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Just days ago, I completed my twenty-eighth year as a teacher—eighteen as a high school teacher of English followed by ten years as a professor of education.

And I am excited about the coming semesters because, as I have felt every year of my teaching life, I know I failed in some ways this past academic year and I am confident I will be better in my next opportunities to teach.

As a teacher, I am far from finished—and I never will be.

On this Mother's Day*, I want to make a statement to the many and powerful leaders in education reform, all of whom have either no experience or expertise, or very little, as teachers:

I don't need standards to teach, I need students.

If You Have Never Taught, You Simply Don't Understand

Governors, policy wonks, and think tanks, I don't need the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Secretary Duncan, I have no interest in racing to the top, when that means the top of the pile of my fellow teachers trampled by the policies you have created and promoted.

Bill Gates, I don't want a dime of your billions; in fact, I am not even interested in what you do (I have always used Apple products) as long as you drop education as your hobby.

Michelle Rhee, I have no interest in my students having mouths forcibly shut by me. I am here to hear their open minds and mouths.

Pearson, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and every company seeking to sell me anything to support my implementing CCSS or preparing my students for NAEP, state high-stakes tests, or the SAT, I am not interested in buying anything. No software, no hardware, no textbooks, no worksheets. Nothing.

Professional organizations and unions, I need you to stop racing for a place at the table with the reformers and corporations noted above, and instead, seek ways to support my autonomy and agency as a professional so that the autonomy and agency of the children in our schools can become the primary focus of universal public education for free people.

And, finally, to anyone who thinks you know what I should teach and how, please seek a place at the front of a classroom filled with other people's children, teach for a few years, and then let's get together and talk. I am eager to be collegial in the pursuit of community as a key part of teaching and learning.

Then What?

Becoming and being a teacher is a constant state of becoming. A teacher must be always a student and scholar of her/his field(s), her/his pedagogy, and her/his students.

What the people and groups identified above seem not to understand is that for my eighteen years of teaching high school English, I probably taught about 2000 students; thus, I taught about 2000 different classes. And not a single measurable outcome of any of those students predicts much of anything about my effectiveness or if I'll succeed with any future student. Some of the students who appear successful did so in spite of my failures. Some of the students who appear to have failed were provided my very best as a teacher. Almost all of the good and bad I have created as a teacher are not measurable or apparent in manageable ways.

I wasn't concerned about meeting anyone's standards or preparing any student for a test or making sure any student was prepared for the next grade, college, or the workforce.

And I never will be.

Instead of standards, testing, competition, labeling, ranking, and sorting (all the cancerous elements of traditional schooling and the current accountability era), as a teacher, I need to offer my students authentic learning opportunities in which they produce artifacts of their understanding and expertise. My students need from me my authoritative feedback to those authentic artifacts.

I have no interest in competing with my fellow teachers for whose students score highest on tests so I can earn more money than my colleagues. I don't, either, want to join forces with my in-school colleagues to outperform other schools in order to compete for their customers. I couldn't care less how my state's schools compare with other states or how U.S. schools compare on international tests.

Absolutely none of that matters.

While not unique to Howard Gardner, we have a very clear idea of what it is teachers should do in the pursuit of learning. Gardner's The Disciplined Mind examines a conception of education not distracted by accountability.

Teaching and learning must be primarily collaborative, a community of learners.

The goals of learning must be the broad and clear—although always evolving—defining qualities of the fields of knowledge we honor in academia.

Every history course, for example, would pursue, What does it mean to be a historian? Every science class, What does it mean to be a scientist? Every writing class, What does it mean to be a writer?

Teaching and learning are the collaborative pursuit of questions. Anything else is indoctrination, dehumanizing, and antithetical to democratic ideals and human agency.

Humans never will—and never should—learn the same box of knowledge. Humans never will—and never should—learn in linear, sequential ways.

And there is no need for any of that anyway as long as we seek to be a community instead of barbaric individuals committed to the conquest of goods at the expense of others.

