Cowardice

I had to take a break from the PowerPoint presentation I'm creating for my school's data share on Monday to ask myself, "Why the hell am I doing this?" I will not be at my school next year. The six other teachers on my grade level will be. Added to the irony of the excessed teacher working on this project is the fact we were given a total of 35 minutes this morning to prepare a presentation that's supposed to summarize our successes and next steps along with some pretty pictures.

So, about an hour into this little exercise in martyrdom and masochism I'm asking myself, "Why the hell am I doing this?" First off, I've gotten little to no input from my peers. Secondly, and more importantly, I'm enabling the slackers on my grade (that's some, not all) as well as my administration who thought it appropriate to assign us a task without any time to complete it. Thirdly, and most importantly, I'm using the data to support conclusions I don't remotely believe in.

For example, remarkable gains (okay, noticeable gains) were made in both English Language Arts. Our scores improved compared to our 4th graders last year as well compared to our students' 3rd grade scores. Awesome! Pats on the back and tips of the cap all around. And yet, I know the reality of my classroom. I know that today while playing a math game called Beat the Teacher I asked the question, "8 + 2?" and heard, "9!" "10!" and "12!" Now I'd never suggest that such anecdotal data disproves the state's assessment that 78% of my school's 4th graders are at or above grade level, but, well, actually, I think it does.

Which brings me back to the question, "Why the hell am I doing this?" It's not my job to do this. It's not fair to expect anyone on my grade to complete this by Monday, and I don't believe in the task itself or at least the biased conclusions I need to promote.

Unfortunately, I believe the answer is cowardice. I'm afraid to speak up and shout clearly that the emperor (or should I say principal? Chancellor? Mayor?) has no clothes. These test scores, for lack of a better word, are bullshit. Do I want to feel validated by the gains my kids made? Yes. Do I think that the 3's of my class are at grade level? Sadly, no.

It's this same cowardice that has held me back from speaking up in numerous grade level meetings and conversations with my administrators. Ironically, I've still managed to get into plenty of trouble while holding back. I can only imagine how much worse my standing with my administration would be then. The truth is, I tried asking questions or sometimes providing answers, that contradicted that current conventional wisdom that says Data is God. At other times I tried stretching the boundaries of what my job description entailed. Whether that involved publishing a school newspaper, planning summer vacation field trips or bringing in guest speakers, I wasn't satisfied with just boosting my kids test scores.

Each time however, that I started to push the limits (even in the most miniscule of ways) I found myself cowering back when I was faced with opposition or sometimes even just a harsh tone of voice. Some innate need for approval required me to go back to what I was doing, and forget I'd ever asked to try something different. It's disappointing that I came into this profession out of a deep sense of social justice and passion for change, and I haven't yet risen to the occasion when it was time to fight for it. In an interview with Campus Progress, Jonathan Kozol said, "The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory." I would like to think that just by teaching in a high need school I am somehow sticking my neck out, but when I think of the battles, small as they've been, that I've surrendered without really fighting, I feel a bit yeller.

In a minute I'll go back to the PowerPoint and maybe add some cool transitions or even music. I'll likely stand up in front of my school and present each slide as if it was truth. At this point, I can justify my cowardice as realism, accepting that some things aren't worth fighting about, or that some things aren't likely to change. Hopefully the , I'll recognize the big battle when I see it, and I won't back down when it really counts.

Comments

Kate said…
I fought the fight once, declared that I wouldn't be giving up my conference period for an in-school suspension room. I told everyone who would listen that we should be paid extra or not asked to do it as the law mandates a conference period.

The principal made it voluntary and everyone signed up for it but me.
amber said…
It's hard to fight the fight when you aren't tenured. Even though I'd like to think that the teacher's union would stand up for me, I know that the risk I'd be taking by being as vocal as I'd like to be is a big, big risk. This year, I've been told numerous times to quit asking so many questions, to smile and nod and then go back to your room and continue doing what you were really doing. I think that you've done what you can, within the confines of what the DOE/District allows. Still, it is mind-boggling to realize that teachers can only really make waves once they get tenure- in my case, after 3 years.

If after three years of dealing with immense amounts of BS, I'm somehow still full of the passion and idealism that I feel now, then great. But I think that's all a part of what they want- beat you down for 3 years, tell you to shut up, tell you to nod/smile, then by the end of it you will be indoctrinated and subordinate.

I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Somewhere out there, a group of kids is waiting for a fantastic teacher like you, and you will do well. Big hugs from MN-
Why the hell are you doing this? Out of a sense of professionalism, I gather, which is something I am sure the administration probably lacks. It's funny, in a completely non humorous way, how the frustrations I go through with my school are exactly the same as other schools. I would think you are talking about my school, and we don't teach at the same place.

I lost my idealism last year, after getting bullied and beaten down by an incompetent A.P. who had no place in any type of educational institution. Yet, as far as I know, that's probably what Tweed wants. AP's and principals so incompetent that they will just toe the line and do what Lord Chancellor Klein and Emperor Bloomberg want.

That said, I did regain my idealism this year, if anything because I had an AP who was considerate, professional and willing to help at every corner. The most effective AP at our school, yes, I'm biased, not surprisingly, he's not a product of Dictatorship Academy. I feel your pain man, and I really hope things work out for you.

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