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.
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.
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.