There, I think, is the harsh and ugly fact. Those privileged elites—again the people and groups noted above—have acquired their status on the backs of others, corrosive evidence for them that they somehow deserve that and that it all is the way things should be. It is theirs then to perpetuate dehumanizing ways of being—labeling, sorting, ranking against the rules that gave them their power.

I choose otherwise.

I don't need standards to teach, I need students.

* My becoming a teacher can be traced directly to the wonderful and rich influence of my mother, and that influence is inextricable from the powerful and enduring influence of my father.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Sun May 13, 2012 at 07:43 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well put. A friend of mine teaches sciences (16+ / 0-)

    in middle school.  I asked him what he needed to do a better job.  What I had in mind was "stuff", that is equipment and material to allow his students to do more hands-on experimentation.  What he told me is that he needed the time back that he now has to spend on testing and test-related activities.  Looking into it a bit more I found out that here in Florida (and probably elsewhere) not only are tests given to assess the students' learning but special tests are given to rate and rank the teachers - right to one of your points.  What does that do to the desire to be true scholars?   As an aside - your final comment rings completely true for me and I wonder why we as a society will not examine what is wrong with our home life that is impacting learning in our children.  But that's too hard isn't it?  Easier to throw the blame on the schools and teachers' unions.

    Knowing the truth, even if disconcerting, is always better than a comfortable self-deception.

    by Old Gray Dog on Sun May 13, 2012 at 07:54:33 AM PDT

    •  Every day taken up for testing (5+ / 0-)

      or test prep is one day less of instructional time.  If the "reformers" can't do math that simple, what business do they have interfering at all.

      In my district  as much as half of the first quarter and most of the fourth quarter is given over to testing.  And there's more testing in December. At the most conservative estimate, we are losing more than 25% of instructional time every year.

      During all the time they are testing, they take over the library (since we have no computer labs)  Students cannot check out books or use the computers.

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sun May 13, 2012 at 09:38:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Without some form of testing... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Neuroptimalian are the rest of us supposed to evaluate the quality of the product we are getting? Do we have to just take the educator's word for it?

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Sun May 13, 2012 at 11:07:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Did you /read/ my comment? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lonely Texan

          Light is seen through a small hole.

          by houyhnhnm on Sun May 13, 2012 at 11:15:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Employers need to take (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kurt, Ms Citizen

          some responsibility for new hires. I don't know if this is original, but it's something I've used in my business. "There is no such thing as a bad employee. There is such a thing as a bad hire. "

          That shifts the responsibility of making sure a employee is fit for the job to the person doing the hiring. In small business' at least, the success or the failure of a firm rests on the human skills that employers have. If they don't possess the ability to judge people not only on skill, but on honesty and ethics, then they  are in serious trouble. Depending on universal test scores is useless in the real world.

          If they are only good at taking tests and a business needs people capable of using  judgement and fast analysis on situations that require immediate and rapid action, how is a test going to forecast how somebody is going to perform under pressure , keep my customers happy and protect profits?

          I have had MBAs who couldn't conjugate a verb and high school grads who communicated perfectly via the written or the spoken word.

          If an employer must be able to quantify an employee's skill  levels  before hiring, then they should give out the test that  most approximates their needs for that position they are hiring for but never let the test be the sole measure or the predominate measure of the ability of a person to do a job.

          When I went to school. Teachers taught to a standard they established with other teachers. In other words, what grade qualifies a person to advance to the next level of education. Since then, We've passed through teaching to the lowest common denominator as determined by parents all to willing to sue to get their kiddies in the best schools to using standardized testing as virtually the sole means of determining if a person is worthwhile.

          That doesn't make sense. What if a person is having a bad day?  What if they don't test well but do great in the real world. Do we want a tiny  multi-hour  slice of time to determine the course and direction of person's entire life?  

          There is a difference between testing and doing. Unfortunately there is no test that I know of that will 100% predict future performance but I do know there is a huge for profit industry that wants us to believe that .

