Category Archives: Poor Administrators

Hanging Up the Hoop: Why I Resigned

I taught in the Pennsylvania public school system for 11 years. All the while, I jumped through hoops. That’s what education has become: hoop jumping. We teach our kids to jump through the test prep, practice assessment, and high-stakes assessment hoops. Districts tell their teachers that they don’t have an option: they have to administer the tests so they receive state and federal funds. So, teachers jump through the testing hoops. Parents who ask about opting out and curriculum are handed more hoops to jump through: write letters, sign forms, make appointments, sign up to speak at meetings, etc.

I did not teach one year, including my year of student teaching 12 years ago, that was high-stakes-testing free. In fact, the tests became more frequent, more difficult, and more punitive for my students. The hoops became more numerous and higher, and eventually the state set fire to them by tying student performance to teacher evaluations and graduation requirements. Yet, we had to keep jumping.

I just want a hula hoop by Brian DeweyIt’s time to take a step back and examine what is being lost to the hoops. Specifically, students have lost a great deal. They lost electives and before and after school time, as they worked with teachers and attended tutoring in the name of the test. They lost grammar and spelling instruction in the name of the test. They lost social studies and science in elementary school in the name of the test. They lost handwriting and cursive instruction in the name of the tests. When students asked me to work on cursive writing with them after school because they were stressed about having to handwrite the paragraph and sign their name for the SATs, I taught them how to do it while fuming about the fact that they did not have the simple life skill of being able to sign their names.

And now, my district has lost me, as I officially resigned November 3. Essentially, I hung up my hoop, and I’d like to set the record straight about my decision.

I entered the teaching profession because I wanted to share my passion for reading, writing, and thinking with students. I loved turning on the most reluctant readers to books and having discussions with students about Ponyboy, Boo Radley, Poe, Elie Wiesel, and all of our literary crew. My best days were the ones when the mysteries of a poem finally became clear to students. Seeing students who were weak writers become strong writers over the course of a year kept my passion alive.

But, as the years wore on, the educational climate changed. For all of my passion and commitment, and all of the work I did to get students to read and write and learn, I fought a losing battle. I didn’t know how to combat the testing culture. I asked my administrators why we implemented a Common Core curriculum when the state hadn’t yet adopted the Common Core. I suggested ways for schedules to accommodate students’ desire for vocational, technical, art, and music courses when they lost them to double periods of English and math to prepare them for the tests. I asked why students had to take practice assessments that do not include a writing component when the “real test” does. I never received a clear-cut answer, and administrators started telling me we could meet in their office if I had further questions.

I noticed that other teachers who asked similar questions got the same answer: bring your questions to my office and we can address them one-on-one. I started to notice that other teachers who asked for change, curriculum, and a scope and sequence were evaluated by principals one to two days later. All of a sudden, I was evaluated on days with shorter schedules, days back from vacations, and other days that were not known as the best time for student achievement. I was not afraid of those evaluations because I always held my students to a high standard for learning and did my job, even on those days, but I often chuckled about the timing of the evaluations.

THINK+EXPRESS by Derek DavalosYet, it is an awful thing to feel as though you don’t have a voice when you are working so hard to teach students to use theirs through reading, researching, and writing. It is an awful thing to feel as though your administrators want you to smile, carry on with your day, and make everything work, when you see students in tears because they cannot take the classes they want and cannot pass a test no matter how much time you spend with them and how hard they try. It is an awful thing to talk to teachers who try to get answers and make some changes to help students and themselves navigate the testing madness, only to see them clam up in public and in district-level meetings because they know they are wasting their breath, only to be evaluated and targeted for speaking up.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly which hoop made me stop jumping. Maybe it was the issues with discipline. Maybe it was the denial of the drug, bullying, and racism problems in my school. Maybe it was the way in which administrators said they were working toward equity in scheduling, yet saddled two of us with the bulk of the testing classes. Maybe it was the way my questions were met with smiles and nods and then pushed to the side. Maybe it was the lack of communication. Maybe it was being told during meetings to say things in a positive manner and be positive at all costs. Maybe it was facing students and parents with tears in their eyes during parent-teacher conferences. Maybe it was years of frustration all rolled into one.

I decided that I needed a break. I was granted an uncompensated one-year leave of absence. I had been a part-time freelance writer for a year and decided to pursue my passion for researching and writing, since my passion in the classroom had been killed by the hoops. I started freelancing full time and began my personal blog about being a mom and a teacher. Imagine my surprise when my union president contacted me and said that PSEA advised that I take down the posts about teaching because I could be terminated. Until that point, I knew that district officials worked to stifle teachers’ voices. I had no idea that teachers, as a whole, did not have their full First Amendment rights.

