A year ago, after 22 years of teaching, I opted to take early retirement and leave education for good. Why? Not because we hadn’t had a raise in eight years, not even our COLA. Not because budget cuts slashed funds so deeply that we could barely afford pencils and paper, and not because we had lost work days and actual school days off the yearly calendar. Yes, they may have been the proverbial last straws, but the real reason? I was no longer making a difference.
A decade ago, teachers were encouraged to be creative. We incorporated lessons into art, music, drama and poetry, invented games to help cement vocabulary, spelling and math facts, and you know what? It worked. California schools were at the top of the list. Today, we rank in the bottom 10. Who takes the blame? Teachers.
No blame goes to hopelessly boring curriculum that requires students to sit for hours at a time while teachers read scripted, repetitive information out of Teacher Editions. From K to fifth grade, they hear the same thing, over and over. Math curriculum teaches concepts that are often way above the average student’s developmental ability level. The manuals told us we were teaching to introduce concepts to be built upon later, but each chapter tests had the information on it, upon which their grade was based. Many children failed. Who do we blame? Teachers.
Families are under a lot of stress, working long hours trying to hang on. The result is that we have way too many children who are spending 12 to 14 hours a day in school and daycare. After sports, dinner, dishes, etc., homework gets tossed out the window. Time and time again teachers urge parents to spend just five minutes a night on math facts to ensure success. Practice in the car or in the kitchen while you fix dinner, but for those who struggle, it doesn’t happen. When these children fail, who takes the blame? Teachers.
Our constitution is based upon the idea that all men are created equal, but in all reality, we’re not. If we were, there wouldn’t be a need for Special Education or Gifted and Talented programs. No one would fail or exceed because if created equally, we would progress at the same level. “No Child Left Behind” failed to understand this. Expecting students with disabilities or second-language learners to achieve at a comparable rate as those without is not fair. When we toss them into a regular classroom, we set many of them up to fail. They cannot get the one-on-one help they so desperately need in a class of 30 and one teacher. Students, teachers and parents are frustrated. Who takes the blame? Teachers.
Imagine a “No patient left behind” program where all doctors are told that they have eight years to make everyone well and if they don’t, they will be given disciplinary action, pay cuts, and possibly fired. Sound ridiculous? Then you can imagine how this sounded to us. We can’t fix every child anymore than doctors can fix every patient. Why is that so hard to understand?
Today, teacher’s hands are tied. They are not allowed to teach the way that they know works. Instead, someone in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. who has probably never taught a day in their life gets to tell them what’s best. That has earned us a place at the bottom of the pile and again, teachers take all the blame.
Sadly, 14 of us decided last year that we weren’t able to do it anymore and we all took early retirement. I wish my fellow teachers all the luck in the world as they begin another year. Know that there are at least 14 of us out here who applaud you and appreciate how hard you work to make the world a better place. Thank you so much for hanging in there and giving 1,000 percent to the children of Brentwood!
Marie L. Wirth