It’s Time to Stand Up for Teachers

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I talk mostly about writing and nature, travel and revision and books and how to get kids reading.  None of those things are especially controversial or political. I have readers and friends and family members who wear both red and blue when it comes to politics, and I like that. I like hearing new ideas and getting a chance to think about views that are different from mine.

But the epidemic of teacher-bashing in our society – in our newspaper editorials and Tweets and blogs and status updates –needs to end.

I recently saw a Facebook post from someone whose work I admire a lot that said New York City teachers “should be ashamed of themselves” for not agreeing to a new evaluation system in time to save the state funding attached to it. The post went on to suggest that if those teachers really cared about children, this never would have happened.

But here’s the thing… That new evaluation system is required to base a good portion of a teacher’s evaluation on students’ standardized test scores, a practice that has exactly zero research to support its effectiveness.  In a statement on his refusal to extend the deadline for negotiations in New York City, Governor Cuomo said, “Since we established one of the strongest teacher evaluation models in the nation last year, 98% of school districts have successfully implemented them.”

Successfully?

Really?

Ask some of the teachers in those districts about the “success” of this new program, dubbed APPR for Annual Professional Performance Review.  In many of the districts that Cuomo is citing as “success stories,” the system is proving to be at worst, damaging to school climate and true literacy efforts, and at best, woefully unsustainable in terms of the time taken for each evaluation on the part of both teachers and administrators.

When I see colleagues from the building I used to teach in – one that was long known for its vibrant interdisciplinary teaching and strong student literacy program – they smile and ask how my writing has been going. And then they all say the same thing: “You got out just in time.”

I loved teaching so much.  And that makes me so sad.

Last night, I attended a kids’ music event at the school where I used to work and saw my former principal, a lovely woman who cares about kids and works hard.  I smiled at her and said, “How’s it going?”  And her response was a shrug, “Well…you know…”  She shook her head. She looked exhausted, and she looked sad.  She didn’t look that way before her school district cheerfully met the governor’s deadline by implementing its new teacher evaluation system.

Successfully, Governor Cuomo?  Visit some of these schools. Talk to some of these teachers and administrators.  Ask the kids how excited they are to be starting test-prep in October for an April exam. And ask them what books they’ve read and loved lately. And when some of them can’t answer, ask yourself why.  And while you’re at it, take a look at teacher absenteeism rates in the proud districts with the most ambitious APPR plans.  I hope you’re tracking that when you look at “success.”

But let’s get back to the issue of this deadline. Who’s the bad guy here?

Imagine for just a minute that we’re not talking about educational politics. Let’s take it to the school yard.

Imagine that a powerful kid wants another kid to do something that he or she considers to be wrong – cheating by giving answers on a homework assignment, for example.  And that powerful kid threatens to take the first kid’s lunch money if he or she doesn’t comply by a certain deadline.

In the school yard, we call that bullying. We don’t tolerate it. And I sure hope we support kids who stand up for what they know to be right.

There are many people – teachers and principals and parents alike – who are taking up the fight against APPR-style evaluations that rely on unreliable tests to evaluate teachers.  They should not be ashamed of themselves. They should be proud.  We should be proud of them. We should be standing beside them.  And if we value the kind of teaching that makes kids lifelong readers and passionate learners, then we should be supporting our teachers every chance we get.

Teachers are the good guys.  They’ve proven it over and over again – giving up lunch hours to work with struggling students, buying books with their own limited paychecks to share with emerging readers, and yes…shielding students from violence.  How very quickly we forget.

So I hope you’ll join me in a promise. When people are bashing teachers –  whether it’s on social media or at a dinner party – I’m going to speak up.

Every. Single. Time.

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148 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you, Kate.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Mike!

    • kerri
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I couldn’t agree with you more!!

  2. Jackie Germain
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Well said. Thank you for the support 🙂

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Thank YOU for what you do every day.

  3. Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    As one of those stuck in this new idiocy called “teacher evaluation”… Thank you. The public has no idea what this is doing to so MANY aspects of the teaching profession and, worse yet, to the students. It’s one of those things that politicians spout to the masses without facts or consequences. Once the teacher shortage hits, the test scores continue to stay stagnant and even less students are able to read critically, MAYBE someone will get it!

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Agreed – the misinformation campaign about this whole evaluation system has been unbelievable.

  4. Jenna Rentzel
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Thank You!

  5. Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Every teacher I’ve heard talk about this is upset about it. This education program is awful, and teachers should at least be paid more if they’re going to implement it. I don’t get what was so wrong with the old way! New York State seems to be completely unfair when it comes to the education department. We need a new governor who won’t make life more stressful for the teachers and students. Education needs to be fun and adventurous- not scripted and boring.

    It’s like, why should teachers have to prove they can do their jobs like this? If they need to prove they can teach- why would they have bothered to hire them? Once again: unfair.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I think given the choice between being paid more or teaching the way they know to be right, almost all teachers would prefer the latter. People don’t get into teaching because it’s lucrative – it’s not. They join the profession because it is meaningful and fulfilling and makes a difference in kids’ lives. I feel like that’s threatened right now, and you’re right – kids are the ones being affected.

