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Topic: Why I Want To Give Up Teaching
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,020
Registered: 12/3/04
Why I Want To Give Up Teaching
Posted: Jan 24, 2014 4:02 PM
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From The Courant [Hartford, CT], Friday, January 17, 2014. See

Why I Want To Give Up Teaching

By Elizabeth A. Natale

Surrounded by piles of student work to grade, lessons to plan and
laundry to do, I have but one hope for the new year: that the Common
Core State Standards, their related Smarter Balanced Assessment
Consortium testing and the new teacher evaluation program will become

I have been a middle school English teacher for 15 years. I entered
teaching after 19 years as a newspaper reporter and college public
relations professional. I changed careers to contribute to society;
shape young minds; create good and productive citizens; and spend
time with youngsters lacking adults at home with time, energy and
resources to teach them.

Although the tasks ahead of me are no different from those of the
last 14 years, today is different. Today, I am considering ending my
teaching career.

When I started teaching, I learned that dealing with demanding
college presidents and cantankerous newspaper editors was nothing.
While those jobs allowed me time to drink tea and read the newspaper,
teaching deprived me of an opportunity to use the restroom. And when
I did, I was often the Pied Piper, followed by children intent on
speaking with me through the bathroom door.

I loved it!

Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping
the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children. The
Common Core standards require teachers to march lockstep in arming
students with "21st-century skills." In English, emphasis on
technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for
students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper
airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt's
beloved novel "Tuck Everlasting."

The Smarter Balance program assumes my students are comfortable
taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one. My value as
a teacher is now reduced to how successful I am in getting a student
who has eaten no breakfast and is a pawn in her parents' divorce to
score well enough to meet my teacher evaluation goals.

I am a professional. My mission is to help students progress
academically, but there is much more to my job than ensuring students
can answer multiple-choice questions on a computer. Unlike my
engineer husband who runs tests to rate the functionality of
instruments, I cannot assess students by plugging them into a
computer. They are not machines. They are humans who are not fazed by
a D but are undone when their goldfish dies, who struggle with
composing a coherent paragraph but draw brilliantly, who read on a
third-grade level but generously hold the door for others.

My most important contributions to students are not addressed by the
Common Core, Smarter Balance and teacher evaluations. I come in
early, work through lunch and stay late to help children who ask for
assistance but clearly crave the attention of a caring adult. At
intramurals, I voluntarily coach a ragtag team of volleyball players
to ensure good sportsmanship. I "ooh" and "ah" over comments made by
a student who finally raises his hand or earns a C on a test she
insisted she would fail.

Those moments mean the most to my students and me, but they are not
valued by a system that focuses on preparing workers rather than
thinkers, collecting data rather than teaching and treating teachers
as less than professionals.

Until this year, I was a highly regarded certified teacher. Now, I
must prove myself with data that holds little meaning to me. I no
longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life
lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My
success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling
students to "mastery," without regard for those with advanced skills.
Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing
children's passions - committing "readicide," as Kelly Gallagher
called it in his book of that title.

Teaching is the most difficult - but most rewarding - work I have
ever done. It is, however, art, not science. A student's learning
will never be measured by any test, and I do not believe the current
trend in education will lead to adults better prepared for the
workforce, or to better citizens. For the sake of students, our
legislators must reach this same conclusion before good teachers give
up the profession - and the children - they love.
Elizabeth A. Natale of Glastonbury teaches English and language arts
at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu

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