Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Slice of Life: Why I Stay

Today's piece is part of the Slice of Life Challenge hosted on Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers.  Thanks Stacey and Ruth.  It is written in response to the numerous "I quit" letters written by educators that float around the internet.  


A few months ago our son, at that time a business major with nearly two years of business classes completed, came to us with news. I could tell he was worried and nervous as he sat us down to talk. My husband and I listened intently as our son explained his reasons for wanting to switch his major to education. Jeff and I, both educators, looked at each other and smiled. I think we both had known this day would come eventually.

John's decision made me think carefully. It is one thing to endure the current stresses in public education, yet quite another to envision your child (another one of your children) in that situation. The long hours, the continued attacks by politicians, the enormous amounts of mandated testing, the goal to educate for the 21st century while we assess in 20th century ways, the continued push to do more with much less, all weigh heavy on educators. The push for profit in education from companies like Pearson, the rise of vouchers, and the current trend to tie testing to teacher evaluations and pay, have undermined public education. External stresses can divert attention from teaching students, meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners, and being passionate about the profession we all proudly joined.

Yesterday when another resignation letter was being passed around the internet I sighed. More and more you see letters from teachers posted to the internet about their reasons for resignation. In these letters one detects a feeling of powerlessness or a refusal to continue to do what is felt as not in the best interest of children. Many factors are out of teachers' hands. Kids come to school unfed. Families go through crises that make learning hard for children. Some neighborhoods are not safe. Learners need a variety of types of support. Children sometimes have needs beyond a good test score.  Educators feel they are losing the ability to make decisions in their classrooms. All of these made me think of my son's decision and the reasons why I stay.

When John told us he was changing his major to education, we were happy for him. Jeff and I both love what we do, and John has seen that. Like us, he has enjoyed his work at a local summer camp and in my district's latchkey program. I see how much he likes working with children and how good he is in that work. Like John, I enjoy the time I spend teaching children. It is the first, and most important, reason I stay. I often wonder, "How many people get up in the morning excited to go to work?". I do. Each day I look forward to working alongside the students in my classroom. I enjoy their stories, marvel at their curiosity, laugh at their jokes, and celebrate their successes. I stay for the children.

I stay because I am passionate about learning. First and foremost, I am a learner. The world is a big place, and it seems there is always something to learn. I've spent years reading, studying, observing, reflecting to improve my ability to help others learn. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing others accomplish goals. I can't explain to you the feeling that comes from witnessing a student as they realize they can read. There are no words for observing a student discover something new. It is a privilege to watch children develop as citizens, readers, writers, scientists, and mathematicians. It is an honor to observe as they wonder, question, search, seek, create, solve, discuss, and collaborate.

I stay to make things better. I am glad I am not a student right now. The requirements and expectations sometimes leave little time for personal reading, writing, and learning. The consistent message that they are scores and numbers instead of journeyers on life's learning path must make it challenging for many. The constant push on education from politicians who seem to struggle doing their own job can be frustrating, but running doesn't fix things. We need a variety of voices working toward a common goal: what's best for children. We need new teachers sharing what they see. We need experienced teachers looking through a longer lens to speak up. We need to speak up and speak out to advocate for the children we teach.

I stay to share the real story of education and the positive things that go on each day. Last night I participated in an uplifting conversation on Twitter (#tlap) sharing ways to be passionate and immersed in the work we do. It was amazing to be a part of a discussion among educators, many on break, sharing their thoughts. You can find this passion all over the internet.  As I move from blog to blog, I'm continually reminded of the many ways educators work to create learning environments that allow children to have ownership in their learning. Constantly, I hear school hasn't changed and, in some ways, I suppose this argument could be made. There is always room for improvement. However in our school, and many elementary schools, learning is very different than when I went to school: expectations are higher, children have more choice, work is more authentic, collaboration and conversation happen across the day, technology has taken learning beyond classroom walls and given students a voice. Classrooms are places to explore and create.  I feel strongly it is our job as educators to spread the word about the learning taking place in our classrooms. It is our job to find ways to show student progress in ways beyond standard assessments. Image is up to us.

I stay to retain an active voice and advocate for public education. This quote by Kofi Annan says it best, "Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development." I'm very concerned that a movement toward standardized testing, school vouchers, charter schools, and virtual academies are part of a politically based movement to undermine public education. I believe strongly that education is a human right; one that is essential for the future success of our country. Children, no matter their socioeconomic status, have a right to a quality education.  We must advocate for equal opportunities in education and the funding to support learning for all.

