Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I have no idea who Mrs. W is, only that she has chosen to leave the teaching profession. She was put in a tough position, one that many of us have encountered. The blood red, neon sign flashing A.Y.P. strobes above all our heads. Administrators are warned that if graduation rates don't rise, if test scores don't improve, then all hell will break loose; and it will begin with them. Subsequently C.Y.A. crept up in the shadows, lurking, waiting to pounce on what should be the most noble of professions.
Who of us can't relate? Who of us haven't sat at our desk, hands covering our face, wondering if the fight will be worth the money? The parents will be irate because grandma has already bought her ticket. The student will kick and scream because, well, they deserve a future, and we are holding it from them.
Who of us hasn't heard the underlying message when the principal says, "We must do whatever we can for the students who are failing." Whatever we can do? Whatever? WE? Her job is on the line if we don't. And perhaps ours as well. School districts have no qualms about sharing which teachers' students pass assessments and which teachers' don't--without regard to whether the teacher has Honors students or remedial students.
Last year I was put in this awful predicament. The student hadn't passed a graduation requirement, and if he didn't by a certain date, he would not be able to walk at graduation. I couldn't pass him. The easy thing would have been to just sign it off, but it was my name, my reputation on the line. In retrospect, I wonder if I wouldn't just do it, should the opportunity arise. I took hell for it.
For as much as I love teaching literature to sleepy students, trying to get them to just catch a whisper of what literature has to offer, there certainly are days I can't help but wonder how long? This profession, for as noble as it is, can drain the life out of you. And while there are people who will pounce on me for admitting it, take a lesson from Atticus Finch, and walk a mile in my shoes, or Mrs. W's. Come see what it is like in a classroom today, in any school district in America.


At 11:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gotta chime in because we're friends. Ms. W. worked at a private school. She was way over-extended (private schools do tend to throw a bunch of preps at you), spent most of the year without a place to work (no classroom of her own, and apparently, no teachers' workroom), and was not supported through mentorship. She worried about the standards at the school, too, I think.

I think it is very sad that we're losing her. I think she was a good teacher. I encouraged her to tough it out another year. The first one is always the toughest. She feels very at peace with her decision to quit, however, and intends to devote herself to writing.

At 11:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add that I was asked to pass a student once. He had an average in the 40's. He was in three English classes that year because of repeated failures in English. Two of them were mine. I refused to pass him. I told the AP that I couldn't in good conscience do what she was asking. She tried to tell me he'd wind up in prison if he didn't graduate. I told her I was leaving after the school year and whatever they did was on their conscience, but I wasn't changing any grades.

At 2:03 PM , Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

It's easy for me to say, but I wish Mrs. W. had hung in there. I say that because it gets easier for teachers to stick to their standards as time goes on. I was at my first school for 15 years. When I moved here, I came as a very confident teacher, but after two months that confidence was destroyed. My biggest problems were that my standards were higher than many people in this community wanted, and I was, in effect, a first year teacher again. I had to back off some things then in order to survive, but I don't anymore, and I haven't had to for quite a while. I hope there's a chance that Mrs. W. can still change her mind, because I think she might find the same thing will be true for her.

At 9:25 AM , Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I agree with Dennis that usually, the longer a teacher is around, the less ththe PTB can pressure him or her to do something which is truly wrong.

But being in a private school might make it a bit harder.

Mr. McNamar hit the nail on the head. Teaching can really suck it out of you. And every year we are required to do more. A true education requires some engagement on the part of EVERYONE involved-- not just the teacher pumping his guts out. Students, parents, and even administrators too often have a "consumer" mindset: "Give me my grade." The philosophy has got to be shifted from education as a static entitlement to something that has to be crafted, ultimately, by yourself, with plenty of assistance from those around you. Until this is understood, we will continue to wallow in mediocrity at best and abject failure at worst.


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