      • J Elizabeth Ballard
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        Amen! You are so awesome for saying this! I left a lucrative career to become a teacher later in life. I went in eyes open, but even that wasn’t enough. Things have become so trying on a daily basis. And I don’t teach a “tested” subject. I worry that I might have a job year to year. I know what I teach, art, is so vital to the 21st century skills that everyone is talking about. Yet, the powers that be in government, don’t see any connection between creativity and thinking independently and problem-solving. The bashing attacks on Public Education need to end!

  6. Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    It made me sad to read this, putting the personal face on what I know is going on. Thank you for giving it this voice.

  7. Jeanette Bradley
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    High-stakes standardized testing benefits only one group of people: the (for-profit) test companies. Not teachers, and not kids. My kid enters third grade next year, and more than 3 weeks if the school year will be spent taking standardized tests that -get this – will never be used to evaluate either the teachers or students at her school. The state is shifting to a new evaluation system in phases, and next year will be the last year of the current testing system in some places, and the first of the new in others – and the old system won’t be used to evaluate.
    I am considering taking my kid out of school for these three weeks of meaningless activity. It makes me angry that teachers and children are forced to waste do much time on these tests. It’s not learning.
    On the other hand, we recently had an experience with a truly bad teacher. She was a special subject teacher who had stopped teaching and I stead was showing movies in class every day. And guess what? A standardized test was unnecessary to discover the problem. Principals, parents, and even young children are aware when something is actually wrong.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Yep – it’s frustrating. Great teachers and kids are suffering because someone had a really misguided idea about how to deal with the small minority of teachers who are burned out or not really suited for the profession. We can do better than this.

  8. Anne Ruppert
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Veteran teachers with 27 years of valuable experience are getting “developing ” scores for silly subjective and trivial reasons while being observed by administrators who are forced to abide by hastily implemented scoring systems. I have never felt so disrespected and demoralized.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I hear you, sis. (And love you!! xo)

  9. Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully said Kate. Thank you!

  10. Vicky Van
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Well said! Thank you so much for your support!

  11. Stephanie
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you do much for this supportive post.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      You are welcome – thank you for all that you do.

  12. mom
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    YAAAY,YOU !! I hope the governor reads it.

  13. Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    In Ontario we have been fighting the monistry of education over contracts that were imposed on us from above with no consultation. We’ve had walkouts, lost money and face a public who do not support teachers.
    This whole standardized testing is a such b.s. (sorry – buthwere in Ontario we too have the Gr. 3 and 6 testing, with many teachers being told that they will get Bs or above on the test!)
    With 30+ years of teaching behind me I do what I feel is best for my kids – they will read every day no matter what. We will get excited about our reading and we will laugh and share. And my kids are moving forward and loving reading.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Keep fighting the good fight, Bev – and please understand that more people are behind you than you even know.

  14. Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully said. Me too.

  15. Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Bravo from Oklahoma Kate! Well said and well meant. I too will speak up every. single. time. even if it is in my tiny corner of the world.
    First Grade @ Storybook Cafe
    dtklinger@gmail.com

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Tammy – but the thing is, if we all do this from our tiny corners, we can cover a whole lot of territory, no? Seems to me that’s how climates change.

  16. Kim Pfennigwerth
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    This is such a wonderful, important message.

  17. Kathleen
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I read this thinking wow, it’s not just happening here. I teach in Canada, and my province is currently in the midst of huge education issues. Our government created a bill that took our right to collective bargaining away, and then made it above every other law that protects labor rights. They refused to negotiate and then imposed a contract. The negativity I hear towards teachers is insane, even though these same people entrust us with what they hold most precious, their children. It’s sad to know that teachers are being bullied elsewhere too.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t realize these kinds of things were happening over the border, too, Kathleen. Thanks.

  18. Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    As an author and an elementary school teacher, I thank you for the support. It means a lot.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for teaching, Matthew.

  19. Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Amen.

  20. Karen
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Thank you. Very well said. I have been teaching for almost 20 years now and this year I have second-guessed my choice of professions. I am actually forced to use a test in my ninth grade that doesn’t even match up with the curriculum the state mandates me to teach. Out of 40 questions, 1 may be from my class, if I’m lucky. Nice, huh? Truly an accurate measure of my teaching and their learning! Yet our Gov. in his infinite wisdom believes this will improve our educational system. From Kindergarten to Senior High, in general everyone who actually knows what is best for school and students is shaking their head and asking…”How did this happen?” The answer of course is the almighty dollar. But then again, schools individually over the course of 5 years will not be getting massive amounts of money if anyone really looks into the amounts. So this begs the question, when does the bottom fall out? Unfortunately before that happens good teachers and a love of learning that students should feel….will be stifled.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I share your fears – and worry that a lot of good people are leaving teaching, making plans to get out, or choosing not to enter the profession at all at this point. When we devalue teachers, we really hurt kids.