I stay because I have great respect for our profession. For this reason, I am proud of my son's decision. He, and his older sister, are what our profession needs to continue to move forward and to advocate for what is best for children.  In Teach Like a Pirate, David Burgess reminds us, "At some point in your career you have to decide if you care more about teaching to tests or teaching kids.  My decision was made a long time ago.  I teach kids."  So I've renewed my professional memberships, purchased my summer professional reading, scheduled summer classes, and continue to follow the conversations on blogs and Twitter because I am staying.

Why do you stay?  Please comment below.

34 comments:

  1. What a thoughtful, powerful post. I enjoyed reading all of your reasons and know that there are probably many more. I haven't noticed the "I quit" information circulating right now, but I appreciate that you chose to make a positive contribution to energize and encourage others. One of the big reasons to stay is belief in the reasons we initially wanted to be educators and hope that we can continue to make positive impacts.

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    1. Mrs. V,
      Loved this: "One of the big reasons to stay is belief in the reasons we initially wanted to be educators and hope that we can continue to make positive impacts.

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  2. Powerful and encouraging words. I, too, have a daughter in college, working toward an education degree. I sometimes wonder what the future will be like for her. But like you, I am a teacher who is staying, and I am optimistic that my daughter will be staying, too. Wanting to make a difference, being a learner while helping guide others in learning- these are compelling reasons.

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    1. My family is full of educators: my brothers, my brother-in-law, my husband, my daughter, and soon my son. (We'll have to wait to see about our other daughter.) Yep, interesting family dinners. :o) I think it says a lot when our children want to pursue the career they've watched us live. I do mean live. I think every educator lives their profession in all they do. Perhaps that's why our kids follow this path.

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  3. I enjoyed hearing your reasons, Cathy, and wish that more educators could feel so empowered. I cannot speak to the factors happening in public schools because I've long been in the private sector, yet so many of you that I read sound like educators that I want to both converse with and support. I am concerned personally because I have one grandson in public schools who I think is suffering in his learning because of the test prep, & two granddaughters who will be in school pretty soon. It's wonderful that your daughter and now your son are wanting to be in education. That speaks so highly of you and your husband. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

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    1. I have always thought public schools do a fantastic job educating children. In our area curriculums are rich and opportunities are plentiful. However, I will say the youngest of our three children has spent more time than I wish being tested --- and being prepared for these tests (which I think she would have performed just fine on even without test prep). I've often said I'd like to sit down to calculate the amount of time, but it's likely best that I do not. Map tests three times a year. State tests over the course of a week nearly each year of her education. I worry that we will lose some children because of the emphasis on testing. I hope that parents will speak out about testing.
      There is likely a way to significantly decrease the amount of testing done in schools, and still gather the essential data about learners to improve instruction.

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  4. Thank you for staying and so beautifully articulating the many reasons why. I stay because HOPE and POSSIBILITY live, breathe and need to be nourished in our classrooms. I am mindful of conveying to each student that she/he matters and is important to our learning community. I am full of shortcomings as a teacher but I persevere because it is such important work to help shape the learning life of a child. It is challenging but the rewards and privileges are immense.

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    1. Love this! "I stay because HOPE and POSSIBILITY live, breathe and need to be nourished in our classrooms." I've been impressed even more by our profession as I read the comments on this post. It has been energizing.

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  5. So well written. The sad thing is the teachers at my school are less and less excited about coming to school because of behavior and lack of support. I wish we all could be honest with the powers that be without fear of repercussion. When that happens kids will be beneficiaries of amazing education.
    Thank you for a thought provoking slice.

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    1. Peg,
      It must be hard to go into school each morning with morale down. I hope your school can talk together to find a way to support one another through these tough times. I also hope you find the energy and strength you need through all of us in this online community. We're here cheering you on each day!

      Cathy

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  6. Beautifully said Cathy. I feel the same way about my Zachary going into education. He is going to be such a gift to kids and I know that he will be like us...someone who is passionate about kids and doing what's best for them. I wasn't able to participate in #tlap because I had company, but I'm reading the book and I'll need to go look at the feed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...as always...very inspirational.

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    1. I think our boys will be fine additions to the profession. :o) The #tlap conversation was enjoyable. So many educators participating love what they do. I think you'll find as you read the book these are things you already know, but it's good to be reminded.

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  7. I'm so glad you are continuing the positive side of this conversation, Cathy. I wrote about this earlier in the spring and had already forgotten that this dialogue is going on. The more of us who continue to share these thoughts, the better! I'm so glad you encouraged your son in his decision in spite of everything that is happening with education. After all, if all the good teachers leave, where does that leave the kids?

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    1. Jennifer, your words made me pause. Powerful > "After all, if all the good teachers leave, where does that leave the kids?"

      Cathy

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  8. We are all so lucky that you choose to stay - your insightful understanding of what's really important is a gift to everyone!
    Congratulations to your son on his decision about education!

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    1. I think I am lucky to be part of a profession with so many great thinkers, learners, and educators like you!