I begrudgingly took down the posts. Then, on August 1, I wrote “An Open Letter to Campbell Brown From a Teacher On Leave,” and it went viral. Suddenly, teachers from across the country started contacting me, thanking me for speaking up when they could not, fearing retribution. I heard from teachers without unions who could lose their jobs if they spoke out. I also heard from teachers from within my own district who asked me to keep writing because I shared their sentiments in a way they could not.

TRUTH LogoNext, I started TRUTH In Teaching to help teachers share their stories and frustrations and to show them that they are not alone. Teachers from all over the country signed up to receive the newsletter, “Liked” TRUTH’s Facebook page, and sent me notes of thanks and encouragement. I made it possible for teachers to anonymously submit their Teacher TRUTHs and soon had several submissions. So many asked me to hold on to them until they decided if they wanted to publish; some of them said just writing their TRUTH made them feel better. Even anonymously, though, they were afraid to speak up about what was happening in their districts.

Early in September, my union president contacted me again. This time, he said that I had upset my superintendent with my site and blog. I never received any form of communication from my superintendent. The only way that I knew that I was “on notice” was through my union president. It is my understanding that my site and I were discussed behind closed doors and the district solicitor was contacted. Because I have no firsthand knowledge of this, I will say nothing more.

Here is what I do know: the superintendent scheduled meetings at every elementary school to discuss the approximate 20-page lesson plan that some of the anonymous teachers and I mentioned on the site. I did not attend the meetings, so I will not discuss them. But, I find it interesting that the meetings were held only a few days after my union president contacted me and that they were held at elementary buildings, when the anonymous Teacher TRUTH posts were written by elementary teachers. I was not surprised when teachers asked me not to publish what they had sent me, after the meetings with the superintendent.

While I cannot identify the hoop that pushed me to take a leave of absence, I can say with 100% certainty that I resigned because I refuse to abide by the unwritten gag order the superintendent is imposing on teachers. How can an institution of learning squelch teachers’ First Amendment rights? How can an institution of learning dictate what the public knows about a public-funded entity? How could I, an English teacher, allow myself to be censored when I never censored my students nor encouraged them to censor themselves when they conducted themselves respectfully and with support for their opinions and ideas?

I now am a former teacher. I now work to make it possible for teachers to share their TRUTH. I now work for a positive change in our school district so that our students can learn how to be the leaders, and not the followers, of tomorrow. It starts with allowing our teachers to be leaders themselves.

Images via Flickr by Brian Dewey and Derek Davlos

Listen, Understand, Act by Steven Shorrock

Teachers Need to Send a TRUE Message

So many teachers responded to my post, “The Tide Is Turning.” As per the norm since Angela and I started TRUTH In Teaching, the majority of responses came through email and personal messages. Again, I am reminded of the sad reality that teachers are afraid to tell the truth and share their thoughts publicly, because they are being subjected to intimidation and retribution. A very telling theme emerged from the responses: teachers are being told to be positive and to put on a good face for the public.

I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I’m not. All too often, administrators who are pushing their own agendas and interests encourage teachers to stand united in support of the district and don a facade for the public, especially when negotiations are occurring. The problem with this directive, of course, is that it paints a false picture. It makes school boards believe that teachers are on board with policies and directives that are not in the best interests of students or teachers. It makes parents think that the teachers whole-heartedly accept all of the paperwork, assessments, and curriculum changes that follow the corporate, Common Core, and administrative agendas.

Make Our Schools a Priority by GreenNetizenI am discouraged by the fact that so many educators from all corners of the country are hearing the same messages from their administrators. Making it work and smiling for the parents and public is what has gotten us into this mess. Of course parents and community members are going to sit back and allow students to be tested incessantly and teachers to be burdened with more district-level lesson plan, assessment, and curriculum responsibilities when the teachers appear to think those things are a-okay.

The front office directive of “Be positive (or else”) is irony at its worst. There is a reason districts feel compelled to demand that their teachers be positive. Morale is at an all-time low across the country. Teachers are being tasked with more and more at every turn. Students are spending more time preparing for and taking assessments than ever before. Funding is at its lowest levels and class sizes are at their highest.

But, revoking the teachers’ ability to have honest, open dialogue with each other, parents, and community members, as well as administrators and school boards, in the name of “positivity” is absurd. Holding meetings to tell teachers to refrain from participating in public discussions about the current state of things in classrooms and schools cannot be a better use of time than truly listening to teachers’ concerns. Hiding behind the premise of an “open dialogue” and then telling teachers who have lists of questions that it would be better to meet one-on-one is insulting. And, telling teachers they cannot speak with school board members is unethical. What are districts so afraid of? Why are administrators so afraid of having discussions in a large, open forum? It seems as though they are following the “divide and conquer” mindset. That only works if we allow them to do it.