  21. Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    As I read this post, I thought about the 1/2 hour you spent Skyping with my class and how that did more for their view of literacy than the 1/2 hour I could have spent making them do review sheets for the TEST. Unfortunately, nowhere on the test will it ask, “What was your favorite read aloud this year and why?” or “How many more books did you read this year than last year and who is your favorite author or genre?” or “How do you view yourself as a reader and what are your goals for reading next month?” THOSE are the kinds of questions that test true literacy. My college-aged daughter said her marketing professor is getting feedback from employers that newly graduated students aren’t creative anymore. Hmmm….it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that might be!

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Holly – There are still so many teachers like you fighting the fight to do more meaningful work with kids. I hope you’ll all hang in there!

    • Angela
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:01 am | Permalink

      I was speaking recently to another college professor that was receiving negative feedback from employers about the ability of newly graduated college students not knowing how to spell or correctly form a sentence. The college’s response not our fault they should have been taught that before they arrived at college. A very true statement by the college. I never took a state test until I reached high school and took regents exams. It is very sad that I look at high school grads today and they are so much more uneducated then I was when I graduated. These kids have crap for spelling and vocabulary skills. I have had to teach 3 of my kids myself the art of script. They couldn’t even sign a check. They get 8 yr olds all upset and stressed over these tests. I told my 8 yr. old don’t worry about these stupid tests because they mean nothing. It is all just ludicrous. Now our elementary school has classes an hour before school for extra teaching on the tests. Needless to say i refused to send my 8 yr old. Time to go back to the old ways! We are much smarter than the children of today!

  22. Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this Kate!

  23. Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    You are exactly correct. Thank you for your words and passion. This generation of kids will suffer from this and so will our teachers. Arne Duncan and powerful lobbyists have pushed these changes and its an effort that has negative motives.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Megan – and yes…I didn’t even get started on the money textbook companies are making on this failed endeavor.

  24. Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You don’t know how much I needed to hear this this week. On Monday I angered the big bosses above me when I refused to quit teaching for two months in order to do nothing but test prep boot camp. I was told not to teach my students research because the high school doesn’t bother to teach it much. I’m not the biggest fan of research papers and look for alternatives such as multigenre research, but as far as I know colleges still expect students to demonstrate learning through academic research papers. If we don’t teach them how to do it, we are setting our students up for failure. I know our school is under the gun (threat of school takeover by private charter company) if we don’t dramatically improve those test scores. I’m willing to do what I can to improve those scores and keep my job, but I will not do it if it means setting my students up for failure in the future. I am constantly looking for new ideas and ways to improve my teaching and my students’ learning, but the goal of education cannot be simply to pass a standardized test.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I really feel like the time is right to spark a revolution over this. We can’t keep teaching kids in such a limiting, think-in-the-box way.

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      This… “the goal of education cannot be simply to pass a standardized test.” This is what we need to get past. Thanks for joining the conversation, Kay.

    • teachemwell
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Is it possible, Kate, to do the “boot camp” stuff as homework and quick and dirty go over it at the start of class, then move on to more worthwhile pursuits…like the research they need for college? Just a thought!

      • Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        I’m not suggesting that tests be completely eliminated – a standardized test as a quick benchmark of student achievement at a moment in time is okay, and so is having kids take a practice test so they’re comfortable with the format. (Though if I were a kid, I’d certainly want to opt out of any sort of “boot camp” for testing!)

  25. teachemwell
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I hear the same thing as you do, having retired a few years ago. The principal in my former school says it often takes 10 hours to complete the APPR for tenured teachers. Multiply that times the number of teachers supervised…and add that to an already packed schedule. I don’t know how it can possibly be worth it for anyone.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      No…and it’s simply not sustainable. I suspect that we’ll see modifications to those programs very soon, but I feel awful and angry that dedicated teachers and kids were forced to be the guinea pigs to find out it doesn’t work.

  26. Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! This came at the perfect time – the last two months my patience has been tested by this evaluation system. It’s leaving out the key ingredient – the kids.????

    • Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Thank YOU for all you do for your students, Andy. I know how much time the new system is taking from teachers, and it breaks my heart thinking about what that time could have been used for instead.

  27. Janet F.
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Ditto in all regards and many thanks for this post. I hear all the time that I am lucky I retired. And this from dedicated, smart, hard-working teachers. I wish more in the public really understood. I am all in favor of excellent teaching and schools. But where is the field testing, the true understanding of children’s real needs. There are too many tests taking up valuable time in an effort to quantify something that is not easily quantifiable. Check out the work of William Glaser.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      I think it was Einstein who said something along the lines of “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

  28. Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Right on, Kate! I’m so glad you’re speaking out for teachers and for students. The emphasis on testing is one of the reasons my son hated fifth grade and left public school. From sixth grade on, he did a combination of home schooling and taking classes at an amazing resource center where the teachers are passionate about their subjects and there are no tests or grades. Now he’d be a senior in HS, but instead is a full time student at the community college with a 4.0 grade point. After six years without testing or grades, he had no trouble keeping up with college level testing.

    I’ve seen how many home schoolers are not only successful in college, but are thriving because they love to learn. No tests needed!

    I so admire teachers like you who understand how kids learn as well as recognize that the system is flawed. Keep speaking out, Kate. Your words and passion are much appreciated.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      And it’s ironic, I think, that this effort that was supposedly going to help kids across the board seems to be creating even more of a divide between those from lower socioeconomic households and those whose families can afford other options. I think what you’ve done for your son is great – I wish everyone had those choices right now.

