To Be or Not To Be: A Teacher

Every day I am confronted with the reality of what it’s like becoming a teacher under new accountability regimes that are too often backed with little to no evidence, while often times evidence exists proving the ineffectiveness, unreliability, and invalidity of these changes – all of which I, as an aspiring teacher, will soon be confronted with. As I venture further into becoming a teacher, I am firsthand witnessing more and more teachers leaving the profession, even some of my own beloved teachers who had profound impacts on my life during my K-12 experience. I’ve spent time speaking with them over the past few months and specifically for this testimony, with the hopes that you will hear what it’s truly like to be a new, often young teacher, since most of the testimony you hear during state board presentations are, in all honesty, from hand-picked teachers whose experiences do not reflect those of most teachers in the field (not to be confused with the incredible teachers who take time away from their lives/personal days from school to come testify during open topic public testimony).

It breaks my heart to say that practically everything shared by the teachers I’ve spoken to were negative, and as I said, teachers are leaving the classroom despite their true love for students, education, and their dreams of becoming a teacher from a young age. It is both a mix of external and internal forces that are driving teachers away. For many new teachers, every year since the year they were first hired, their purchasing power has lowered – under the increases stipulated in Chapter 78, annual increases in contributions to pensions, benefits, i.e. health care have continually gone up. Teachers are therefore making less money as take home – not just what one would to spend at the end of the month, but money they need to live and pay off student loans, which is a huge consideration on whether or not to go into teaching. Other external forces such as complying with standards and reforms set forth from the state with, again, little to no empirical, research-based evidence to prove their validity are suffocating teachers from even doing their jobs. Every teacher I’ve spoken to has referenced the endless amounts of paperwork they are filling out, an internal force that is a consequence of the external forces. Many people sitting in the offices above us set whatever regulations they please, without realizing that bureaucracy at the higher level trickles down to each level from the state to the local to right into the classroom. For examples, SGO’s have often been described as “just a little more paperwork,” but complete ignores all of the pieces involved – endless professional development on how to write SGO’s, meetings to write them, conferences about them, the paperwork to meet that check box on a teacher’s’ evaluation rubric, the follow up with administration, a follow up assessment if necessary, and of course, no research to prove their “effectiveness.” With all of this “stuff” coming down from highers ups disconnected from the classroom, on top of teachers making less money than when they started, is it any question that our valuable teachers are leaving the classroom?

One of the cornerstones of education is valuable professional development. Professional development, as defined by this state, is meant to offer learning opportunities aligned with student learning and educator development needs and school, school district, and/or state improvement goals based on student and educator needs as well as school, district, and state goals. Professional development should further incorporate coherent, sustained, and evidence-based strategies that improve educator effectiveness and student achievement, including job- embedded coaching or other forms of assistance to support educators’ transfer of new knowledge and skills to their work. And finally, professional development is supposed to include the work of established collaborative teams of teachers, school leaders, and other administrative, instructional, and educational services staff members who commit to working together to accomplish common goals and who are engaged in a continuous cycle of professional improvement.

Do you know how much of this is happening? Very little. Time dedicated to professional development has simply become training for systems that ultimately are dead within a year or topics that just aren’t important to students or the school community. Professional development has truly become a time to just learn state policy. Teachers are constantly asking themselves, “how much time do I waste fulfilling these useless data points simply to check off a box?” How many hours a year are lost filling out lines on a checklist that could be spent doing valuable, genuine professional development? Administrators are stuck in the system just like teachers are: teachers are offering these idea to their administrators, and are being shot down because it doesn’t fulfill a check box on their evaluations. That is at the core of the problem: no one can do anything to jeopardize their jobs, which only winds up damaging our schools and communities because we’re not doing what students need. Teachers are being told, “that’s a good idea for the future, but we need to do something for now.” Education today is more about keeping the ship afloat than providing a thorough and efficient education for our students.

Think about this: if a student has an issue in the classroom, the parent calls the administration and *ideally the issue is handled, often with the teacher, student, parent, and school community. But if a teacher has an issue with the administration or the building, the blame is put directly on them – the teacher must be lazy, incoherent, burnt out, and avoiding all measures of accountability. Yet no one takes the time to examine all of the systemic and institutional forces that are crushing teachers, because it’s easier to blame the individual than acknowledge that our entire system is broken.

One has to ask: if these systems are tried and true, why is it that questions posed often go unanswered? I can tell you: it’s because the research, philosophical reasoning, and data does not exist to support any of the changes happening to our schools. Even the Governor is changing his mind on Common Core. Yet teachers who experiment, take risks, and put their all into lessons that challenge students are blamed and punished as failures. I don’t see any accountability measures being placed on our Governor for “making a mistake” and realizing it “isn’t working” with Common Core.

But this is truly all a part of the plan: people who are intellectually invested fleeing the profession, because as soon as the people who can examine the system are gone, we can bring in fast-track teachers to stay for a few years, keep them low on the pay scale, and continue to feed more and more people into administrative, central office positions. It’s no secret: those of us in teacher education can see the ways our programs are being stripped and starved by state mandates that only hurt our education and ability to be the best teachers we can be. But good, qualified, intellectual teachers don’t fit the reform plan, so we must get rid of them.

To sum up why teachers are leaving: there are philosophical inconsistencies, a lack of professional development, a failure of mentorship models, and a constant devaluation and dehumanization of our teachers. These are real, honest accounts of what teachers across the state are experiencing that the state continues to ignore. I can’t say that I have all of the solutions, but then again, that’s what is supposedly your job. No one is being fooled here: changes and new systems are being used as a tool of oppression, to keep teachers in check, and squash any potential dissent with the threat of termination. These changes and new systems are in place to get more and more out of teachers and convince them they have to produce more to stay employed. I invite each and every one of you to stand in my shoes and experience what it’s like to become a teacher: to become a teacher in a system and under a model that does not want me to succeed; to become a teacher knowing that my schools will be underfunded and that my students will come to school impoverished while policymakers hide in their ivory towers; to become a teacher when my own education professors are warning us to find other career paths;  to become a teacher despite everything I know.

Spend a day in my shoes. Sit with me in my classes. Talk to me about the things I’m learning, the ideas I have, and despite it all, the potential I see. Maybe then you’ll understand why I’m still becoming a teacher.


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