Yesterday, the Answer Sheet, an education blog for the Washington Post, published a heartbreaking letter from a teacher that was deeply disturbing. Susan Sluyter, the teacher in question, wrote the following letter in part:
I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.
Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of kindergarten and PreK. I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!” I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above. Each year there are more. Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.
I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same: to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom. I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity. I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away. I felt anger rise inside me. I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly. I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.
The problem for teachers like Sluyter is that the more that teachers have to spend time away from the classroom trying to learn the latest methods of assessing students, the less time they have to get to know their kids, the families, and their unique situations. While teacher development is important and has been directly linked to student improvement, it will not happen if it is done at the expense of quality time with the students that the teacher needs to serve.
Most teachers are exempt from Federal Overtime regulations. That means that the state and their employers can make them work off the clock for hours and days on end just to meet the latest requirements. And teachers have to do more and more paperwork just to prove to the state's or DOE's satisfaction that they are really teaching their kids.
This is one of many reasons why Democrats are in danger of losing ground in the House and losing control of the Senate this year. Teachers are natural allies of the party. But the more that the government continues to alienate the allies that have voted them into power, the more that they will either stay home or vote for the Republican because they promise them less "big government." I know that is not fair or rational, but that's a fact of life. The more time that the government makes people like teachers spend doing more and more tests, doing more and more gimmicks that may or may not accurately assess students, and spending more and more time at their own expense trying to keep up with the latest requirements, the less time these people will have to fully engage with the issues that are at stake. Will it take the election of President Rand Paul in 2016 to make the Democratic establishment wake up and realize that something is seriously wrong?
One problem is that the Very Important People (TM) don't really give a rat's behind about education. In fact, none of the moderators from any one of the debates during the 2012 Presidential election even bothered to ask the candidates about what they would do for education. President Obama had to jump in and speak off-topic at the end of the final debate about some of the initiatives he was proposing.
To his credit, Obama got rid of No Child Left Behind. However, the present system, as it is, is still designed to make teachers and schools fail. Every year, someone within government has a "bright idea" to improve education through testing and assessment. But it never occurs to them that these teachers will have to spend hours or days away from their families and without pay in order to learn these "gimmicks" that will soon be shelved for the latest "bright idea" to come down the pipe. When teachers like Sluyter decide that they've had enough, it "proves" that our schools and teachers are failing our kids and that we need vouchers, charter schools, and corporate takeover of our schools. And then our towns and our communities fall apart because our schools, which are the lifeblood of our communities, are closed down and are simply big empty buildings that are leaking, rotting, and which nobody wants anymore.