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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Another Teacher's Take on the "I Quit " Teacher Resignation Letter

Last week, Gerald Conti's resignation letter to his superintendent sparked a national debate about education reform.  It was published in The Washington Post and has gone viral on Facebook.


I am not suprised that a 40 year veteran is so frustrated with his profession.  The education system has changed greatly since I started in 1989.  Testing has gone high stakes.  Many teachers complain that they are forced to "teach to the test."  Kids are different.  Parents are different. Politicians and the public defame teachers and resent that they have to pay us. Teaching is not easy.  The work is tough, and our employers have high expectations for our performance.

I am very lucky that I teach in a high performing public school with involved parents and a smart administration.  I also teach in a state that has not yet bought into the Common Core.  We do have high stakes assessments required for graduation; however, I think the testing has made my curriculum better, not worse.

At the beginning of my career, we taught by the book.  The textbook that is.  We wrote objectives for each class but they were not consistent.  I could have one set of objectives, and the teacher next door could have a completely different set for the same course.  The education students received depended upon the random luck of where the computer placed them.  My expectations for student performance were, at times, completely different from the teacher next door.

When Six-Trait Writing was introduced, student writing was more focused on grammar and marking errors with a red pen, rather than looking at the content and style of the writing.  When we began teaching writing with the traits, the content of student writing improved dramatically.  Today, I don't have to focus on the traits exclusively when I teach writing.  Because my students started learning the traits in first grade, they know what good writing is and how to apply it to their own work.  I now can focus on coaching them on developing their ideas fully, as well as coacing them to write in a mature academic style in preparation for college.

My students are over tested.  They have the required graduation assessments for the district, and they also have state required assessments.  They know the district assessments mean something, but in truth, they also know the state assessments are only measuring school performance, not individual performance.  They do not always care about their performance. It is not a matter of pride.  There is no reward or consequence for performance on our state tests, so more often than not, they do not take them seriously.  I have heard of students putting in all C's on the multiple choice section just to finish the test quickly, so they can go back to playing Angry Birds on their cell phone.

Because of testing, we are more focused on individual instruction for students who are not performing up to the minimum standards.  Students at my school, who are not performing well on reading assessments, are placed in a program, during study hall, that focuses on improving reading skills.  Each student has individual time working with a teacher with the goal of improving fluency and comprehension.  Our program is working.  Recently one of my study hall students improved so much she is no longer below grade level, she is now above grade level.

Teaching to the test is a fallacy.  Tests should measure skills actually taught in each grade and subject area.    If that is the case, then our objectives become more consistent rather than being different for each teacher.  It helps me to know what standards I should focus upon, so that I can be sure my students are developing the skills they need to be successful.  I can't just pick any old novel to read with my students. Though,  I can pick a novel that matches district and state objectives, and thus, will improve their reading and analytical skills. Because of test security, I am not allowed to see the test questions in advance, but I can see lists of skills that the tests address. 

I am grateful that, where I work,  I have the academic freedom to create lessons that truly help my students meet the objectives for their grade level and beyond.  Critical thinking skills are still a strong part of my curruiculum.  My lessons are designed to lead students to the water, but they still have to learn how to take a drink.  If a student doesn't get it the first time, I take them back to the water, but maybe on a different path.  I still have the freedom to choose the best path. It is too bad that in some states, bureaucrats are dictating the path.  Those are the states that will lose the best teachers.



  1. Its nice you still have choice, sadly it was taken away a while ago in our district with common core and the administrations reliance on publishers and misunderstanding of what teaching is all about. I will never go back to teaching...sad I thought I was pretty good at it :) nice blog Sandra

  2. Following from the Weekend Social Blog Hop. Would love for you to stop by and check out mine, too.

    Glad I found your blog. Contemplating the "refusal" option for my 3rd grader whose tests are next week. It's a tough decision and she has already voiced her worries once. You teachers are truly special people!

    Michiko @