          That's why pieces of paper and test scores are not taken as seriously in the fastest moving areas of our economy. Certifications are a "nice" to have in IT but not a "need" to have unless HR controls the hires.

          People are finally finding out that education levels and test scores in IT doesn't do much in predicting who can write the best code, make decisions, or translate business processes to code.

          Yet people our easily swayed by multibillion dollar companies to industries that testing is an absolute requirement to determine the worth of an individual.

          In my mind, at the very best, it shouldn't be more than 10% of a person's over-all score of suitability for movement in society, business or govt.

  •  I'm a private music teacher, and since I make my (12+ / 0-)

    own rules, I can follow the most important rule,  to learn from the student, and teach to the student based on what you have learned from them.
    Anything that restricts a teacher from creating lessons based on each student's individuality is negative.

    "But Brandine, you're supposed to be in Iraq stopping 911!"

    by leftyguitarist on Sun May 13, 2012 at 08:22:10 AM PDT

  •  A-FKN-MEN (9+ / 0-)

    Teaching is my second career, and I've been doing it for nine years now.  I'm very happy I teach at the post-secondary level, but there are signs that the Race to the Top is beginning to influence the community colleges as well.  I don't need standards either, because my own are more rigorous than anything a government bureaucracy would impose on me.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun May 13, 2012 at 08:34:01 AM PDT

  •  If I could give this eighty recs, (6+ / 0-)

    I would!

    You speak my thoughts.

    What is happening to middle school math here in Portland, Oregon:

    Our new CCSS are being promoted as improving "rigor."  Instead, they limit children's opportunities to explore and wonder. Every minute of every class must be crammed with new curriculum, as the "bar" is "raised."

    Pearson: Our district is removing music programs, Outdoor School, art and foreign language programs, yet we are spending great sums of money to purchase curriculum from this company, when we could be writing our own.

    •  The Pearson stuff is just garbage. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lonely Texan, pdxteacher

      We have wall to wall Pineapple Pedagogy in my district.  They don't have any crappy lessons for upper level science courses (nobody educated enough to write them, I expect) so I can get away with not using their stuff.  That doesn't stop the resident Pearson ed-spurt from trying to force middle school methods and content on high school science teachers.

      Three million dollars a year of taxpayers' money is what they for their drivel.

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sun May 13, 2012 at 09:46:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I got an email... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        houyhnhnm, kurt, pdxteacher, Ms Citizen

        last week from Pearson offering me $250 if I'd administer a couple of essay tests to my university students. I get the money and they'll grade the tests. Wow. Of course, this is in the service of developing software that will grade essay tests. A machine will grade my student's arguments. As a sweetener, Pearson says this will help quantify Student Learning Outcomes. What Mario Savio said was true, the students are the products of the machine. Well fuck that, and fuck Pearson, and fuck Student Learning Outcomes. I plan to continue to tell my students the truth and to be more Paolo Frerie and less Frederick Taylor.

        Great diary, by the way.

        Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

        by JoesGarage on Sun May 13, 2012 at 11:30:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Standards teaching (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lonely Texan, pdxteacher

    Teaching as if the kids are robots and not humans hungry for knowledge, untill at least that hunger isn't destroyed!!!

    Vets On FLOTUS and SLOTUS, "Best - Ever": "We haven't had this kind of visibility from the White House—ever." Joyce Raezer - Dec. 30, 2011

    by jimstaro on Sun May 13, 2012 at 09:17:19 AM PDT

  •  We need standards. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Many arguments are used against education reform. One of the most common ones is:

    "If You Have Never Taught, You Simply Don't Understand"
    To see how silly this is, just apply the logic to other industries.

    Imagine Exxon-Mobil saying that the EPA should not regulate them because the EPA, 'Has never run an oil company and they just don't understand".

    Or JPMorgan saying that we should ignore Occupy Wall Street, ACORN, and Bernie Sanders because, "Those guys have never run a bank and they don't understand".

    If you don't want your students tested, show us why you believe the tests are flawed. Use logic and data.