  29. Dawn Murden
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you a million times over. This was a deflating week and I really needed to see this. Now, if only someone in charge would *get* it. What’s happening in Louisiana would make your skin crawl. At 14 years in, I never thought I would think of giving it all up– but our resignation/retirement numbers in LA have seen a 12% increase with the new evaluation plan. The largest group leaving– 12-16 yr teachers who have don’t enough time in to retire but are young enough to start a new career. A very sad time in education.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry that you had a deflating week – I hope you’re lifted up some this weekend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  30. Emily Buckell
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! Ohio is switching to something similar. We are required to have policy lined up this summer and it goes into effect the following year. The state can’t tell us exactly what the evaluations will be, but we must be ready for them. They can’t tell us how things are going to get done since they won’t pay for the tests that are mandated. They can’t even tell us for sure how the administrators will find time to do all the observations and reports that need done. They only tell us to do it. I wonder if they are tracking the money and time (teachers have to miss school to attend the trainings) spent prepping for this system? The kids are losing out big time with this program.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      It’s bizarre to me how these programs are being rushed through without thought, without research, without appropriate feedback. And yes…it’s hurting kids.

  31. karin jenkins
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    thanks!!! nice to know there are still people on our side 🙂

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure there are many more than you know, Karin!

  32. Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The school yard analogy is perfect. Our district doesn’t have this yet (I’m not sure about statewide) but we know it’s looming. Most people have no concept of how stressful this will be to teachers (good teachers!), enrichment-robbing for students, and time/energy/funds consuming to the whole school. I’d love to see the people that are coming up with these things go in and try to teach real classes with second language learners, behaviorally and developmentally challenged learners, and general lack of parental support. It would make a great reality show (and I hate reality shows.)
    You are so right about this. Thanks for speaking up

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for joining this conversation – I think it’s one we need to keep having over and over until things change.

  33. Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Kate – Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I’m fearful that until other parents join you in this battle against standardized tests, it will continue to eat up the time and quality instruction teachers cherish. Keep championing this cause and bringing it to light. Help others see what they can do and ways they can act to staunch this test hemorrhaging. Thank you for giving this a face and a voice! <3

  34. Lisa Dolan
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    To produce life-long learners is our goal…….first & foremost! Thank you, for the wise words in this post!

  35. Posted January 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve often thought it should be a requirement for any politician to spend a week in the classroom. They are so detached from the everyday realities of teaching and learning. As a parent and a grandmother I believe teachers are the ones on the front lines of our failure or success as human beings. The testing is so irrelevant, even back when I took standardized tests I remembered just getting bored and marking bubbles arbitrarily so I could just be done. Tests rarely reveals what a student has learned, it only proves which students are great test takers. Totally agree with you!

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      This is so true: “Tests rarely reveals what a student has learned, it only proves which students are great test takers.”

      And likewise, these detailed APPR plans don’t seem to be measuring who’s an effective teacher so much as they’re measuring who’s really good at jumping through hoops. Some great teachers are pretty good hoop jumpers, too, it turns out. But wouldn’t we rather have them spend their time planning great lessons and working with kids?

  36. Maggie
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! Now the question is, what can we do about it?

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      Well, I hope this conversation is a start.

  37. Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    A great post! I have worked as a school librarian and my wife is a high school English teacher. We are both sick of the teacher bashing. Attacking public education became fashionable in the mid-1980s and it seems to have grown louder and more popular over the years. We live in Tennessee where there is an equally unfair teacher evaluation procvess in place. Tennessee is one of those so-called “right to work” states which renders unions powerless and has allowed the legislature to ram through bills that has, among other things, eliminated tenure and paved the way for vouchers to pay private school tuition with public money. Thanks for your support! I enjoy your books.

  38. Amy Benoit
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    From one teacher to another, thank you. I fight the good fight each and every day because of my students. I love the kids, it’s the bureaucracy I hate!

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      You are welcome – and thank you for the work you do with kids, Amy!

  39. Dave T
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Huh…This is what happens when we give up our autonomy to an overbearing inefficient government. Education certainly seemed to work much better when government wasn’t involved. Local districts were able to make their own decisions and solve problems unique to their own district and not have policy dictated by bureaucrats. To make matters worse, I’ve seen back-stabbing among your own in education like I’ve not seen in other professions. When pressure is applied from above, teachers seem to get downright cannibalistic. I’ve heard many elementary teachers bashing middle school who bash elementary school etc. Bottom line, there are some demographics that simply will not and cannot perform regardless of what policies or practices are in place. The teachers are blamed when huge blocks of society live lives of chaos and their kids cannot possibly succeed. Power back to the states and things will get better, but as we know, the feds will never relinquish power they usurped in the first place.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Yeah…unfortunately, the pressure in NY right now is coming from the states, so I think that’s not our whole solution. Involving more teachers in this conversation would be a great start, though.

