Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 28, 2009


Debbis White, The Eggplant - Once upon a time I was a relatively good math teacher. Or at least I was led to believe so judging from comments I received from students, parents and other colleagues of the past. I had a great enthusiasm for my subject area, I made relationships with my students, found ways to communicate with them in a way that allowed them to understand mathematics and in some cases, develop their interest in continuing their study past high school. I shared theater and athletics and time outside the classroom with genuine interest and energy on my part. I was a team player. I saw value in collegial discussion regarding mathematics, pedagogy, student learning, student interests, and professional development. I went to every meeting I could get to at both the building level and the district level. I participated in curriculum discussion, graded course of study development, general discussion as to the direction the district should take in selecting textbooks and teaching philosophy. I did what I needed to do with regard to evaluation and tried to make the process relevant for myself as I looked toward professional improvement.

As I look back at how I saw myself for the 1st 20 years of my career and compare that to the last 7 years, this is what I see. I no longer have the energy to fight the fight. I go to meetings telling myself to just sit in the corner and keep your mouth shut. Otherwise you are going to leave the meeting stressed and upset. I struggle with the ethical dilemma of going to professional development activities or finding some "legitimate" personal reason for not being available. I don't get involved with student activities outside of school because I don't feel like I have the time. I spend hours each night grading homework and planning lessons and keeping records even after I have spent an hour at school at the end of the day. Instead of having an optimistic attitude about what I am doing and what we (at the building level) are doing and what the district is doing, I am always fighting something. . .

I took a sabbatical to start PhD work. I learned about getting kids to develop their own understanding instead of just feeding them the methods. I got excited about evaluating curriculum and looking for new ways to get students to construct their own learning.

Then I was not allowed to return to the place where I had been before to use the things that I had learned with the high school level that I was accustomed to.

Instead, I went to the middle school level where using my new found knowledge about learning should have been a no-brainer. I tried to develop materials and instruction that was consistent with student constructed learning. . . Just as I was able to get a few units developed to get kids to work on problem based learning, the standardized testing craze began. We were told to put our "pet activities" away and concentrate on passing the tests. At the district level we began to argue about when to teach what and we were told that we had to teach more instead of less, better. I began to depend on textbook "canned" material because I didn't have the time and soon the energy to develop my own.

And so now, I don't know if I am a good teacher anymore. I get district level reports that tell me that my Algebra 7 students are passing the tests and my Math 8 students are not. And this is somehow a reflection of my teaching ability. I could have told you the results before the tests were taken. I have higher education institutions asking me if I will help train student teachers because somebody thinks I am good at what I do, but I don't know anymore. . .

Do I teach kids to think, or how to take tests? Do I develop relationships with kids, or do I get through the material before we get to the test? Do I get excited about trying new technology, or do I avoid new things because I don't have time to make it work?

Yes, I have been teaching for 27 years, so I am getting old. But my father is 72 years old and hasn't retired from education yet. So I am not really that old. If I take the time to get kids to think, I don't have the time to cover all the material on the testing list. If I take the time to develop relationships with kids, then we will both be late to class and then we won't have time to cover all the material on the testing list. If I take the time and opportunity to learn how to use the new technology, we won't have time to get through the "curriculum" because it took too long to get the new technology to actually work in the classroom. Which way do I go? There is only one choice for me but I am getting really tired of always fighting the battle. I guess it will be time for me to give up soon and then there will be a new young teacher in my place who doesn't know the difference.


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