The Dilemma


My daughter was born to be a teacher. Just like I did when I was young, she would line her dolls up in rows and stand before them and “teach” the old fashioned way. They were quiet, she would talk. But they were taken to make-believe worlds through her books and they were given her diagrams and sketches of the world according to Allison. Fast forward and she walked across the stage at her University accepting her degree in Elementary Education.

Her world is different than mine as she enters the teaching field. I entered pre-test and I remember walking into my first classroom in urban Cincinnati, Ohio bursting with excitement. My students and I created our own lessons as we made our way through the curriculum. There was no “map”, no standardized test at the end of the course, there were no parents asking for grade sheets for me to justify their A or B. Oh, there was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and other national standardized tests and parents were concerned about their children. To be fair, I taught in an area where those kids, for the most part, would be first generation college. It was 1979.

Allison enters the teaching world with as much excitement as I had as she has worked extremely hard to get prepared to enter the profession. But the reality is that she is entering the post-test era and it is becoming increasingly clear that her “success” will be based on her students passing a standardized test (called SOL’s in Virginia, ironically, for Standard of Learning). She will be given a curriculum map, a pacing guide, and a fat set of facts for her students. She has had a taste of this as she substitutes around Northern Virginia in many of the premiere public school districts in the United States. She has embraced this profession and understands student learning, collaboration, and that she is the facilitator in the classroom. She is substitute teaching in several public districts and one small parochial school.

Here is the email I got from her Friday: I was offered a job in the parochial school for next year and I may be offered a job at the public school I am in now. What should I do? They are both excellent schools. The main difference in SOL’s. All I do now is have to practice and prepare for the tests in May/June. The parochial school doesn’t have that focus, it is about learning. There is a different vibe. They still have the curriculum, but I have more freedom. Help.

She knows I teach in a public school (not where she is substitute teaching). She knows I have taught at a parochial school. I HATE the end of course standardized tests, as well as all the benchmark tests in between. My classroom is Project Based and I am passionate about student learning. But the reality is that I have a pacing guide, curriculum map, a textbook (they only use for reference). And most of the time I feel isolated because of it.

I know what I told her, curious as to what advice you would give?


3 responses »

  1. Hi Kay.

    I entered the teaching ranks in 1991, not really knowing what the heck I was doing, hired by a leading independent catholic school in Southern California because I’d been working in their athletic department while doing my undergrad work, and had shown promise as an educator, in the eyes of the school head. I’d gone to public high school, and public university, and had a bunch of assumptions about how schooling was likely the same no matter where you were. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been disabused of that assumption.

    Twenty years later, I’m still in an independent school. It’s an active choice, though I frequently am conflicted about it. I believe in the civic and humanistic mission of public education. I know that good public schools are perhaps the most important thing we need to make this democratic experiment work (the last best hope?), and that a good education can be transformative for those not blessed with wealth or station by birthright. But I’ve come to the conclusion our public school system has largely lost its way (mostly NOT of its own doing), and that I can do my best work, and make my greatest contribution in an independent school. I’d explain my rationale more thoroughly, but that might be dissertation length!

    Allison needs to ask herself why she wants to be a teacher. I suspect it’s because she wants to see students’ eyes light up when they discover something new, or she wants to teach them 21st century information literacy. Or maybe she wants to inspire creativity, or show students how connecting with others around the world can help explain our differences and ultimately improve the world. If she can do this within a test-prep culture, and not feel the isolation that you admit you feel most of the time, staying in her public school might be a service to her community. The risk is she might lose herself – her ideas about pedagogy and her innovative impulses may have to be sacrificed to the standardization mandates.

    Sorry to say, I think this is a difficult time to be entering our profession. Best of luck to her.

  2. Twenty years ago I entered the teaching profession because I wanted to make a difference to those students who were less fortunate than others. My mission as an educator is to show them that they can make their dreams come true with hard work and focus on their goals. Here I am today doing the same but in a much different climate for education and teaching.That’s not to say I have changed the reasons why I’m in teaching. On the contrary, now more than ever my students in our rural low income area need stable positive role models.

    My advice to Allison is to look deep inside and decide why she is a teacher. Then stick to her convictions and make the right decision for her. I for one will always carry my mission in a public school as that is what I have always believed America to be about. My students need me and in many respects I need them. Choose wisely as it is as much a philosophical decision as it is a life choice.

  3. Where can she have the biggest impact? Where can she inspire someone and where will she be given the freedom, find the energy and be inspired herself? Those answers can only come from her own reflection. Ultimately, she will make the right decision, because it was likely the one she was supposed to make all along.

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