Why I might leave

Despite all research, despite all evidence, despite years of accumulated wisdom and experience on the part of actual educators who have dedicated their lives to helping low-income students and their families the myth persists- that the teachers are the problem, that we are failing.

This culture of blame and shame has been seeping into schools so that every day when I walk into school I feel on the brink of disaster. Despite working 12 hour days, despite knowing that my students love coming to my classroom, that parents value what I do, I still feel like a complete failure, that I can never be good enough, that my fate will be decided at random, that no matter how hard I work, my students will eventually become disenchanted with learning, and alienated from their school through years of brutal and degrading test-prep, that I will make mistake after mistake and always be told what I’m doing wrong. In what career other than teaching are practitioners expected to be perfect, to be superhuman, to have their every interaction scrutinized and criticized according to so many standards, to never stop for one minute to get to know the people they work with? No matter how hard I work there is always more to do, and even as I throw myself into my teaching, into working with colleagues, planning school wide events, assuming leadership roles, the message I keep getting is that it is not good enough, I am a failure.

But it is not us. It is segregation, poverty, housing insecurity and lack of healthcare. We know that it is not us, but we still feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, we still feel the blame and we work harder, and longer, and try to be everything- teacher, parent, social worker, data analyst, curriculum writer, coach, fundraiser, planner,  web designer, therapist, artist, mentor. We try to teach meaningfully while being compelled to adhere to inane curriculum and standards, we try to prepare our students for what lies ahead, to help them get through each day, to help them love learning, and all we hear is that it is not good enough because now tests will determine not only our children’s futures but our careers, there is always more we could do and we know it and we burn ourselves out.

Instead of encouragement or recognition, we are handed itemized analyses of our performance, and teaching feels more and more like a performance- something we pretend to do so that the right boxes will be checked off on each list. Just as our students are constantly being evaluated, we too are under constant scrutiny. Just as our students are given less and less choice, so too, we are given less and less opportunities to be creative, to be authentic, to be agents of change.

This is my fourth year teaching. No matter what, working in a low-income school is going to be hard. When your students are hungry, when they are tired and cold, or come from unstable or even abusive families, you can never do enough. There are days when you cry after school, when you cry during school. With experience, it is supposed to get a little easier. But each year, I feel more and more like I am failing, like I am neither important nor capable, like no matter what I do, no matter how much my students have learned and grown despite a million disadvantages, the system around me does not have my back.  The problem of poverty runs deep and teachers can’t be expected to face it alone. In this climate of teacher baiting, of blame and constant evaluation, I’m not sure I can face it at all.

If reformers succeed in implementing their full agenda, who will be left? I’m not sure I will.



Donors Choose and Teacher’s Pockets: Who Really Subsidizes your Child’s Education

At first glance, Donors Choose seems helpful. It is great to get the supplies you need, or to pay for a special trip or resource that the DOE would never provide. But something is wrong with a system that depends on teachers to act as fundraisers and grant writers for basic supplies like books, art materials, and even classroom furniture. Not only do we not have the time, but when teachers and families privately and quietly subsidize education, it allows lawmakers to pretend that schools don’t need more money and resources. It also allows them to continue to funnel education funding to testing companies like Pearson and Kaplan instead of putting that money toward supplies that teachers actually need on a day-to day basis.

One sneaky facet of education reform has been shifting the conversation in education away from income inequality and funding to presumed teacher inadequacy. With teachers and families on defense, we’ve stopped talking about how schools in high-income neighborhoods can have millions of extra dollars at their disposal when compared to their low-income counterparts. Not to mention charter networks raising millions each year. We’ve stopped talking about how the state and federal government are underfunding schools. We’ve accepted the dearth of resources so much so that fundraising has reached into every classroom and teachers and their families are quietly subsidizing our education system.

For those of you who don’t know, donors choose is an organization that allows teachers to fund raise for supplies, (while taking a substantial cut for operational costs.) Teachers write mini-grant proposals and then share their “projects” with friends, family and school community members.

This year, I have spent about $1,000 of my own money on my classroom.  Additionally, I have raised around $3,000 through Donors Choose for supplies. That is $4,500 of supplies that I needed, that I had to pay for or fund raise for myself. My parents, my friends, and parents of my students all contributed to my projects.

Every teacher I know does what I did this year- spend substantial amounts of their own income and fund raise through donors choose or other similar websites. Teachers use donors choose across the country. In fact, exactly 226,181 teachers have written projects on Donors Choose to raise more than $310,000,000. Yes, teachers have privately raised more than three hundred million dollars nationwidefrom their spouses, their parents, their friends and their students.

For many teachers, the reality is that we will continue to raise money for our classrooms and continue to spend our own money on our students. Because we want to give them the best experience possible. But at least, let’s not do it quietly.