Why Are Teachers So Afraid?

I am a teacher who was raised by teachers. I have always believed that once you become a teacher, you remain one for life. Though I resigned at the end of last year, I want to be clear that I would have had no problem at all publishing this blog under my name while teaching full-time. I am not afraid to speak my mind now, nor have I ever been.

Anyone who has ever taught with me, has witnessed me speaking up in team meetings, department meetings, and even board meetings, while employed as a teacher.

In my third year of teaching, non-tenured since I had just moved to Brooklyn from Baltimore, I spoke out against the widespread cheating that occurred during standardized tests in my school. Later in my career, I started and circulated a petition against our teacher’s union asking for information on the number of jobs that would be saved if teachers voted in favor of a salary freeze. When I was upset by how terribly our subgroup populations (special education, African-American, Hispanic, and low income) performed on the NJ ASK, I submitted a letter to the principal and superintendent with an attached list of 21 suggestions for improvement.

When my oldest started kindergarten in the same district where I was teaching, my principal (in good faith) cautioned me against speaking at board meetings. He said it was too political. To this, I replied that I was not afraid of politics. That year, I spoke at board meetings about everything from the lack to books in classrooms to the truth about connectivity woes that were not being honestly reported. I was quoted in the local newspaper speaking out against advertising on the side of our district school buses. In the end, my resignation speech was quoted in an Asbury Park Press article about teacher burnout. Here is the link.

My point here is not to wow you with my leadership skills or impress you with my bravery. It is to make the point that passionate, respected teachers who speak their mind rarely get fired for their actions. In fact, though I resigned from my previous district to relocate in search of a district that more closely embraced my ideals, I made more friends than foes. I still talk to the board members that at times I engaged in heated debates with. I still have the support and respect of many colleagues and parents I worked with over the years.

This is not to say that retribution doesn’t happen. In far too many schools it does. But what about the rest? I refuse to believe that the vast majority of teachers are so fearful of their administration that they will not speak up about the negative impact that PARCC and other standardized tests and reforms have had on their students, classroom, and schools. The children have had little to no voice in this whole debacle, and they need their teachers, who know them best, to advocate for them.

Tenure may look different in coming years (or extinct), but it was put in place to allow teachers the freedom to advocate for their students and teach in the way that they felt was best. Tenure protected teachers who taught evolution and tenure will protect teachers who speak out about the harmful effects of ill-conceived tests like the PARCC and the poorly designed Common Core Content Standards (CCCS) that are dominating curriculum and instruction across the nation. Tenure has been criticized for keeping bad teachers in classrooms, but I feel the biggest failure of tenure is that it has failed to empower the good ones. Teachers need to take advantage of it before it is taken away.

And if tenure is not enough to make teachers comfortable speaking out, then why don’t more teachers speak out who could stand to lose their job. Why don’t we hear more advocacy from teachers who have a strong second income or bread-winning spouse? Why don’t we hear more from teachers who are about to retire and have nothing to lose speaking out? Where are the young teachers who don’t have tenure but are still idealistic and fiery and want to speak out to ensure that they are not locked into a career dominated by the power of money instead of the needs of children?

There has been a precedent set. Superintendents like Dr. Joseph V. Rella and Dr. Michael Hynes from Long Island have spoken out openly in the media about the damaging effects of the new standardized tests. A Florida kindergarten teacher named Susan Bowles refused to give the state test to her students and was not fired. An 8th grade science teacher from  Long Island named Beth Dimino did the same and was not fired. In Seattle a few teachers got together and  refused to administer tests and their students were removed from their classes to take the test in the library. Yet, many of those students and their parents in turn refused to take the tests. Those teachers are now facing sanctions (unclear exactly what they are) but are not expected to lose their jobs.

I am not saying that every teacher should outright refuse to give the PARCC test or any test that they don’t believe in, though that would be nice. But I am saying that more teachers need to find their voices and enter into the public debate without fear.

America,” the land of the free and the home of the brave,” needs to take a long hard look at why so few teachers are willing to openly join an intellectual discussion about the validity of Common Core and the testing regimen that came with it.  We need to hear from them what is going on behind the classroom walls, not from politicians.

And if they are truly afraid to speak, then we have another bigger problem that needs to be addressed.

Teachers, we need to hear from more of you.

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12 thoughts on “Why Are Teachers So Afraid?

  1. Carolyn L Schultz says:

    I know there are certain things I am afraid to take a stand on because I am the president of my association and we have administrators who operate under fear and intimidation if you don’t do as they say. I must walk a fine line especially since we will be negotiating a new contract at the same time that Chapter 78 sunsets. It is a slippery slope.

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  2. I don’t believe that the Common Core is to blame for the problem. I do believe misinterpretation of the standards and ill conceived tests based on the standards are a problem. The Common Core standards are designed in such a way that states can interpret these in such a way that they can be used by teachers on their classrooms to guide and inform instruction, particularly in terms of knowledge and skills. So, while I don’t think the CCSS is perfect, it is certainly far better than what we originally had in place. You can read more about why I feel this way by going to this blog article which speaks to this topic https://outsideandbeyond.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/grades-what-should-they-mean/

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    • Michelle says:

      Timothy Baldwin, you don’t seem to know much about the standards if you purport they’re better than what was previously in place. K-3 is so developmentally inappropriate that our young children are suffering from stress and anxiety over being held to expectations they simply can’t meet.

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      • Michelle, I thought someone would be upset by that statement. Did you read the post I included? It goes into detail regarding the statement I made.

