Roy Exum: Teachers Are Suffocating

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam insists the Common Core efforts in education are “simply guidelines that say a fourth grader should be learning the same things” and other proponents claim the standards that were originally developed by the bipartisan National Governors Association will present a clear view of what students across America should learn from kindergarten through high school.

But Jim Tracy, a state legislator who has been a teacher, a coach and a school board member in Shelbyville, is on record: “I am absolutely against Common Core State Standards being implemented in our Tennessee schools,” he said over the weekend. “I know we can come up with our own set of standards, Tennessee Standards. I know we can do it better in Tennessee than Washington, D.C., and President Obama.”

As you realize that Common Core has morphed into a hot political potato, let’s look at something even worse in education. Suzi Sluyter has been a kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts for almost 20 years but when she resigned out of exasperation last month, she had no idea that her dying cry would be reprinted all across America. The reason is we are suffocating our teachers to death – or resignation – with endless meetings, assessments and time-consuming mandates.

Suzi, for example, was required to take a 45-hour training class last year that met for three hours every Thursday from February to June, this after school let out for the day. She had online classes and written assignments and three projects that had to be done to fulfill her certification but wasn’t paid a dime for all the time it took.

In addition she had to have three individual assessment sessions with each child in her classes and fill out reams of paperwork that her administrators could then use to “document” progress in her class – all without being paid. The money isn’t the object, it is the children. Read part of her resignation letter:

* * *

“In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.  I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced.  

“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths, to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.  Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of Kindergarten and PreK.,” her resignation letter read. 

“I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, ‘I can’t do this!  Look at me!  Know me!  Help me!  See me!’ 

“I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above.  Each year there are more.  Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend.  I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.

“I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same: to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom.  I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity. 

“I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.”

* * *

Are you ready for this? The pain and despair that caused Suzi Sluyter to resign in Massachusetts can be mirrored in any public school system in America. The Common Core has little to do with it. Our teachers are suffocating under a barrage of forms, written evaluations, assessments and all manner of other matter that is now required for federal and state dollars. It is quite ridiculous.

I believe in setting the bar high, in demanding our children read and comprehend and produce, but I also believe that if these professionals who we entrust with our children are unable to teach, the children of today will -- in fact – learn very little. We call them teachers – they must be allowed to do just that.

Finally, to expect any child to be adequately measured on a test that is administered just one day of the year smacks of idiocy. I know of no adult anywhere in America who wants a full year of his or her life graded on just one day of it. Why do we do exactly that with our children?

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