Education Politics/Community

I’m Sorry, Kids, That Our Education System Has Left Little of Me for You


Sorry, kids.

I couldn’t finish grading your papers last night because I had to read about the strategy du jour, even though it’s a repackaging of something we’ve already been doing for years.

I couldn’t help you with the sentence you were writing because I had to hand out these reward tickets that you don’t really care about. By the way, I didn’t make the new seating charts because I had go out to buy 20 pounds of powdered sugar for an engaging, hands-on reward activity.

I couldn’t come try the muffins you baked in consumer science because I was attending a professional development session that was teaching me how to establish personal relationships with you.

I can’t help you on your assignment during study hall because that time is designated for building a sense of community–heading to arbitrarily assigned groups, forming circles with our chairs, and answering random questions.

I know this formative assessment doesn’t exactly follow from what we did yesterday, but I have to collect data on this particular standard to present to my team tomorrow so I can add it to our shared data document that we don’t actually use for anything.

I’m sorry we didn’t get done with our lesson because of an active assailant drill.

I’m sorry that you aren’t allowed to work in the hallway because it’s a liability risk. You aren’t allowed to listen to music while you work because we don’t know what you might be listening to and it’s a liability risk. I can’t bring you the snacks I know you need when our schedule changes and we have late lunch, because the policy says I can’t and it’s a liability risk.

We aren’t having a normal schedule today because we have to take a test. No, it doesn’t “count,” but your scores matter because our School Improvement Plan says we need to improve your scores, and administrators are evaluated by the progress we make on our School Improvement Plan. So it matters a lot to them, even though I know the score you get on the test doesn’t reflect your real ability because you’re overtested and tired and don’t see the point.

Do I know it’s nine hours of testing total? Yeah, I know.

Those tests we took earlier in the year, in October and again in February? They didn’t “count” either. We have a contract with the company who creates them. No, I don’t know why.

I’m sorry I seemed a little weird and nervous today, but it was a surprise evaluation, and since administrators rarely come into our room, the times they do show up are a lot of pressure. I was uptight and curt with you because they don’t like you calling out. And I forgot to hand back the papers I had graded because I had to make sure the administrator saw me demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy while also demonstrating knowledge of your knowledge, skills, interests, cultural heritage, language proficiency, and special needs. I had to make sure I used proper questioning techniques to elicit higher-level thinking, and that I maintained rigor while keeping the undivided attention of all twenty-nine of you. I had to show off the “culture of learning” I’d established. I was trying to be warm, enthusiastic, respectful, strict, fair, flexible, and responsive and demonstrate a correct and imaginative use of language.

Chris, I know you put your head down on your desk during my observation because you just got back from having surgery and are on heavy pain meds. Allie, I know you were reading a library book because you’ve already read the novel and the class moves too slow for you and you need to multitask or you’ll be bored. Burak, I know you didn’t have the same materials on your desk as everyone else because you have special materials that you use at your own pace since you’ve only been in the country for five months and barely speak English. My evaluator will perceive those behaviors as a lack of engagement and mark me down for them, but I know you can’t possibly know that.

The administrator doesn’t know you. I do.

Kids, I’m sorry that I’m tired. Teaching is tiring. It used to be tiring in a good way, because I knew my students (most of them, anyway) appreciated me. They’d forgive me for making mistakes. They didn’t expect me to be perfect.

Now I’m tired because not only do I have to give so much of myself; I also have to prove that I’m doing it. I didn’t come spend lunch with you on Friday because I was putting the final touches on my evaluation portfolio. What I do for you doesn’t matter unless someone else sees it, approves it, quantifies it, electronically signs it, and clicks “submit.” There’s a horrible surrealness that hangs over everything I do, a second self that watches from afar and critiques and measures and quantifies. There’s a nagging feeling that who I am isn’t good enough, that I’m not a teacher or an artist or an awakener–and certainly not a professional–but a middle manager constantly being hassled by bureaucrats who know less about my job than I do.

You, kids, are the only reason why I’m still here. I know you, and you know me, and the notes you write me are the only measure of my effectiveness as a teacher that will ever matter to me. Neither my administrators nor my supervisors nor Charlotte Danielson tells me what kind of teacher I am. Only you do that. YOU are the reason I get up every day and try to be my best self.

I just wish I had more time for you.