    If you want to stop families from choosing charter schools, show us some numbers backing up your ideas.

    Claiming that only teachers can criticize teachers is a technique that tends to stifle debate and shut out parents, students, and the community.

    Teachers are a profession, not a priesthood. We will not be struck by lightning if we disagree with certain anti-reform dogmas.

    •  Human development is a personal process... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lonely Texan, kurt

      that is best directed by an individual human being, even a young one, on their own behalf.  Standardized education means that instead of the learner directing their own education, far-away bureaucrats are telling them what to learn, when to learn, where to learn, how to learn and from who.

      IMO the state's role in education should be facilitative, not directive by standardizing and regimenting the educational process.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sun May 13, 2012 at 10:00:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We musn't confuse... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, Neuroptimalian

        ....standardized education with standardized testing.

        I'm against standardized education. I all want parents to have many different learning options for their kids. (Rich families already have many options -- public, private, charter, or even home Schools.)

        Standardized testing just checks to make sure that the kids learned something. What method they use (phonics, sight-reading, New Math, etc.) should be between the teacher and the parents.

    •  Teachers are a profession, so shouldn't they... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lonely Texan, elfling, pdxteacher

      have the major say in how their schools are run as doctors do in hospitals?  Shouldn't they, along with the students themselves, be the major responsible parties in making sure schools are enriched environments for learning?

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sun May 13, 2012 at 10:03:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, they shouldn't. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, Neuroptimalian

        Teachers should have broad authority in the classroom.

        But the current debate is about how much power teachers should have outside the classroom. They want to determine their salaries, how they are evaluated, and if they get promoted.

        We should not let the Foxes run the Henhouse. The teaching profession needs oversight as much as Banking or Oil Drilling. Perhaps even more oversight, since teaching is more important than either.

        •  If teaching is truly that important (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          then why not argue for salaries and conditions which make it possible to do the hard work of teaching.

          When you are trying to stay off food stamps and your job is threatened every day and you are penalized for serving low income or minority communities with lower test scores, there really isn't enough energy left over to do the best work you can.

          •  Are teachers... (0+ / 0-)

   danger of needing food stamps?

            I have never heard this, maybe it is true.  But you must make your argument with data. You can't just say "I'm a teacher, so trust me".

            The best info I have is that the average teacher makes a salary above the average worker -- and has white-collar conditions, better benefits, and more job security.

            That doesn't mean raising salaries won't help. It probably would help a lot. We just need to make that case using data.

            •  Fair enough. (0+ / 0-)

              Starting Salary of Teachers by State

              Food Stamp Eligibility Guidlines

              Of course, the size of the family affects the eligibility.  The real difficulty is when the teacher is the sole breadwinner and there are lots of mouths to feed.

              I didn't mean to say that all teachers are on food stamps, just that many barely scrape by and are not eligible, while others do qualify.

              Job insecurity is a much bigger issue, imo.  Sure, bad teachers should be fired. But I don't think they should be fired based on a test that most educators find a distraction from their real work of teaching critical thinking skills.

               Some school districts, facing budget cuts, are closing schools, so of course, staff also gets cut there too.

      •  Doctors don't have a lot of power (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        They typically prescribe medicine and other cures based on fairly strict diagnostic criteria. 99% of the time, it's 'figure out symptoms, look up disease, look up cure, prescribe cure'. It's mostly paint by numbers.

        Also, they are overseen by malpractice insurance companies and professional associations who will revoke their ability to practice if they screw up. Even doctors who have been practicing for 20 years. No tenure, you screw up, it's over.

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Sun May 13, 2012 at 11:27:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I disagree... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      plthomasEdD, kurt
      If You Have Never Taught, You Simply Don't Understand
      is not offered as an argument against "educational reform" or "a technique that tends to stifle debate and shut out parents, students, and the community." It is a request that those who have never done it dial back the reflexive teacher-bashing. It is a request that those who have never done it dial back the hubris when offering their business management insights to a decidedly non-business sphere. You know, just because you've eaten in a restaurant doesn't mean you know how to run one.

      Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

      by JoesGarage on Sun May 13, 2012 at 11:43:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Of course (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ms Citizen

      You posed a claim I did NOT make, and then shot down that misleading claim...

      So You are arguing with your misconception...

  •  Tipped and Rec'd. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, iTeachQ, pdxteacher

    Thanks, from one teacher to another.

    Just let me do my work, and don't make it three times harder.

    It will be obvious who the truly bad teachers are, and they are rare.  No need to spend billions on a scheme to find them.

  •  I am very glad to read this: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ms Citizen
    Teaching and learning must be primarily collaborative, a community of learners.
    but I don't think one need to be a trained teacher to get this concept. I do think that non-teachers can help guide the system overall. Currently, we seem overwhelmed with the same kind of reformists but if they can force more people to pay attention maybe we can begin to have some real conversations about what we need to happen to change the current system.
  •  Here is the issue. (0+ / 0-)

    All of us have sat in classrooms. All of us know that there are some excellent teachers and some that really should not be in a classroom - because we have experienced them first hand.

    We know that the best teachers inspire us and rise above the curriculum, and we know many that just teach by the book.

    What taxpayers/parents want is to see some form of accountability, some visible means by which their kids do not get stuck in a class learning nothing for a year (or two ...). Yet any form of teacher evaluation is fought against by the teacher unions (or so it seems). It is, in many jurisdictions, almost impossible to fire a teacher. The optics don't seem right.

    The result is that parents/taxpayers end up relating to standards. I suspect that if there were a good system of teacher evaluation that the clamor for standards would lessen ... because most of us know deep down that good teachers need to be free to teach, to innovate, to try new methods, ideas etc.

    Out of interest, up here, teachers are quite well paid. In our area the starting salary for a teacher is $44-54K rising to a max of $75-95K (depending upon background/education), with excellent pensions and benefits. Of course it is almost impossible to get a teaching job these days - there is a line up a mile long of qualified applicants ahead of you (it is still an attractive profession). Of course the same can not be said for principals - few want the job that is heavy on regulations and hassles, even though it pays over $100K/year even for a small (3-400 student) elementary school.

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

    by taonow on Mon May 14, 2012 at 05:13:27 AM PDT

    •  Except (0+ / 0-)

      The correlation/causation issue is never examined.

      I live in SC, a non-union state...teacher eval isn't impacted by union influence at all...

      The union issue is a distraction and that claim falls apart when the same education issues are present in states that are non-union...

      Accountability of teachers must be and can only be fairly about HOW teachers teach...not student outcomes...teachers cannot control student outcomes, only what they provide for students...

      •  Uhm (0+ / 0-)
        Accountability of teachers must be and can only be fairly about HOW teachers teach...not student outcomes...teachers cannot control student outcomes, only what they provide for students...
        As a teacher I tried to evaluate myself not by what I taught but by what my students took with them when they left the classroom. To only look at what and how I taught would have been the height of arrogance.

        Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

        by taonow on Mon May 14, 2012 at 06:09:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  self-evaluation v. exterior accountability (0+ / 0-)

          You are making two different claims

        •  What they really take with them... (0+ / 0-)

          is not something that can be evaluated on a standardized test.  It is love of learning, ability to ask questions, collaborate with others on finding answers, and present their thoughts to others.

          As to direct instruction by the teacher on things the student may not be interested in learning, John Holt said it best...

          The good students forget the material after the test.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Wed May 16, 2012 at 07:44:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  The great progressive educators... (0+ / 0-)

      of the early 20th century like Maria Montessori and John Dewey believed that schools and the teachers who staff them should be about creating an enriched environment for learning.  Then let the students direct their own pursuit of knowledge at their own pace and their own direction within that context.

      The current paradigm is upside down, the teacher as instructor and gatekeeper to learning is directing the student's pace and direction as an agent of the state.  IMO that shackles rather than facilitates learning!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Wed May 16, 2012 at 07:40:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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