David Xirau was a math teacher at Weymouth High School (MA) until late January of this year. Below is the letter he wrote about why he quit his teaching job. What he expresses in his letter could be expressed by teachers in most any state these days. How many teachers are we losing to the education reform movement? How long will it take before citizens reclaim local control of their schools and allow teachers to teach?
To whom it may concern:
Why am I leaving? Long story short, our current school system and certain administrative practices are not letting me do my job. I cannot work in an environment where only half of my time can be devoted to the art of teaching. I retired from the military to become an educator, and I am compelled to go where I can do this more effectively. Authentic teaching is done free of the restrictive standards, unattainable objectives, and insanely burdensome administrative minutiae that are imposed upon us every day. I became a teacher to serve the kids and the community, not the greedy, idealistic inexperienced administrators, corporate interests, and politicians who are destroying our beloved profession. I find myself each day spinning wheels trying to stay ahead of their game, crunching numbers, while our students’ true education suffers.
Year after year, “they” keep piling more and more tasks onto our plates with no extra compensation and no extra time to execute the tasks properly while none of our old responsibilities are taken away. Shouldn’t this FACT raise a red flag somewhere? Apologies do not solve the problem. Silence won’t make it go away. A real teacher knows that on any given day, every minute counts. With our limited time constraints, we find ourselves cutting corners to make everything fit, making difficult choices: “Do I call the parent of a student who is failing, or do I collect evidence for my evaluation”?
At what point will we break? How much more can we realistically be expected to sustain upon our backs before the stress is reflected in our teaching? In our home life? In our health? When our first thought in the morning is, “Sigh…only 10 more years to retirement,” instead of, “I am going to make a difference today,” something is very wrong. Administrative apologists claim they are bearing the weight as well – a curious thing how a $100,000-plus salary can help lighten the load for some people. Please.
What is the real cost of this extra work? Who is paying the price when our minds and energy are devoted to endless testing, development of standards and objectives, rubrics, measurement, results, analysis, DDMs, improvement plans, PLCs, “Smart” goals, evidence collecting, percentages, alignments, core curriculum, cross curriculum, accommodations, modifications, incessant IEP paperwork, meetings, data, data, data, and more data? Read the list again!! Where is the pedagogy? When do we get to teach?
It has gotten to the point where each of us, literally, needs a secretary and a data analyst just to manage all of the extra work so that we can focus on the kids and perform our traditional duties. At the rate we are going, we will soon need lawyers in our classrooms… I have never worked in a place where so many people are afraid to make a decision or speak their mind for fear of losing their job, or for fear that the school will get sued. This mindset is unhealthy and unproductive.
How does this affect my job? As a result of having to devote more time, energy, and attention to the aforementioned tasks, I have had to turn down students for after-hours tutoring; I have had to decrease my outreach to parents; my planning has suffered; my creativity is limited; and my grading, attention to details, and other essential pedagogical tasks are also taking hits. There is no time to meet with peers to discuss shared courses or to mentor new teachers. I have students with learning disabilities that need my extra time and attention, but I have very little to give. I can no longer perform as much community service as I used to. I can go on, of course….
Many of the things that authentic teaching should be about are being sacrificed because our focus is divided into as many new “21st Century” objectives. I think that we are getting ahead of ourselves with our mission. How can we focus on 21-st Century skills when it is clear that our students have not yet mastered 20-th Century skills? The educational model of the previous century gave us Steve Jobs, Civil Rights, and took us to the moon. Thus far, the present model has only gotten us a lower standing and less respect on the International academic achievement scale. This is the indicator, the evidence, that we are not headed in the right direction. We’re losing track of the basics, trying to get our students to run when they haven’t yet learned to walk.
The business-minded, boilerplate approach to education through standardization, measurement, and analysis, greatly curtails teachers’ most valuable gifts, decreases morale, and as a consequence, affects our students. Our student body’s most prominent quality is its diversity, yet here we are, trying to measure them all by the same yardstick. We are trying to control output when we have no control over the input. It is folly to believe that we can adequately compare results across school years when so much changes every year. What is the control group in this social experiment? Diversity and standardization are not good bedfellows – the terms are oxymoronic at best. Authentic teaching cannot be done with a script.
I guess my decision to throw in the towel boils down to an unwillingness to serve two masters at once. I can either devote my time to teaching or I can help the District produce its precious data – but I can’t do both. I am morally and ethically incapable of doing each task at only 50%. Students need to be taught, not analyzed. They are human beings, not an experiment, not parts of a machine coming off of an assembly line. My students need and deserve my full attention, something I cannot give under the current circumstances.