Again, I encourage you to look to the districts who have not taking things sitting down. Teachers in Chicago, IL; Reynoldsburg, OH; York City, PA; Jefferson County, CO; Philadelphia, PA; San Ysidro, CA; and others have had the courage to publicly speak out against policies that negatively impact their profession, classrooms, and students. Individual teachers are joining the Badass Teachers Association, and many of them also are supporting the United Opt Out movement and Peggy Robertson (we are sharing much of Peggy’s work on our Facebook page for easier access). These teachers are making sure that they share the TRUTH about the things that are occurring in their districts. Instead of facing an angry mob of parents and community members, they are finding overwhelming support from Listen, Understand, Act by Steven Shorrockother teachers, parents, community members, and students. Teachers have found allies in other stakeholders and are still working together to rally, protest, and explain their side of things with TRUTH at the heart of the gatherings.

Censorship has no place in public education. Teachers are professionals. They have a right to stand up, speak out, and share their opinions and concerns. They should not fear a confrontation with an angry administrator for using their First Amendment right. They also have a right to educate the public about the challenges, problems, and issues that are occurring in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Teachers work every day to eradicate ignorance. It seems as though administrative and corporate agendas want to foster it.

Teachers: Which message are you sending?

Images via Flickr by GreenNetizen and Steven Shorrock

Reflecting on “Overwhelmed After 13 Years”: The Effects of Poor Administration

We have received such an outpouring of support as a result of our first Teacher TRUTH! Mostly, teachers identified with the teacher who wrote “Overwhelmed After 13 Years.” We have heard from teachers who have been in the classroom for 25+ years lamenting that they, too, feel the same way this year… or have been feeling the same way for the past several. We have heard from teachers who say they wish they could share their TRUTH, too, but just can’t find the time – which is exactly the sad TRUTH behind “Overwhelmed.”

I had a different takeaway from the submission, though. I became frustrated and angry the more that I read it. Instead of saying, “I really felt that way, too,” I said, “AAAAAAHHHHHHH! Why this paperwork is big by Ashley Fisherdoes it have to be this way?”

As if all of the assessments and standards and new curriculum weren’t enough, now the administrators are piling on unnecessary, poorly planned (at least at the secondary level, where teachers already have received two different lesson plan templates), and required paperwork for their teachers. Shouldn’t the administrators want to help their teachers wade through all of the “more” instead of being the ones who are responsible for adding MORE?

But, I know the district in which “Overwhelmed” teaches. I know that when questions about assessments are asked, when questions about scope and sequence and curriculum are asked, administrators get defensive and react, oftentimes, unfairly. It is not uncommon in that district for teachers who ask questions or raise concerns to be observed several times a week. It is not uncommon for teachers in that district who try to teach in such a way that they know is right for kids to be given more duties.

And, it certainly seems that the new elementary lesson plan is nothing more than an act of retaliation against a group of dedicated elementary teachers who got together last school year on their own time to research and share resources to ultimately find a solution to all of the district’s assessments and lack of curriculum and then had to beg to be a part of the decision-making process. I was in attendance at a school board meeting last spring when the board president himself stated that teachers don’t want to take the time to help write curriculum. HA!

I also know that the majority of the supporters of “Overwhelmed” responded to us through email, rather than sharing the Teacher TRUTH on Facebook or commenting on the TRUTH In Teaching website because of these sorts of repercussions that are being dealt out by administrators. We’ve also been hearing from teachers who are reading our material and signing up for our newsletter but are hesitant to get involved with the site or on social media due to the same fears.

These facts alone should be enough to get you involved in sharing your TRUTH with everyone. Don’t forget: Teacher TRUTHS may be submitted completely anonymously, as “Overwhelmed After 13 Years” was. Your voices will help shed light on what’s really happening inside your classrooms and what you really are facing each day as a teacher during these times.

It’s a shame that this we vs. they climate exists in a district that could be so much better. So many teachers are feeling overwhelmed and inundated with MORE, when they should be feeling energized and excited for a new year with new faces before them. This is an administration problem. But, the teachers are faced once again with “making it work.” It’s time for all of the teachers who are feeling overwhelmed to stand together. Show the administration it’s not going to work this time. Show them that you can be professionals who do your jobs without handing in a 17-page manifesto each week. Show them that you are capable of doing your jobs well without the burdens of their paperwork.

At this point, you need to stand up for yourselves. A change won’t happen until people realize just how much a drastic change is needed. Email Bailey at bailey@truthinteaching.com or Angela at angela@truthinteaching.com to help by sharing your TRUTH.

Image via Flickr by Ashley Fisher