  40. Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Kate. This is lovely and spot on. I, too, am a former teacher who’s been warned not to return or that I got out before it got “too bad.” Like you, it always makes me sad. Thank you very much for articulating so well what many of us are feeling.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Lynda – I can only imagine what a great teacher you were!

  41. Gretchen McDonald
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you. I hope your words reach the right people. I have taught for 22 years, but left the public school sector to teach part-time so I could be the primary caregiver for my own young children. Once they both reached school-age, though, I just could not make myself go back to public school teaching; though I loved my profession and children, I could see more and more discrepancies between the fantasy world of State Ed. and the reality of the classroom. I have been a happy private teacher out of my home ever since. However, I don’t glory in this, because I have two teenagers who would both make excellent future teachers due to their love of children and civic duty, yet my husband (also in education) and I will not encourage them to go into education, and we are sad and discouraged to admit we feel this way. Change is needed NOW.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      This is what I think is perhaps the biggest loss in all this – people who love teaching are finding that they can’t teach the way they know to be right under the new system. Thanks for joining the conversation, Gretchen.

  42. Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for your support, Kate! I’m doing literature circles now and love to hear the students’ dynamic conversations. It’s such a meaningful way to assess their literacy skills and involves more higher level thinking skills than a standardized test. I don’t plan to skill and drill for the state test because A) NYS hasn’t shared the new format with us other than to say that students will be assessed at a reading level two years higher than in yrs past with no phase in and B) it will only take time from what I truly care about- helping kids become lifelong lovers of reading and writing. At the end of the day, that is my job… even if the state (or country) no longer defines it as such.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Karen – I love your spirit (as you know!) but hate the fear that these mandates are feeding in good teachers who know what works but are being pressured to use more canned, test-prep approaches.

  43. Tracey
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thank You!

  44. Rosemary Manchester
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Kate,

    Thank you for your powerful words to express what so many of us on the front lines are feeling. The lack of understanding for those that do not teach is almost as damaging as the implementation of these demands from the politicians. I too speak out, it was how my teacher mother raised me.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for joining this conversation, Rosemary – it’s one we need to keep having, I think, not only online but in the bleachers at baseball games and at band concerts and in the coffee shop, until people understand what’s really going on here.

  45. Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    This provides excellent perspective and insight about teaching. I particularly love the strong, resolute ending: “So I hope you’ll join me in a promise. When people are bashing teachers – whether it’s on social media or at a dinner party – I’m going to speak up. Every. Single. Time.” I am energized by your words!! Thank you.

  46. TinaR
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Well said. I could never dream of having the skills that it takes to be a good teacher. Until about 12 years ago, I did not know a lot of teachers and some of my opinions were similar those of the bashers out there. Then I joined a group with a membership consisting of a high percentage of teachers. And I got to know them. What I know now to be true is that I do work as hard or harder at my job as they do at theirs, but that doesn’t make me superior to them nor does it diminish their skill sets which are vastly different than mine. And I ask myself, “How would I feel if I was subjected to constant scrutiny in the media and from parents, who – let’s face it – are not terrific at partnering with teachers these days.?” Teachers spend as much or more time with our kids as we do. We should be helping them and supporting them rather than making their lives so difficult and driving them out of the profession completely.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Tina – I really do worry that this is driving good teachers away and preventing passionate people from entering the profession.

  47. Tiersa Watson
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    If a business has “inferior raw materials” they get rid of them. When a teacher has kids that come from homes where education is not valued or they themselves do not care, we are still responsible for educating them! Why should a teacher’s evaluation be based largely on students’ scores? I teach what I am supposed teach! I play games and use technology in my classroom! Most teachers can “lead a horse to water but we can’t make them drink!”

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Exactly – and truly, I hate the idea of kids as “raw materials.” Education is not a business. It has a bottom line that touches hearts and futures in ways that are most often, not possible to measure, which is why this testing mania is so wrong.

  48. Melissa
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I teach in an inner city school where many people don’t want to teach for reasons related to all this. If our salaries/evaluations become tied to student performance, no one will want to teach some of the neediest populations. My school has an unbelievably transient population (since Thanksgiving, I’ve had seven students move away and I’ve gotten nine new students. My students don’t have books or crayons or pencils at home. My colleagues and I do everything we can to help these students during the school day, but they go home to violent households, poor parenting, and conditions of extreme poverty which likely affect their test scores more than our efforts do. I love my job. My students are wonderful and I know I make a difference in their lives. I’m good! But I’m not good enough to counteract all the negatives in their lives, and my evaluation certainly shouldn’t be tied to their performance.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, I’ve already heard of a lot of this kind of teacher shift. Experienced teachers with seniority who really love working with at-risk kids are faced with the decision to push forward with what they love (and are good at) or call seniority and take higher level classes to protect their evaluations.

  49. Nona
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a much needed commentary on the problems in education today. This article needs to be read by the governor, legislators, and Board of Regents. My thoughts go out to all the teachers having to deal with the new APPR regulations. I’m glad I retired when I did!

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Nona – I truly hope things turn around for our talented colleagues who are still teaching.

  50. Chris
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Nice work. I am part of the Hamburg teachers in WNY who were one of the five districts without an APPR agreement. Thank you for the great points.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Chris – do you still not have an APPR agreement? I’d love to hear more about this, and please know that I admire your tenacity.

