Sunday, November 4, 2018

Just Let Me Teach by Lisa Boegen Palmer

“I know this is long, but I feel I have sympathetic colleagues here who will understand. This is to my principal, to explain why I told my high school students to not bother answering questions on a district level test, which has not been shown to have any validity to the end of the year state mandated test. I have taught for 26 years, 21 of which at my current high school. I respect my principal and he is truly a good guy, but he is also under tremendous pressure to hit the "right numbers" on our school scores.

I have worked hard this year to improve my teaching in biology. For the past several years, I relied on what I had always done, because it was easier to fall back on what I already had. I realized at the end of last year that I was not being effective, and threw everything out to start over. I spent the summer reading books (bought at my own expense), researching new ideas and downloading materials (again, bought at my own expense) to teach in a more relevant way, to build a different structure to improve student interest and have them interacting with the lessons in a more direct way. I think I am making some progress. I keep the GSE (state) standards close by when planning and refer to them often to make sure I am on track and not straying into something that might be interesting, but would not be on their exam, and to make sure that I am teaching all the required content. I am trying to incorporate more writing and reflection into student work, not just using fill in the blank worksheets. I use lots of activities to keep student interest high and to help reinforce concepts in different ways for those who don’t learn simply by writing things down. Many of these materials are bought at my own expense and I spend a lot of time setting up and putting things away, but I want my students to have these experiences.

I threw out all my old tests and started over, introducing new types of questions that are not simply recall. But I know that soon that won’t be good enough either, because now we are moving to “common assessments” so that all subject area teachers have to do the same thing, at the same time, the same way, all in lockstep together.

I am increasingly frustrated and angry that year by year, our autonomy as teachers is being slowly taken away. I am no longer allowed to set the pace for the class, to decide which topics are best taught together or in sequence over the course of the year. I am given a pacing guide and timeline with test dates set in place, with no input. Next year’s pacing guide, I am told, will be very different, so that I will have to start over again, if I am even allowed to teach this course again. My experience in the classroom as a professional counts for very little.

I have two more years to teach until I turn 60 years old and can retire. I should teach until I am 62 to get my full benefits, but I can’t do that, with what is required of teachers now. If I could retire right now, I would, but I cannot afford to. I love teaching. I love interacting with my students. I don’t have the energy I did when I was younger, but I do the best I can. There are teachers here who certainly do a lot less than I do. If I could just shut my door and do my job to the best of my ability, I would keep right on doing it. But with the increasing restrictions on my autonomy as a professional, and the emphasis on test scores and numbers, I can’t. I teach students, not numbers. I realize that this is not your choice either, and I greatly appreciate your leadership, more than you know.

So, I will comply from now on with the district tests, and watch my personal integrity for what I know to be right for my students slip a little more. It is a death by a thousand cuts. I love being a teacher, but I cannot take much more of this.”

About the Author: 
Lisa has been an educator for 26 years: the first five were teaching eighth grade science in Phoenix City AL, and 21 years were teaching high school science in Columbus GA. She currently teach biology and zoology in a Title 1 school. 

She is a proud sponsor her school’s gay-straight alliance and the chess/game club. 

Volunteering at an equine shelter (horses, donkeys and mules) twice a week is her “large animal therapy”. 

She and her husband will celebrate their 30th anniversary next March. They are parents to eight cats and one very large tortoise, but no human children

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