In case you have not commanded to memory every word of 50 Myths, Myth #9 reads as follows: "Teachers are the most important influence in a child’s education." The discussion in the book goes on: "Teachers are important. They provide instruction to students, give them valuable emotional and social support, and are often generous with their time and energy .... They also labor in the shadow of this myth a myth that seems to celebrate teachers, but which in reality hangs an unrealistic responsibility around their necks. The importance of teachers has been mythologized to the point that it burdens teachers, restricts their ability to serve students in ways they deem appropriate, and may be driving some of the best teachers out of the classroom."
Teachers can only do so much to correct the damage inflicted on children by poverty, ill health, broken homes, or homes run by broken individuals. Some persons flatter with heroic stories and lay unrealistic expectations on them ... and then they blame them when their best efforts inevitably fail. These same persons push policies with names like "value added" and "teacher quality." Teachers naive enough to believe fairy tales will feel the pain when harsh reality shows up. Take undeserved credit, and you will reap undeserved blame. Such is the recent experience of Teacher Julie Rummel when she encountered the new age of education policy with its high-stakes testing, value added evaluation, and other union busting tactics. But, we should let Julie speak for herself.
I read Myth #9 “Teachers are the most important influence,” and here I am now writing to you.No, we thank you, Julie.
This is my 15th year of teaching. Fourteen of those years have been in inner city, 100% free and reduced lunch schools. My last district had cuts, and, since I had only been there 3 years, I got my pink slip. I was shocked and devastated. But to be brutally honest, I was also relieved. Fourteen years of children screaming at me, parents cussing me out, paying for my own copy paper, watching poverty suck the life out of the lids before they are 9 years old I was burned-out. I was crying after staff meetings because I knew that what I was expected to have them do was simply beyond me and beyond them. I was feeling like a complete failure, even as they hugged me and told me I was the “best teacher in the world.” I was ready to quit.
My colleagues were all on antidepressants; one committed suicide. The anger and the stress in those environments are hard to explain. Our ceiling dripped into trashcans set on the heater. The kids were angry. They have more emotional problems than one well-intentioned woman can deal with. I am sure you know all of this, at least in theory. My kids were growing, but they were not passing state tests. I could not be deemed a "good teacher" with miserable test scores, could I? So my evaluations were mediocre. "Demoralized" is truly the only word that can come close.
So, back to the pink slip .... I lost my job in May and by August, I was hired in a happy, small-city school with 40% free and reduced lunch. It is now March and not one child has thrown their desk over in anger, frustration, or sheer desperation. Not one desk has been thrown. I cannot emphasize this enough. NO ONE HAS STOOD UP, SCREAMED, AND THROWN THEIR DESK OVER.
Suddenly, 18 of 20 kids are passing their state tests!! Suddenly, I am a great teacher! (ME!) I am getting emails from parents telling me how much their kids love 3rd grade. We can make COLOR COPIES! We have show and tell and nothing gets stolen! Kids bring back their homework! Our walls are painted happy colors! The kids don’t cry. The teachers don’t cry. The kids don’t scream at their teachers, and the teachers don’t scream at the kids. I am competent! I am getting good reviews! I am a good teacher!!!!
This brings us back to Myth #9. It is not me. I am the same teacher, same sense of humor, same ability to connect with kids, same tendency to put off grading and to spend 5 extra minutes at recess. I have not implemented some new strategy. I did not suddenly grow as an educator. (Sorry, Marzano.) In truth, I am only slightly above average. The only thing that HAS changed is that I am now working with middle class families who are raising their children to be middle class citizens. It is a miracle and a gift. And slowly, I am feeling the joy creep back into my classroom and into my life. It is a joy to see those kids every Monday and ask," How was your weekend?" Knowing no one has been evicted. They are ready to learn and THAT is what makes me able to teach.
Thank you for recognizing that.
I am not superman. Nor am I the incompetent, lazy, union-member devil they seem to think I am.
I am so grateful to find someone who sees things the way they are … so that I and my fellow teachers can quit blaming ourselves.
Thank you, Julie Rummel
Gene V Glass|
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
San José State University
David C. Berliner|
Arizona State University
San José State University
The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.
her class size at the 2nd school district was 20; what it 20 at the high-poverty inner-city school district as well? I doubt it. There are few urban school districts with classes that small.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing this story. I am showing it with my wife, who is really depressed right now about her career. Before we had kids, she was an award-winning teacher in a suburban elementary school. Parents and admins. thought she was amazing and she was super pumped about her career all the time.ReplyDelete
We moved and she took time off to raise our children and jumped back into teaching again last year at a high-poverty Bureau of Indian Ed. school. She is working harder than ever and every night she comes home feeling like she has lost it. No matter what she pulls out of her giant bag of tricks and no matter how hard she works at building relationships and doing every research-based intervention she knows, very little changes from day to day. She needs a reminder that the same teacher will get different results in different settings.
Julie's story reminds me so much of her setting, because she has a 5 year old kinder who has destroyed nearly every piece of furniture in the room by throwing it in frustration.
Thanks so much, Dave. And the reformers think they'll measure a teacher's worth by administering a pretest and a posttest.ReplyDelete
I was a public school teacher for thirty years (1975 - 2005), and I worked in schools where the child poverty rate was 70% or higher in a community dominated by violent, multi-generational street gangs. As a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam vet who came home for the war with a serious case of PTSD caused by combat, I know what PTSD looks like. All I had to do was look in a child's eyes or pay attention to the expressions on their faces or body language and far too many of the children I struggled to teach obviously had PTSD. In fact, if 5% of the students I worked with turned in a simple homework assignment and a third of the students paid attention and interacted during the lesson that day, that was a good day.ReplyDelete
Lloyd, thank you for your service in two combat zones. How little the simple-minded reformers understand about what is going on in the real world!ReplyDelete
Maybe we all need to start wearing IT IS NOT ME t-shirts. Sometimes I think we (teachers) cause ourselves misery simply because we let ourselves buy into the blame-game. I have seen too many of my peers jump up to take $$$ and start "evaluating" other teachers...it all gets very mean-spirited and painful.ReplyDelete