Interesting how things define us. In filling out a form, boxes are checked denoting “single,” “married,” “divorced.” “Black,” “white,” “asian,” “hispanic,” “other.” (I want to be an “other” because that could mean alien and then I’d be like Dr. Who.) “Blonde,” “brunette,” “redhead.” “Irish,” “German,” “Brazilian.” “Carnivore,” “vegan,” “gluten-free.”
And then there’s “Occupation.”
What keeps us occupied in our lives, and why is that a question to be answered on a US tax return? For years after I started filing jointly with my husband, I struggled with that. The first year of our marriage, I was a teacher. Then I was a stay-at-home-mom, but I didn’t put that on the tax return. My husband suggested “housewife” then visibly recoiled when I crisply replied I wasn’t married to the house and surely he was smarter than that? Other years I put “professional volunteer” and other years I put “calligrapher.” (To the IRS agents that have documented our returns over the years: I hope I have provided you a glimpse into my zany view of life and some mild entertainment.)
For the last nine years, I returned to proudly filling in “teacher.” I can’t do that anymore.
I left my job.
I can imagine your reaction. Who is crazy enough to leave a stable job in this economy? Who could leave a tenured position with fantastic benefits? Who decides to turn back on a career that has been the one true calling of their life, next to being a wife and a mom?
For the past eighteen months, I have been realizing (slowly, because I’m not the sharpest crayon on the tree) that the sort of people becoming administrators these days have very little interest in education. There is an abundance of “educational” buzzwords being tossed about, many “educational” programs being embraced and thrust upon the teaching staff with religious fervor and just as quickly abandoned when the new one appears on the horizon, “educational” professional development workshops which are neither educational nor professional, but somebody got paid a lot of money to get it in there… any day now, we’re going to hear the words “paradigm” and “synergy” and I’ll know the Cybermen have landed. (Yes, I have been watching a lot of Dr. Who lately, why do you ask?)
Student progress is now being charted and measured and weighed and evaluated, like it’s an entry in the county fair. “Maybe if we try this brand of fertilizer next year, we’ll beat Clyde’s record in the zucchini growing contest!” Substitute the educational-method-du-jour for “fertilizer,” the school system getting more points than yours for “Clyde,” and “SGP/DOE/SGO/SAT/HSPA” for “zucchini” and you get the idea. There are suddenly entire movements of people (many of whom have zero educational credentials except for the fact they attended school) who have decided if student growth cannot be measured then the school isn’t teaching anything worthwhile.
What these people don’t get is that education is INTRINSIC. It is not an external product to be measured. Here’s an example: Children draw pictures, show them off, and explain patiently to the foolish adult “no, that’s not a house, it’s a hedgehog on a bicycle in a rainstorm with his umbrella attached to the handles while the ice cream man tries to hurry home.” In due time, same child draws picture, shows it off, and explains that yes, it is a picture of mommy and daddy standing inside a house. Can you tell me what has taken place? Has the child become better at drawing? Has the adult learned to recognize the child’s style? Has the child achieved somebody else’s level of acceptance? Is the child happier with their house than their hedgehog? Has the use of color signaled a depth of understanding not seen before? Or is it that the child has just as much intrinsic satisfaction at creating an orderly house as a bicycle-riding hedgehog? How do we know what effect this will have on other areas of the chid’s life? We don’t, plain and simple. Does the fact that it can’t be poked and prodded and measured from every angle make it less important?
Apparently, those who are placing themselves in charge of curriculum and testing think so. The non-measurable subject areas, like music, art, phys ed, life skills (cooking, sewing, auto mechanics, or whatever holdovers from my days in school might still exist) are now marginalized in a way they’ve never been before. The product of these classes, so often misunderstood by the business side of education, cannot be measured and so they are without value. If they are without value, then administrators have no time for them. If administrators have no time for them, then they have no vested interest in seeing them succeed. If they don’t need them to succeed, then they don’t need to put any time, resources, or attention to them, and normally that would be okay because as teachers, we know how to make do with very little. Of course, when it comes time to play the concerts or open the student art gallery or play the Staff vs. Students volleyball game, then the administrators are there beaming for the pictures and boasting about how wonderful the school and these programs are, and aren’t they just the most clever administrators to make sure these things are available to the budget-passing community?
There are many people documenting the changing face of education (Diane Ravitch and Jersey Jazzman are two that should be read by every educator) and mine is no longer a relevant voice. I have left the position that was compromising my emotional health and well-being, and I don’t think I will return. I will always be proud of the fact that I connected with so many young people and contributed to that intrinsic part of their educational development, and I will miss my occupation every single day.
I need to think about my new occupation. I am determined to make it something that my IRS record-keeper will find entertaining and won’t be found in a box anywhere on any form, then I can educate folks about it.
I’ll keep you posted.