Guest blogger Steven Singer writes about an experience failing as a teacher, and wondering what he could have done different.


Maybe it's inevitable. Maybe some things--the Common Core, annual testing, charter proliferation, test-based teacher evaluation--are the new normal. Do I wish my own state had passed strong standards for establishing charter schools, twenty years ago? Absolutely. Would it have prevented the charter school corruption and fraud in my state? Who knows?


When I say "movement" to save public education, what I mean is this: People, like me, who have no particular resources or organizational funding/backing, who got on a plane to be in a room with those like-minded compadres--because they're terrified that America might lose public education. People who think it's not too late. People willing to stake their professional energy on doing right by all kids, keeping democratic equality as critical and central goal of the education system.


If your district has a genuine professional collaboration model--different work, but same level of respect and influence for teachers and school leaders--that's admirable. So--are you working together to advocate for change? Or merely going through the motions of Schooling 2015? Why aren't teachers, parents and school leaders everywhere joining forces to put a stop to the worst of it--the selling off of public resources to for-profit CMOs, teacher evaluation by test data, and loss of local control over core work: curriculum, instruction, assessment?


To my students: I am so, so sorry. To their parents: please get informed about your options. My own children will not be taking this test. They will be opted out. I will not stand by as hours of instructional time is lost to a test that will not reveal any new information about my child.


Let's be real. All of us who genuinely want the best for our students know what's moral, what's simply following orders, and what is done for personal gain, kids be damned. What happened in Atlanta was shameful in ways that had nothing to do with standardized testing, and everything to do with power, control, and scapegoating.


Four things novice teachers should know: Welcome to a changed profession. Beware of media oversell. Act on your beliefs--but clarify them, first. Choose your heroes carefully.


Teaching in America has been systematically de-professionalized. It's no longer a job where experience and creativity are valued. The evidence around that--beginning with test score-based teacher evaluation, and ending with federal funding for Teach for America-- is incontrovertible. We keep saying we want teacher leaders at the table, informing policy. But when Nancie Atwell was given a seat at a big, shiny international table, we're stunned when she tells her truth?


You cannot measure self-esteem, self-worth, or readiness to face the world. You cannot quantify these teachable moments, ever. The more you try to do this, the more you tell me that my professionalism is equated to the scores that a set of my kids have received on a test that has no relevance to their daily life, the more you demean the battle against poverty, adolescence, and apathy that I fight each day.


There are major things about effective schooling that never go away: getting kids motivated, finding good materials, building a sense of community or relationships, nurturing persistence, quality staffing and how to cope with abundant mandated testing, state regulations, and the management of finite resources. Did I mention testing and subsequent uses of the data it generates? Oh yeah. The main reason that innovative, cage-busting ideas go bust. That and money.


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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