Monday, May 19, 2014

Actives Describe the Classroom After SB7: Another Front in the War

"Got to stay single focused, got to stay single….."
Letters from the Inside: Active Teachers Describe the Effects of SB7

Dinner with an active colleague in May 0f 2014

“Sorry, you guys, but while you have been fighting for us in pensions, they’ve come under the cracks in the door.  You missed what happened since you left, since the Performance Reform Evaluation Act.  The classes you remember no longer exist.  The teachers you remember no longer exist.  We are miserable and defeated; I’m not kidding, all of us are either counting how much time we have left, or we’re trying to figure out some new kind of life outside of what has become a surreal nightmare of mandates, testing, and “enduring outcomes.”

Another younger, talented instructor responds to query regarding that dinner conversation.

My hoop dream is your nightmare...
“You hit the nail on the head with the term 'defeated'. That captures it perfectly. We're beaten down, convinced that we're stuck in a downward spiral that will end with the corporatization of our districts, the elimination of our pension funds (if not our jobs entirely), and the demise of public education in general. We're cogs in a data wheel now, expected to produce only quantitative results at the expense of the very qualities of relationships, values, and knowledge that inspired us to pursue this noble profession. The nobility and art is no longer valued. What IS valued is an adherence to strict data models, and finding ways to prove we've actually done our jobs. We are guilty until proven innocent under the Danielson model of evaluation, which in our district demands certain practices that we as teachers are legitimately against both pedagogically and philosophically (the daily posting of "learning targets" is one of them - this is required now by all staff members). We are all treated like we have no ability, intellect, or motivation, and while a good 95% of our teaching staff is among the most capable, professional, and intelligent any school could hope for, we're all being treated as if we are in that 5% of teachers who aren't quite cut out for the rigors of the job. This assumption about our professionalism and ability is demoralizing on its own, but it's just the beginning.”

What’s your perception of students within this “new culture of testing and performance expectation – for you and them?

"Students are less and less able to solve problems and think critically now because we've trained them not to. We've trained them to get the right answer at all costs. They're less and less responsible for themselves because they no longer need to be - if they fail, it's on someone else. If they fail, the teacher did something wrong, not them. If they did not turn in the work, it was because the teacher was not 'creative enough to figure out how to the tailor the work to their needs, and shame on that teacher for being so arrogant as to expect the student to fit into their deadlines' (that quote is nearly verbatim from a guest speaker our district brought in last year to usher in new grading policies). The amount of anxiety and depression among students has never been higher - I've had six students this year alone hospitalized for severe school refusal behaviors related to anxiety."

Another teacher/administrator describes his relationship with students after changes in SB7.

"If I can just get through another 37 years…"
“Maybe you remember actually knowing students, their interests and needs.  That’s not in the picture anymore.  I tell you honestly that I don’t even know them really until over halfway through the year.  Even then, I don’t really ever have the connection I used to have.  Those days are gone.  It’s all about expectations now, delivering information on an hourly basis to parents who complain that it’s my fault if the student in underperforming.  Then, it’s off to differentiated learning where I must deliver a singularly individual program of learning to anyone who is not with the rest of the class.  You either face 27 different learning lessons or you yourself learn to find ways to accommodate the lesser learning outcome so all are together.  Meanwhile, the kid who finds some joy in a certain part of the text as it echoes some deeper part of him…well, that’s lost in the morass of skill building.”   

How do you survive this pressure day in and day out?

“So 'defeated'? Yes. Despairing? Yes. Exhausted, angsty, and hopeless? Yes. The amount of energy it takes to prevent these emotions from entering the classroom and affected our students is staggering, and it has us all on our last legs. Everyone has their head down now, muscling through the day at their desks, desperate to get as much done as possible in a time when we're being asked to do more and more and more. With new initiatives and policies coming down at what seems like a constant rate, we are in a vicious cycle of reactivity; most teachers I know trend towards the proactive in terms of their personalities and approaches to conflict and adversity, so to be relentlessly put in the position of reacting to the latest browbeating has us feeling like we're on the losing end of a boxing match. Every time we pull ourselves up, someone's there to deliver the next sucker punch and knock us down again.”


When and how do we stop this absurdity?
"I've come to call this 'new' mentality, 'If it ain't broke, fix it until it is.' It is rampant, it is tragic, it is destroying our profession and it's destroying the system of public education that our society has come to rely on. 

And on top of that insult, they're now taking away our retirement security, our salary advancement opportunities, and our partial reimbursement for advanced education (which we're required to obtain to maintain our licenses). It's a full-on assault from every possible angle, and we don't even know how to fight against it anymore because it's so goddamn big.

I still love to teach, to connect with kids through the art form I love, and to bring positive change in my small corner of the world to the best of my ability. But along with my colleagues, I'm increasingly convinced that my days of doing those things are numbered."


  1. John,
    My co-teacher and I have written a diatribe about current reform measures that is too long to post here. I sent the entire message to Glen Brown. If you guys see fit to post, we would appreciate it. We are trying to submit to news publications, but it is probably too long for those too.

    Keep fighting the good fight for us.

    Scott Meyers, Glenbard North HS, Carol Stream

    1. Thank you, Scott and your colleague. We hope to hear (and are hearing) from many more.

  2. This is disgusting and so very, very sad. This is about destroying all that is good in education, with no sense of what is supposed to happen in classrooms. Why are educators and school boards tolerating this crap. This needs to stop NOW, before everything collapses. These goofs want to sell the idea that the business model works for education. They also seem to want enormous turnover (of disheartened teachers), leaving only 20somethings to teach.