    • Mk
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

      As a fellow teacher in Western New York, I applaud you Hamburg! Thank you for standing up to this and please pass along that colleagues support you!

  51. Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    So well said, Kate; thank you. Already I’ve seen the changes in schools that have had to sacrifice art/music/reading novels to testing, testing, testing. It makes me crazy and sad.

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Me too, Sharon – thanks for joining the conversation. Your voice will mean a lot to the teachers who know you believe in them, too.

  52. Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem speaking up and speaking out. No problem at all. But how do we get people to listen?

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      I wish I knew – but I do think that speaking up is a start. I hope this conversation spreads.

  53. Barbara Maguire
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Kate. You speak the truth and I hope others hear. There is nothing more rewarding than spending my day with 25 fourth and fifth graders who love to read, ask questions, learn together and laugh. Unfortunately my district now evaluates me based on “data” and what is on my walls. A team comes into my room and checks off the “big 8” — items I’m to have on my walls. The kids and I don’t even have to be in the room. It’s still recorded and I’m judged based on those things. No one asks about our favorite books or what we’re thinking. We don’t get the chance to tell stories of our learning. They just want to know the test scores and to look at the walls. In my 32 years in the classroom I have never felt so inadequate. I grieve for the things our kids will miss. I believe we’ll look back on these days with great sadness and regret.

  54. Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Bravo! Thank you! Well said!

  55. Rebecca Reynolds
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Kate! Thanks for standing up for those of us that always get questioned when we do it ourselves!

  56. Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Bravo! Bravo! I am with you on this one! Basing teachers’ salaries on student performance makes no real sense. I taught for 5 years in a very low socio-economic school in central California. The standardized tests for most of the students in that school served as a test of their English much more than their actual knowledge of other subject areas. So sad to see teachers being blamed for a situation that society, as a whole, needs to come together to fix.

  57. Beth
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I love what you have written and it is so true. My mother was a teacher and as a young girl I could not wait to be a teacher just like my mom. I played teacher every day, and throughout collage could not wait to get a job. Now only a few years into my carrer I am feeling burnt out, as well as my fellow teachers. I teach kindergarten and I work with some of the most amazing women. Three years ago when I started with this team, I felt like we all had the energy to go the long haul together. But after these last 2 years, we are all talking about finding new jobs, and dread going to work. We all feel that if they would just let us come to work and teach our kids, we could do this job forever, but with all the “little’ demands they are making on us, some of us are looking for new jobs. We all say the same thing, it is not the kids or the job itself. It is too bad because this is going to cause a lot of great teachers leave the profession.

  58. Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Kate. I am one of those public school teachers, in New Jersey, not NYC, that is trying to spread some sanity. You have described this whole situation eloquently, and I hope, someday, administrators and teacher can stop shaking their heads and start holding them up again. I have many friends and family members who are teachers at various stages of our careers. I always wonder why people go after teachers. What’s going to happen if they make us go away?

    I’ll never forget when I told people I was going to become a teacher. I’m a career changer, so I came to teaching late. Some one said to me, “But you’re so smart. Why would you become a teacher?”

    I just looked back at the person and responded, “What kind of person do you want teaching your children?”

  59. Mk
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Well said! It feels good to hear people who understand that above all, teachers want what is best for our students and know how to teach while connecting and caring for these children. Sadly, what is happening in New York is far from that. 🙁

  60. Jodi
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. My district and teachers union, Hamburg, NY, did not approve our APPR document and became one of five or six districts in NY that didn’t. We are fighting the fight and hoping that people start to realize that APPR and all this high-stakes testing is not good for our students. Thank for your great comments and standing up for the profession that gets bashed so frequently!

    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I’m cheering for your teachers, Jodi! I hope you’ll be an inspiration to others.

  61. Kathy Schmidt
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    AWESOME post Kate – thank you! Georgia and our own district is going through this now … It’s very discouraging not just as a teacher, but as a parent, I am scared for the education of my own kids.

  62. Patti
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    well put!!! and do teachers get evaluated on when a child needs a little extra TLC because of home events (loss of grandparent,loss of family pet, what about that bully child who might need a little more attention,or just a bad day)what about all the other distractions in a classroom…unfortunately teachers don’t just get the “perfect children”in each classroom… I felt my childs teacher frustrations at the parent/teacher conference that there is no room to go “off schedule” to do anything different(fun) to break up the nose to book daily routines once in awhile…I was searching our school website for a survey to help in the search for a new superintendent and I came across the “report card” for our school which most areas and percentages where way above the “average” scores..I felt so proud of our teachers and proud that we belong to such an awesome district…Any more teachers spend more time with our children than us the parents Please evaluate teachers not just on the academics and daily schedules that they are told to teach but the caring, understanding and the many more things that they give to our children. Thank you to ALL the Williamson New York Teachers for what they do for our children and community!! GREAT JOB!!!!