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  9. Thank you for staying, Cathy. Thank you for helping those of us who left and are now back to find our way once again. I am thinking that my son may eventually be having the same conversation with my husband and me some day...soon I hope. He is drifting now, but I know he would make a wonderful teacher, as will your son and as is your daughter. Very timely and well written post. Thank you also for sharing.
    Hugs,
    Trish

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    1. I, for one, am glad you're back! I enjoy all you share and can tell you love the work you do as well. I've enjoyed following your classroom in your "Today I Love" conversations. I actually wonder how many of your posts are about your days at school. I'm thinking quite a few. Thanks for stopping by, Trish. Always glad to see your smile in my comments.

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  10. As always, you know how to say it best. Thank you for taking the time to spell it out because your words speak truth of many teachers (including me!) who hold on to the hope that the light on education will brighten. I, too, worry about those choosing education, but guess what? We need those that hear about all the negative to stand up and say that they can and will make a difference, like John and your daughter. Bravo!

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    1. Michelle,
      I think each of us make a difference every day. The trick will be to find the time to have the conversations and unite in our message. I was sitting with Ken Goodman at NCTE two years ago (yes, Ken Goodman, it was a little exciting) and he was talking about this very thing. He talked a lot about how important it is to advocate for the profession --- and most of all for children. He really made me think. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day teaching with our group of students and forget the bigger picture.

      Thanks for your kind words, Michelle.
      Cathy

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  11. Beautifully written, Cathy! I'm glad that amid the craziness that is the current state of education, you can find the joy in your son's new career path. We will need many more teachers like him (and you) to turn this around.

    I stay because I love my job and connecting with kids daily.

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    1. Katherine,
      I think the best thing about reading the comments on this post has been seeing the reasons why people say. You said, "I stay because I love my job and connecting with kids daily." I think this is evident as I follow your blog and the story of your classroom. It is teachers like you that help to energize and inspire so many others.

      Cathy

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  12. Beautiful.

    I stay for the learning -- mine and theirs. And I stay because I make a difference...sometimes I don't know what it is, and sometimes it's only a drop in an ocean, but I make a difference.

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    1. So true Mary Lee, mine and theirs'! I love learning and sharing I hope to ignite this passion in my kids so they will continue to be learners no matter what politicians put in the way!

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    2. Mary Lee,
      First of all, I'm sitting here thinking about the many levels in which you make a difference: the classroom, your school, our blogging community, the poetry community. Oh my, I could go on and on. You are right, I think sometimes it is hard to really "measure" those differences. Yet, they are things that matter most. I always wonder if we can truly measure what we really value.

      Like you and Deb, I love the learning. It's one of the reasons I stay. The learning community I've found on Twitter and in blogs has grown my love of what I do. It helps me continue to learn and change, think and rethink.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Cathy

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  13. Cathy this is straight from the heart - your passion is evident from the first word! We are blessed to have educators like you to teach our kids and to guide those who also stay and those who join us for the right reason-the kids!

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    1. Actually, I stay because I have great friends all around me in my wing! LOL I think we work hard to maintain a positive energy in our learning community and that makes a big difference. It is one of the things I love most about our building. Everyone is always ready to dive right in, have tough conversations, and support one another. Another reason #whyistay.

      Cathy

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  14. Thanks to everyone who has stopped to comment. I've been inspired by the many reasons each of you stay. Truly, it means so much. I have enjoyed this collaborative community tightly woven on the internet. It gives me strength, support, and energy. Another reason #whyistay.

    Cathy

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  15. Beautifully said, Cathy! I am honored that your son is joining us in this important work. I love how you capture the reasons for staying and children (well, teenagers) top my list too. No matter what happens politically or financially, children need caring adults. We are the helpers Mr. Rogers talks about in these hard times for education. Great post!

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  16. I stay because I believe we can work together to design a flexible system that moves learning forward. I can't help but wonder what a school full of collaborative educators (such as the ones that replied to your post would look like).

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  17. Terrific post Cathy. I would be pleased if, when my kids grow up, they made the same decision your son did.

    I stay because what I do is more important than whatever I would do instead.

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  18. Cathy,
    You have a gift for expressing things that are so meaningful and timely! Thank you for this inspirational post and pulling it together to spark thinking deeply about what motivates teachers to stay when the environment grows more toxic by the day...I think that having hope for the kids and the future keeps me focused on staying-"for kids" -priority number 1!

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  19. Cathy, this is beautiful! I stay because I love my students! I stay because I know what it is to come to a new country and not know the language. I loved your quote by Kofi Annan, "Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development." This quote just might find its way to a poster in my room for next year. Thank you Cathy for looking at education in a positive way!

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  20. Powerful and beautiful. And you help others remember why they stay.

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