The War on Public Education ~ YE GAY OL’ VALLEY

Dani Langevin, Lesbian ColumnistBy: Dani Langevin – December, 2015

I used to love my career. I was proud to be an educator. I woke up every day looking forward to the curriculum I taught, the students I got to inspire, and the colleagues with whom I collaborated. For 20 years I knew I was making a difference in thousands of children’s lives. For more than half of those years I was doing what I loved most: teaching history. Between 2004-2014, I was teaching a grade I loved: grade 8.

I was more than good what I did; I was excellent. I immersed myself in my career as an educator and in the subject of history. Personal vacations were planned to places that were connected to my curriculum so that I could teach through experience. I went to Mayan ruins, Taino villages, English castles, and Roman ruins to name a few. I couldn’t even go away for a two-day weekend without looking for some little treasure to bring back to my classroom whether it were something tangible or simply informational to enhance a lesson. I was quite literally in love with my career.

That changed last year. Because of the federal and state mandated testing that is now tied to teacher evaluations, the system I work for dissolved all the history teaching position at the seventh and eighth grade levels. Why? Because history is not on any of the tests so, how could my evaluation be tied to them? I’ll tell you: attach history teachers’ evaluations to the language arts scores. We teach reading, writing, and all aspects of language arts through historical events. How can administrators not see that? They either didn’t, couldn’t or refused to and ripped history teachers away from their passion and relocated them. I was moved to grade 5 and told I had to teach two 90-minute blocks of language arts, two half hour classes of social studies, and one half hour of a class called “enrichment”. The career I love instantly became a job I now barely tolerate. In fact, every one of my history teaching colleagues were taken out of teaching the subject in which they are passionate experts.

The dissatisfaction in what is being done in classroom across the country is not limited to the random history teacher. Walk into any school in any state and speak with any teacher. You will see a micro-managed, over worked, under paid, under appreciated, highly educated professional who is angry, resentful, and probably a little more than bitter.
In a vocation where we are demanded to provide clear objectives and expectations for our students, demonstrate what it is they are expected to accomplish, give exemplars, and make sure we differentiate for every type of learning need, disability, and interest, we are treated the exact opposite by administration. Example: Last year the Lucy Calkins writing program was adopted by my system. It is has four units consisting of the writing of a personal narrative, research paper, persuasive essay, and memoir and yes, that is at the fifth grade level, too. Teachers were given a box of 7 books that covered this writing curriculum along with what is called an “Atlas” that outlines the timeline of when each unit is to be taught and for how long. We were not trained in the new program, but simply told, “Do the best you can.” That’s it. No objectives, demonstrations, time to practice the craft or collaborate with colleagues, and certainly no exemplars on how to differentiate were provided. The only information offered was to make sure you followed the Atlas timeline and make sure that student scores increased on the MCAS. This is method of instructing teachers is contrary to everything an educator is trained to do within his or her own classroom. We were being treated with monumental less respect than our students.

The workload placed upon educators is devastatingly overwhelming. Besides constantly teaching to the test, every teacher must pre and post-assess; conduct mid-workshop check-ins; analyze data; determine where every single student is in regards to the common core; find strategies to reach every single student; create lesson plans that differentiate for every single student; teach safety, respect, and responsibility; communicate with parents, guidance, and administration; fill out forms for students who misbehave, don’t follow directions, can’t concentrate, or don’t do classwork or homework and that is only scratching the surface. Not only that, all of this is done every day with an allowance of a 60-minute prep time when students are in their non-academic classes. In the last month I have graded/assessed, by my calculations, no less than 1,000 various assignments. There hasn’t been a weekend I haven’t brought work home.

Adding to an educator’s frustration and indignation is that “homework” for us, is expected. One weekend, I was reading and planning the next unit of Lucy Calkins because I, a history teacher, am not educated in how to teach writing so I was training myself. It actually said in the teacher instructions, “-plan on spending 3-4 days (and nights and weekends, hopefully). . .” YES! The implication to that statement is that we should not have a personal life-at all. No matter how hard we work, how early we come in or stay late, we are made to feel that we are not doing enough and what we are doing isn’t good enough.

