Nine years ago, a group of other teachers and I opened a brand new school in our district. I had always wanted to include opening a new school in my list of career accomplishments, and I jumped at the chance when it came along. The school was to serve a part of our town that was known for its higher crime, lower income, and Spanish speaking families and students. In a sense, I spent my first ten years of teaching preparing for what was to come at this school.
It was exciting. Under good leadership, the new staff approached the first year with a sense of purpose and unity. We were doing something that really was going to make a difference in this particular part of town. There was much talk of making the school the center of the community, reaching out to families and parents in very significant ways, helping them all feel comfortable and a part of the school. On top of that, the campus itself sits perched on a hill with a glorious view of the valley, and the building is architecturally pleasing and pristine.
Each year brought a new focus for us. Naturally, instruction became our number one goal. Delivering curriculum to our students, and finding the very best ways to do so, was paramount. Teachers were highly involved in developing programs and strategies for reaching our children. We put the things we had learned in our training and our previous experience to good use. We strove to address a balance of behavioral needs, emotional needs, and physical needs along with the academic ones. Unity continued to prevail among the staff.
Professional Learning Communities, otherwise known as PLCs, became the new educational buzz. We were the first in our area to learn about this new approach to teaching, and most of us embraced this training enthusiastically. We were given freedom as grade level teams to explore collaboration and the best way to put it into practice. A huge amount of sharing and teamwork came of this new focus, and we continued to feel extremely hopeful as to how much success we could achieve, and how much we could help our students. Our programs grew stronger, our instruction more sound.
Previous to this time period, George W. Bush in all his wisdom brought the foolhardy No Child Left Behind act into play. Administration and teachers across the country scoffed at the impossibility of this plan and the misguided notion that higher test scores automatically translate into a superior, well-rounded, meaningful education.
What it did translate to was a gross overemphasis on standardized test scores. No, wait. That is not accurate. What it did translate to was that standardized test scores were the only thing that many people in and out of the field of education cared about when it came to schools. Administrators across the nation were soon confronted with enormous pressure and a decision. Would they bow to the pressure of the all-knowing test score and make it the only thing that they cared about, or would they realize in their heart of hearts that educating children is ever so much more than developing automatons that can spit out correct answers on multiple choice tests? Would they continue to see how essential social studies, science, music, art, and physical education are--even to the lowest test score earner? Would they remember that in order to truly reach a child intellectually, certain primary needs must be met? Would they keep in mind that other aspects of the school must be given fair attention, even if they had nothing to do directly with the standardized test?
Well, this scene is playing out in every public school from New York to L.A. I understand that standardized testing is one of the important indicators of student learning, whether I like it or not. But it is just one piece of the puzzle that is teaching every child, and leaving no child behind. One piece. One. Of many.
Our school learned to play the game well. Based on our high test scores, we have earned many prestigious awards, including National Blue Ribbon, the highest honor any school can receive in the United States.
But in all the glory and accolades and striving to drive those scores even higher, we are losing sight. I have felt such an inner conflict over the past two or three years and I can no longer be a part of something that makes me feel this way. When you're on the freeway and you don't like where you're going, what do you do? You wait for the next exit and then you get off and find a route that will take you where you want to go.
Those who know me well know that this has been a very trying year for me from a professional standpoint. I have had all sorts of rants, opinions, stories, and posts to share in the "teacher tales" thread of The Jason Show, but I have not shared any of them for fear of writing something too emotional, too angry, too insulted, too snarky, or too troubled, and then dealing with possible backlash. Feeling squelched in this way has, in many respects, squelched the rest of my creativity and voice, hence the waning of the blog. Even in this post today, I censor myself. Significantly.
So now, I quietly say farewell to what has been an immense part of my life over the past nine years. I carry with me many fond memories, and I leave behind families, students, and most of all, coworkers that I will always cherish. I wish I could have stayed.
I look forward with much anticipation to the next chapter in my career. I am extremely excited about my new school, my new students, new coworkers, and new leadership. There is no doubt that I will have many more teacher tales to share!