  63. tracey carmichael
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    thank you so much! Our district is using all 86 points of Danielson for each year! I have been teaching for 27 years… this year I teach a different class every period… crazy. I am all for evaluations. I do think there is room for any person to improve… but being held for 32 students’ moral character on top of guesstimating how they will do by the end of the year, which accounts for 40% of my evaluation?! Evaluate ME. Evaluate my methodology. My content knowledge. My delivery. My treatment of students. But do not hold me accountable for how some one else will score. how someone will behave or act. If there are bad teachers or ineffective teachers in a school, then those that hired and evaluated those individuals have to explain… so thank you so much for this post… it made me proud to be a teacher!

  64. Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m late to this post, Kate, but wanted to say I stand with teachers. I, too, am sick of them catching all the blame for society’s ills as they work under increasingly difficult circumstances.

    Thank you for this eloquent statement.

  65. Michael Waite
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for bring this subject up on your blog. My hope is that it’s not too late to turn the tide. It’s nice to see a light in the dark.

  66. Nadi
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Let teachers teach, they do it so well! I am behind you all the way!

  67. Posted January 21, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Kate for your inspiring words. In honor of Martin Luther King’s day, I’ll add this: “intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” I hope that every child that leaves my room remembers how important is to be a Leader in today’s society, NOT how to score higher in an achievement test that does not measure their character.

  68. Jim Dunning
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Ms. Messner, you express valid points about popular proposals for evaluating teachers. Given that you’re very critical of New York’s plan for teacher performance assessment and development and to expand this discussion, what are your thoughts on better ways to evaluate public school staff?

    • Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Most school districts had more meaningful evaluation programs in place before APPR regulations took effect, Jim. In the district where I taught, teachers had the option of formal evaluations and conferences with their administrators, peer partnering, or goal setting/portfolio development – all of which were reflective, thoughtful, and effective. If you’re asking about removing ineffective teachers from the classroom, that’s the job of administrators. Are there a handful of teachers who should probably leave the profession? Of course there are, but it’s no mystery in any school system who they are, and this program, which hits effective teachers hardest, is not the answer.

  69. Tracy
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for such a wonderful essay. I am a former elem teacher (now a college teacher) and a parent. For a year now, I have been consistently writing to my representatives, including Gov. Cuomo (gov of NYS), about opting my children out of the madated testing. I have yet to receive a single response. Parents have to take the reins – voice your opinion if you don’t want your child’s classroom time spent preparing for and taking tests. If we all put our voices out there, I hope someone will listen. Thanks to all the wonderful teachers out there!

  70. Posted January 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Thank you… from a teacher who is exhausted and sad… and increasingly absent.

  71. Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Kate. Wholeheartedly with you on this one.

  72. Stefanie Norris
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you. Your blog nearly brought me to tears because we teachers are frustrated and feel as though no one is listening! We are forced to comply to policies though they are not well thought out and clearly, not written by educators. I sent an invite to his honor, Gov. Coumo, to come teach my class for one day. (Leave the pomp and circumstance outside the door….come alone…..I would leave explicit plans; see what we do everyday.). Of course I got no response…. Unless you are on the “front lines”, you couldn’t possibly have an idea. After 25 years, instead of it getting easier, it’s getting increasingly more difficult.

  73. Peggy Ryan
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    I recently left teaching after 34 years because of what is going on. I loved teaching and being with the kids. I miss them. I miss my friends who are still working but I could no longer do the one and only job I ever wanted. People who have no idea of what it is to be a teacher, how proud and excited we are when they succeed and how hard we work to guide them there are calling the shots. It’s all about the test and nothing else. We need well rounded literate children in all aspects not just students who can answer a question.
    Thank you for speaking for us for when we do it we are whining. If more people speak up, then maybe someone will begin listening.

  74. Posted January 22, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Kate–
    I hope you’ll take a look at our website, http://www.teachersspeakup.com, which encourages teachers to use their voices. Though we know there continue to be actions damaging to education, like those you describe, our site focuses on encouraging teachers to tell their positive stories about great learning for kids. Our society needs to be re-educated about this. I hope you’ll help spread the word on this (Your name is very familiar, but I don’t see it on my lists of Twitter followers or blog followers).
    –Steve Zemelman

  75. Lori Darst
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Kate!

  76. Christine
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    As so many others have said, THANK YOU! I teach a self-contained special ed class in an inner-city school. My students come to me already years behind academically, but they are required to take the standardized tests at their “grade level”, not at the level where they function. So I have 4th graders who read at a 1st grade level (or lower) and have to take a 4th grade reading test. Why bother? That would be like me taking a test designed for a brain surgeon…..many words would be foreign and I wouldn’t be able to make much sense out of it. It is depressing and sad what this does to my students. I spend so much time trying to get them to “take a chance” academically by doing things that are a LITTLE difficult …..and they do it because they know that I’ll be there to help them and coach them until they can do it independently. Then comes these tests…..which are FAR too difficult for them AND I can’t help them. Those are some of the worst days of my school year. They are painful. Add to the insult of making my students take these tests that my performance score will be based on how well they perform on these tests. REALLY? What exactly will these tests tell you about what my students know or what they have gained? The public JUST DOESN’T KNOW!
    Thanks again for “being in our corner”!!

