Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Syracuse Area Teacher Explains Why Her Conscience Forced Her To Retire

 A Copy of This Letter Appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard

In recent years, increasing numbers of veteran teachers have found themselves leaving a profession they love, often years before they expected to.  This year, it is my turn to move away from work I cherish because it has become increasingly challenging, and at times impossible, to teach with integrity.

As government and business leaders have focused on fixing what is portrayed as a broken educational system, the mandates imposed systemically damage our schools instead of improving them.  Demands to measure, evaluate and rank our students and teachers have taken the focus off learning and shifted it to producing test scores.  To be sure, changing instruction will often increase test scores, but veteran educators know that learning has likely not increased.

Standardized tests are one measure of learning, but should not be the primary or only measure. Instead of moving toward authentic assessment practices such as portfolios and real life problem situations, we increasingly base decisions about learners and educators on multiple-choice type measures. These measures neither assess nor promote a focus on the natural curiosity and passion in children, the traits that promote true life long learners who will transition into successful and independent adult workers.

When the so-called rigors of the new student and teacher evaluations were first brought to our schools five years ago, I watched many colleagues leave because they knew the changes would not benefit children and had the potential to damage the schools they loved.  I stayed on out of my love for the students, who bring such joy to learning, and because I believed it was important that we in the front lines within the school work to preserve authentic learning practices.  Unfortunately, as each year passes, I have found my day – and my students’ day – filled up with assessment, evaluation, and documentation, crowding out time for exploration, collaboration, and deeper learning.  Increasing amounts of time are spent proving teachers are doing what the standards and mandates dictate, crowding out time to plan, prepare and instruct the kinds of lessons that engage students and lead to lifelong learning.

I can no longer encourage six- and seven-year-old children to keep trying to improve scores in biweekly tests that do not reflect real learning in math and reading and actually steal chunks of valuable instruction time.  I can no longer answer questions from parents concerned about test scores and encourage them to turn to computerized programs which do not have the power to foster interest in deep learning in their children, and are instead too often just a form of electronic baby-sitting.

After 38 years as a teacher, I’ll miss my students so much, and I’ll miss my colleagues, some of whom look at me with envy for being able to leave, but my leaving is bittersweet.  The authentic and engaging differentiated learning community we spent our careers striving to create is being replaced by mandated, scripted instructional programs with a “one size fits all” focus.  I hope that soon we will re-awaken to what real learning is and turn our focus toward supporting our schools and their children in these changing and challenging times, working to strengthen instead of break down, our schools.

Karyn Dieffenderfer