4 1/2 Years Trying to Make Sense of Nonsense…
In 2008, a decade after starting my teaching career in the Boston Public Schools & 3 years after an extended maternity leave had begun, I returned to the classroom. The transition back to the classroom wasn’t easy for me – I missed my babies terribly, & I was overwhelmed by the challenges of balancing my career and motherhood.
What made finding this balance even more daunting was the fact that, for the 1st time in my career, I was no longer a teacher at the elementary level; the district had assigned me to a middle school. & while I may have held valid licenses that certified me to teach at any grade level from preK-9, my experience stopped after grade 5. The confidence I once had about my teaching ability was tested as I ventured into this adolescent world & quickly realized how vastly different the curriculum and expectations were at this secondary level. In many ways I felt like a first year teacher again; many of the skills and expertise that i had come to master over the years were not applicable to this level of instruction.
I realized I’d grossly underestimated the differences between elementary and middle school, but also knew that, at the end of the day, teaching was who I am. It was what had defined and shaped my entire life thus far, & had been ingrained as part of my identity longer than any other. I remembered my college days at UMass/Amherst, when I refused to major in education because, I thought, “everyone” had expected me to, only to realize later that the only person “expecting” that of me, was me. I thought about the couple of years post-college & the myriad of experiences I had trying to find my “place” in the “working world”; experiences which ultimately led to my inability to deny that i had, in fact, always know what that “place” really was. I thought back to when I first set foot in the halls of Wheelock College, when I obtained my Master’s Degree in Special Education, & when I stood before my own classroom for the first time in the capacity of “Teacher”, & I remembered those decisions as being the first ones I’d ever made that gave me a certain sense of peace within myself – knowing, as i went through them, that I was doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do. & that is, to teach.
Remembering my journey like that was all I needed to throw myself into developing the skills I needed to teach this middle school curriculum. And so I did. But as months turned into years, and my familiarity and comfort level with the curriculum grew, I was still finding myself to be very much unsettled. I knew I was an effective middle school teacher now, seeing growth and progress in my students each day. But I continued to be plagued by the sense that I was failing my students somehow. I was doing everything I was told to do, & as best I could, yet I still believed myself to be failing. It didn’t make sense.
FF to April 1st, 2013.
Years of actively (sometimes obsessively) trying to make sense of this feeling left me able to understand why I was failing, except it still didn’t make SENSE to be! It didn’t make sense why I – along every other teacher I knew – was KNOWINGLY FAILING these children. I’d come to realize that the problems I had faced upon my re-entry into the schools were not the result of the move to middle school; they were the result of a much bigger dynamic that had, during the 3 years I was a SAHM, taken hold of the Educational System as anyone had ever understood it & was well on it’s way to completely transforming everything about it.
I was failing these students not because I was an inexperienced or “bad” teacher. I was failing these students because everything I found myself doing – everything I was told to be doing – was WRONG! I can not put into words the feelings that that elicits. I can not put into words the internal conflict and discontent that results when you’re a part of something that is so HARMFUL.
On April 1, 2013, I resigned.
I could not survive even one more day having any part in ruining the educational system, in ruining the lives of the children I teach. I could not survive being dictated exactly what to do, when to do it, and best of all – HOW to do it, by people who had no IDEA about what was best. I could not survive being told I was a “failing” teacher, working in a “failing” school, by these people…OF COURSE I WAS FAILING when everything I was doing was SO WRONG!
& so I had to get out. The toll this was taking had extended far beyond the walls of my classroom. This was, after all, my vocation…it was a significant part of who I am, second only to “mother” in fact…this is what defined me long before I could define it. I didn’t start teaching for the money, or the status, or even the vacations. I started teaching because it was WHO I AM, & the intrinsic motivation was the only thing i needed to do it, and do it well.
The Billionaire Boys Club have removed intrinsic motivation from the classrooms. & why not? They are people who are driven by money and power, and climbing the ladder of corporate success…their lives and careers have only ever been defined by externally motivating factors and nothing more. These people we have allowed to call all the shots in schools aren’t people who would have ever considered teaching for themselves; there’s nothing they would “get” out of doing so.
My efforts to make sense of this have only made me more confused than ever. I used to think that there HAD to be some logic in doing these things we teachers were doing; i believed there HAD to be a good reason for us to be complying with rules set by people who haven’t been in the classroom since their own graduation days. I believed there HAD to be a reason why teachers aren’t standing together in solidarity to reclaim our rightful titles of “Expert”, challenging those who have stolen it away from us. There HAD to be a reason we were instead complying with the most harmful and ridiculous mandates & sanctions imposed upon us. I believed these things so strongly that it kept me going with flow & complying all the same. Until one day I decided that while I still believe there HAS to be reasons for those things, I couldn’t ruin another child’s education while waiting to figure it out.
The choice I made to walk away from the schools this month came from something inside myself that was just as powerful as what led to my choice to walk into them 15 years ago. & I do so with the belief that someday Ill find myself back in front of a group of students, doing what I do best, & being allowed to do it. I hope to do what I can now on the policy side of education, with as much drive and passion as i once had teaching. But politics is long and involved, and the crisis in the schools is urgent in nature, to say the least.
I know most of you reading this understand the “calling” into teaching, like I do. & I’d imagine all of you understand how devastating and horrifying the level of damage NCLB has initiated. Because i don’t think there is a SINGLE TEACHER in this country who actually SUPPORTS NCLB’s “Reform”, as it stands today. (& if there is, may s/he speak up here). I know you understand that feeling I couldn’t explain – that comes from knowing something is bad, but doing it anyhow. it’s horrible…what’s happening in the schools today is HORRIBLE.
& we are to blame. We are the ones on the front line; the ones who have carried out these “Reformations” as we have been told. We are the ONLY ONES WHO COULD carry them out! & yet we know better than ANYone how TOXIC they are to the institution as a whole, to our reputations as teachers, but most of all, to our STUDENTS.
So WHY DO WE CONTINUE to do so?
WHY DON’T WE UNITE & TELL THEM “NO”?!?!
How bad does it really have to get?