Speaking of personal lives, teachers do have them. Some have great ones, others not so much. I know of many colleagues who are dealing with devastating personal challenges then have to come to a job that beats them up daily and expects them to eat up their personal time with work.

Why don’t we leave you ask? We can’t. Veteran teachers would never be hired outside our system because we make too much money, yet it’s still not enough. Another school system would rather hire two or three brand new teachers, who are probably going to quit within the first 5 years of their career, than hire one veteran teacher who is damn good at his or her job and will stay because they don’t want to lose their retirement. We can’t go from the public to the private sector because that is exactly what will happen; we’ll lose our retirement.

I don’t know of any teacher who loves their career right now. We are all rattled to the bone and stretched to our limit. I used to love what I did, but it was all stripped away from me because of standardized testing. Thankfully I have a loving, supportive, and fulfilling personal life. I have a wife who loves three wonderful children, a terrific extended family, and me with terrific siblings, nieces and nephews, and even a few grand ones. Without them, my job would most certainly destroy me.

5 Responses to "The War on Public Education ~ YE GAY OL’ VALLEY"

  1. Grace Piazza   December 30, 2015 at 8:03 PM

    More and more people are rebelling against the MCA testing because it is stifling true education, is too time consuming and is tempting teachers to spend too much time coaching their students to pass these standardized tests.

    I am a retired teacher of French and English but I never had to administer any MCA tests, thank God!

  2. Melanie Gunter   December 30, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    Excellent teachers like yourself should be left alone to do what you do best, mold young learners into curious, well-rounded, and well-organized young adults. Your class projects taught my sons how to research, collaborate within a group, and write strong papers. All of which helped prepare them for high school and college, which was your focus you told us at parent open house.
    I’m disappointed to hear the Methuen school system has reached this current state. Parents should be outraged. Hopefully a change is coming soon.

    Please know this parent is forever grateful for the way you approached your classroom and how everything you did was to enhance their learning experience. Your dedication did not go unnoticed in this household and we salute you!

  3. Jackie Tropiano   December 31, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    Dani, I’m so sorry this is what has become of my profession. I loved my “job” for 35 years, and I can’t imagine going in every day with all of what you are expected to accomplish. My question to administration: Are children more educated today than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago? I think not. If good teachers are hired (the job of administrators) then they will do the job they were hired to do without all these checks and balances. Just as children need to be nurtured and supported, teachers need it too(though not necessarily in the same way).

  4. Sharon LaPlante   December 31, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    Dani, you are absolutely right! That is exactly how we feel! So first off,thank you for saying it!
    Looking at it from the elementary side, we also have a new math program, Eureka Math, in addition to Lucy Calkins. The materials that this program calls for was not provided for us, nor was it even explained to us. For example, in the Grade 3, Module 2, Topic B, students are to investigate measuring weight and liquid volume in Metric Units. “Students learn to use digital scales as they explore these weights. They begin by holding a kilogram weight to get a sense of its weight. Then, groups of students work with scales to add rice to clear plastic zippered bags until the bags reach a weight of 1 kilogram. Once the bags reach that weight, students decompose a kilogram using ten-frames. In Lesson 8, students use scales to measure the weight of objects precisely…
    In Lessons 9 and 10, students measure liquid volume in liters using beakers…” It was expected of us to either use what we have already or use other supplies. Myself and other teachers bought our own supplies in order to teach this because that this what teachers do! Trainings, didn’t happen, except 4- 2 hour sessions, after school hours and unpaid, were offered to us throughout the school year, even though we are expected to be teaching it and figuring it all out ourselves, on our own time!
    Elementary teachers get 45 minutes a day to do all the things you mentioned, but also plan for all subjects- math, writing, language arts, science, social studies, and social skills, since kids don’t get time to play anymore… Well 15 minutes before lunch!
    The demands are too much and it is wearing…on my students in front of me, myself as an educator, my family and my own children at home! The time and energy this career demands, both during the school day and on our time on nights and weekends, is too much!

  5. Norman Letourneau   December 31, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    This is why Dept of Education need’s to be eliminated. There should only be school boards and commissions at local level only