I think teachers are so bogged down in the day to day responsibilities of educating our children that we have missed an important point. A vital reality. Maybe it is the sheer number of tasks on our plate which seem to be ever increasing, or maybe we are just unaware…either way the truth is that we have been looking to be rescued. We long for someone, somewhere, to have the common sense to see that what is happening to us is killing us, if not physically, it is killing our motivation to do this job. The vice grip is tightened year after year by those we had hoped would defend us in our efforts to simply teach children. We vote out politicians who do nothing to improve our profession or the system in which we work, and replace them with more of the same. Rather than cutting off the top, we have actually pruned the bush and in turn multiplied the fruit! We pray that the governors will stand up to the president, or the state superintendent will stand up to the governor. We hope that at least our local super will allow some common sense in local decisions, or that our building administrators will say “No, we won’t do that at our school because it’s not good for kids.” We ask our boards of education to take stock of the situation and to protect. Yet, in all of our prayers, hopes, and asking we are met with the sound of silence. Crickets. Nothing.
Here is the fact that we have missed: No one is going to do anything for us. Here is why: They have no idea what to do. It is a realization I have come to over the past few years that has culminated in my recent resignation. They have NO IDEA what they are doing. The politicians have NEVER been in a classroom. Which makes them the worst of backseat drivers. Thinking they can give direction from a vantage point that does not see all the subtle day to day factors that make up the ebb and flow of a classroom. It is the equivalent of me going into a factory and changing all the procedures without knowing one thing about the business. Without understanding, it would be disastrous for me to do such a thing. What teachers and students are living out every day in our schools is just such a disaster.
Our hope then, has shifted to the educators in places of power who should be able to help us. Our superintendents, who should KNOW and SPEAK for us when things that are completely asinine are discussed and voted upon. We picture them swooping into the legislature and saying, “This is crazy and we won’t do it!” Only they don’t. And the reason is that it has been so very long since they have actually taught in a classroom they don’t REMEMBER. And if they do, their point of reference is a classroom from eons ago, which was a different world than now. Instead of looking at people, they look at data and numbers. They have forgotten the fact that every number is an actual person, who breathes, and eats, and tries to sleep at night.
Surely, we think, our principals will help us out. Surely, those who know our children and our families can put a foot down and surround us with a bubble that allows our classrooms to be places of safety. Yet, the pressure they are receiving from above to make the data look good seems to override the basic respect for those doing the work of educating. Instead we hear, “When I was in the classroom, I did it this way.” or “If I was in the classroom I would do…” or “Why is this so hard for you?” These statements are not helpful in the least. They are demeaning. They invalidate those who are in the classroom TODAY, not 10 years ago. Not those who were in the classroom a total of 3 years before they “got out” to go into administration. If you asked most administrators to go back into the classroom they would cringe at the idea. Why? Because they KNOW they couldn’t do it…the stress of being on the front lines is why they got out in the first place. What they do not understand is that the children are different now. The standards have changed more times than they have been stable. The evaluation methods for both teachers and students have lost all common sense. The insanity has only intensified in the years since they were in a classroom as a teacher, and if they are honest, they know this is true.
No. There is no help coming my friends. And that reality is a hard pill to swallow. We have to save ourselves. The top down rescue is a farce. It is going to take a grassroots surge to make changes. From the bottom up. There are more teachers than politicians. The only way is to override. Our fear of losing our jobs is what is holding us back. I know that there are many who cannot afford to take the risk of quitting like some of us have. Heck, we couldn’t afford it either! But to remain in the status quo, knowing it is likely to get worse, is an insanity in which I could no longer participate.
Years of counseling taught me something that I had never really applied to my job. It is this: You cannot change someone else. You can only change yourself and the way you respond to the relationship. If I apply that principle to education? I get this: You cannot change the system. Whining will not do it. Complaining will not do it either. You can only change yourself. You can only change how you respond to the system. We have allowed ourselves to become victims. The only way to not be one is to stand up. That could look differently for every person. For me it was quitting and trying to find another way to make a difference…from OUTSIDE the system. For you it might be as simple as writing letters, or bonding together with other teachers from WITHIN the system. The key is we can no longer sit passively by and watch, expecting things to change. We cannot assume that our elected officials will have our backs. We teachers are a strong group. An intimidating group. A powerful group. A group they are scared of. The key word is GROUP. Together we are stronger than we are apart. We KNOW what works in a classroom and what doesn’t. We KNOW what is developmentally appropriate and what is not. We KNOW a lot. We KNOW more than those leading us…or trying to lead us.
Now it is a matter of standing up. Together. In numbers. Taking risks. Even in our exhaustion. Even in our frustration. Even with our limited time and resources. Even in our anger…no…especially in our anger of having our beloved profession hijacked. Change will only come from the bottom up. Find a way my fellow frustrated teachers. It starts with you. It cannot be from the top…it has to be grassroots.