  77. Maureen Nosal
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    So well said …. really spot-on. I had a student today who was in tears because he had to take several reading assessments during the time that the reading specialist was scheduled to work in my classroom. Why was he crying? Because he was missing his reading time to be tested!

  78. KAWright
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Next week I start new courses for the new semester. With new courses comes new faces and another chance to share with my students my love of learning in the hope that I can help turn that switch on for them. Sadly, I have to spend days completing “pre-assessments” with my students. My fun, “get my students excited” activities have been lost to an activity that helps make students, in their words, “feel stupid”.

    In my thirty years in education, I have seen many, many new ideas to “help” education. I have never seen policies as destructive as the latest one. Sad…..

  79. Posted January 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Yes, stick up for teachers if you feel they’re doing right by your kids – and I like to believe most are. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for teachers to be part of the downfall of what is probably the most underserved groups of students – the profoundly gifted. I’m commenting as the mom of a PG son (who I ended up having to homeschool), a classroom volunteer and a substitute teacher who has seen, heard about,and experienced the most ridiculous approaches to educating PG kids. Hopefully, most teachers are good for most kids. But most teachers have no earthly idea what a PG child needs for intellectual stimulation; all they see is a behavior problem (where none exists at home where attention span is endless when they are learning/doing something interesting on their ability level or beyond). I wish treachers would be open-minded about these children, and if it is not logistically possible to meet their needs in the standard classroom, honestly help the parents find an environment where they can learn new things and make real friends based on being able to relate mentally. Sigh… We should care about these kids so they don’t end up tormented into snapping…maybe the way they are treated in school pushes them in that direction. Few start out “nuts” – some just don’t have the endless tolerance for being belittled instead of uplifted where they have to spend most of their time – in school. If they end up depressed and on some dangerous psychotropic meds – well, haven’t most (if not all?) of the perpetrators of youth gun violence been on those meds? We have to stop depressing these beautiful minds. Sigh and headshake. Well, I invite you to visit http://www.indiegogo.com/pgkidsneedyou and I welcome your comments, especially if you have experienced working successfully with a PG child – I would like to be able to mention your story in the book I am close to finishing. I would really like to be able to write about some positive examples of how parents have been able to work with teachers for the happy good of these exceptional kids. Thanks for reading – sorry this was so long.

  80. Posted January 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    May I please add a PS to my other post – to give people an idea of what profound giftedness is, my son was reading with understanding in two languages (English and Spanish) at two years old, was learning several other languages and doing science experiments and was good with a camera by age four… I could go on. He started college classes at 14 only because I didn’t find a college opportunity for him until then. but he was certainly ready sooner. These kids are way out of the box, but they still start out just innocent little children with big hopes and dreams, needing to be liked and appreciated and educationally nurtured like any other child, not ignored and tormented into damaged obscurity. There are more of these kids than people think, but I think we tend to quietly give up on schools and keep our kids home for homeschool. Thank you.

  81. Priscilla
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I teach Kindergarten and the joy is going…buried under paperwork and the APPR

  82. Maureen
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    As a parent of 2 former NY City Students and friend to many teachers. It angers me that this evaluation system is being pushed. I know that there needs to be some system, but not based on the State Test. These test do nothing but force the kids to study for the test and not to enjoy learning. I was fortunate enough to have my children in a gifted program but it was not easy. I spent many a day making sure that my children did their homework, study, had a balance meal and go to bed early. If a teacher asked to speak to me my response was what did they do now. I always had open mind with teachers. One of my children was diagnosis with a LD. This teacher made my child’s learning much better once the right tools were given to him. If there needs to be an evaluation system it must be based equally. Not just teachers who teach in grades that have state test. What about the cluster teachers how will they be evaluated. When a fair evaluation can be accomplished then an only then can there be a fair evaluation system.

  83. Tom
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Kate. As a teacher I could not agree with you more!!!!!! Very well said!!!!

  84. Heather
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for defending us.

  85. Don
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Kate,
    Thanks for your support and for helping to throw light on the issue of testing obsession.
    Some parents, school district officials and teachers in my community (Saranac Lake) are planning a community forum to discuss this issue. Many of us are hoping that it will be the first step in a larger conversation about the insidious corporate reforms that threaten all of our schools.
    I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

  86. Phil Tamberino
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    If you are serious about the wrongful overuse of test scores, teachers and parents alike need to be more proactive to fight this cancer that is ruining public education. I suggest that parents be encouraged to leave their children home on testing days or send them in with a note indicating that they will read a book during test time. Civil disobedience is the only way we will change things by making the entire APPR system fail.

  87. Lesley
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    As others here have said, your blog gets to the heart of the matter succinctly and effectively. Nice job. After 16 years of teaching English, I decided to leave the profession last year . It was a difficult decision, but what I saw happening — and knew would continue to happen — was unconscionable and unbearable. I began to realize that teaching would no longer be about the kids or about learning. When I asked myself if I could test students in order to increase Pearson’s profits and satisfy non-educators who feel that we are all overpaid — while the students suffer! — for the next 20 years, I knew the answer. Sad all around. I’m back in school and excited about embarking on a second career where I can continue to be honest, work hard, and, this time, feel valued for it.

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