words.  I thank her for that as a retired teacher and instructional leader of 35 years in public education.


class80olddog
class80olddog

I don't have any problem sending kids to schools where there is testing, I have problems sending kids to school where they might get beat up

class80olddog
class80olddog

This teacher rails against testing, but remember- testing came about because 8th grade teachers were giving passing grades to students who could not read! This is cheating just as surely as changing grades. These teachers should have been fired! And if their principals ordered them to pass those kids, they should be fired too. Maybe charter schools will do a better job.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@class80olddog


"These teachers should have been fired! And if their principals ordered them to pass those kids, they should be fired too."


We cannot just blame the 8th grade teachers.  The whole system, from k - 12 is partially to blame.  But rather than addressing the underlying problems, the powers that be ended up rewriting the rules and implementing testing regimes that do more to exacerbate problems than solve them.  Now everyone gets to suffer due to the dishonesty of a few, and the initial problems still persist - they are just better disguised at the state level.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Quidocetdiscit @class80olddog Individuals make decisions daily.  It's a complete cop out to blame "the system".  That would be like giving the Enron execs a pass.  


Quit letting teachers and educrats off the hook.  Each one of them making decisions each day are "the system".  Until they each take responsibility, nothing will improve.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@dcdcdc @Quidocetdiscit @class80olddog


dcdcdc.


Please explain to me how I have any control over the the mandates and laws passed down by the federal government, my state government, and my district concerning the "rules" which I am required to follow in my classroom. I do not get to set the testing requirements.  I do not get to set the grading requirements. I do not get to determine what data is going to be used to grade my school. I do not get to set funding limits or budgetary items.  I do not get to decide whether own school will implement additional remedial classes or hire additional reading coaches to help struggling students. And unless I am willing to go to court every time a parent protests, or end up losing my job because I go up against my administration, I have very little chance of making a final decision in which students are retained.  I can recommend and advocate, but in the end, it ultimately comes down to "costs" (it costs money to have a child retained and taxpayers don't like that), parental willingness, and the balance between doing what is best for students and looking good on the data sheets by which schools and districts are judged.  


Like most employees in most jobs, I am responsible for doing the best I can while functioning within the rules set by others. Many teachers are doing all they can for their students. Many, unfortunately, are not, but you cannot lump all teachers together and suggest they are to blame.  Nor can you blame them for things beyond their control.  Teachers have very little power within the system. What you are suggesting is less like giving the Enron execs and more like blaming the janitorial staff for what went on in the boardroom. 


I am responsible for advocating for what I feel is best for my students, but that does not mean I need to throw myself on my sword. 


If you allow teachers to establish  real union representation here in Georgia , then maybe teachers will actually be able to start bucking the "system."  

readcritic
readcritic

@Quidocetdiscit @dcdcdc @class80olddog It would be wise to read the policies written by area school boards to get a real feel for what teachers' duties and responsibilities truly are. Teachers are puppets on a stage performing to satisfy every whim of administrators, bureaucrats, and parents. Who knows the student best?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it.

Hear, hear!

And the minute parents hear their child hasn't "developed" in line with what's expected, the parents start adding to the stress.

It's a vicious circle in which we trap our children.