        You also have to consider my background. 8 years teaching middle school language age, plus a MAT and well read and researched in learning theory and child development. I am also very well researched in the common core. I can’t speak to Math, but I can speak on Social Studies and English. Speaking from my knowledge and the state in which I teach, I give you another link:

        http://www.mdk12.org/share/frameworks/CCSC_Reading_Literature_grk-2.pdf

        Developmentally, I see nothing on here that a k-3 student would not be capable of doing given the right text. And keep in mind that this is minimal proficiency.

        Lastly, I am not exposing CCSS propaganda but speaking from experience and practical implementation of the CCSS in my own classroom with my seventh grade students, as well as my experience working with children from first to twelfth grade.

        I repeat, there is nothing inherently wrong with CCSS, but there is something wrong with curriculum and standardized testing that is built on a gross misinterpretation of the standards, which is likely what is happening in your experience. If the students are stressed it because the teachers are stressed because they are being given a prescribed curriculum that they cannot deviate from despite what their training and intuition tells them what their students need.

        Again the CCSS does not tell teachers what or how to teach or even what the assessment should look like, only the knowledge, skills, and abilities they will demonstrate if they are proficient.

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  3. Timothy, you clearly don’t know much about the standards if you purport they’re better than what was previously in place. K-3 is so developmentally inappropriate that our young children are suffering from stress and anxiety. They’re expected to utilize brain functions they haven’t yet developed! Please do your research before you continue to spout any more misguided Common Core propaganda.

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    • Thanks for the link to the videos. I’ll note the summary here:

      “Featuring the heartbreaking stories of students across the country who have been pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve, “Race to Nowhere” points to a silent epidemic in our schools.” – See more at: http://www.racetonowhere.com/about-film#sthash.qhRK26Vt.dpuf

      And I’ll go on to say again, taken by themselves, the CCSS is not the problem. The problem is exactly what this film conveys is the problem: over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve.

      I can say that the image of education that this film presents does not exist within my classroom. My instruction never recycles old material because my students are ever changing and therefore I have to adapt my instruction to the way they learn, rather than expect them to adapt their learning to my instruction. And year after year, I consistently receive reports from my administrators and supervisors about how I am able to get even the most reluctant and least motivated students to learn.

      The answer is simple. I pay attention to the way my students learn, then I look at the incredibly flexible CCSS exactly as it is written and exactly the way the Maryland State Dept of Education has interpreted. I then interpret these standard through the lense of data I gained through my own qualitative research (i.e. interactions, observations, and informal and formal assessments of my own students) and implement instruction that will be accessible to all of my students.

      The results… year after year my students demonstrate proficient and above proficient levels of understanding and not because some test says so. Honestly, I would never look at test scores from a test I didn’t create that was given under conditions that are not conducive to learning, When I do look at these test scores its because I am forced to do so every year and pretend to plan instruction around incredibly meaningless scores from a group of students that I had the previous year, or from my current student’s previous years tests.

      I’ve told my students and I’ve told their parents the same thing. I will never give a multiple choice test for one reason, they don’t provide me with any meaningful data that I can use to help my students grow as learners. The only reason why I would give such a test is because I don’t given them and I want to reduce the stress that will inevitably come from the upcoming mandatory assessment.

      So, michelleandken, contrary to your gross generalization about me, I am and have been well informed about these issues. I am also very much aware of the problem of the testing as we have two of the exact same standardized tests that my students will be taking within a month of each other. It’s absurd. A part of me would like every student taking one of these standardized tests that claim to be based on the CCSS to fail. Maybe that will send the right message, but doubtful. Despite high stakes testing being in direct opposition to sound, research-based instruction and learning, these will continue to exist and likely get worse as the years go by.

      As these tests continue to increase, this is one educator who will leave the field altogether, especially when the day comes when he is told that he has to teach a prescribed curriculum with the understanding that any deviation will result in a “cause for concern” despite the clear counterintuitive nature of a prescribed curriculum. Such curriculum and their corresponding standardized tests will result in, and already results in, limiting our children’s ability to learn and think innovatively and creatively.

      It’s not the CCSS that limits creativity and innovation. If anything, it does the complete opposite. It implies that teachers develop their instruction with knowledge and comprehension as the foundation on which to bring students to high levels of cognition that include problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration to express new ideas that can actually surpass that of the educated and experienced professional in any field. That has been my experience in my own classroom anyway, and I believe that should be the experience in every classroom from kindergarten all the way through the time a person graduates with advanced degrees.

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  4. Timothy I appreciate your intelligent response. I will write more once I get a chance to read through your post that you linked to. Michelleandken makes a valid point that the standards for early childhood were written without any consulting of experts in the early childhood field. I agree that CCCS are not entirely evil or inherrently bad overall, but there are flaws in the standards. I too taught middle school for 8 years but I taught elementary as well and have 4 young children. So I see the K-3 problem more clearly. I taught middle school before and after Common Core in NJ and had no problem with the standards themselves in my subject and grade.

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    • Paige, I would agree. Anything institutionalized will be flawed. Afterall, look at how many times Apple has to update their IOS in order to ensure the iPhones function properly. Nothing is perfect the first time, or even the second time.

      I guess that is why each state was able to interpret the CCSS and release their own version. While even the Maryland State Department of Education (www.mdk12.org) does not have a “perfect” version, it is very good and I have found that I have been blessed to work as a Maryland State Educator because I feel I have the freedom from the State, the District, and the complete support of my administrators to be innovative and creative in my instruction, engaging my students on a variety of learning levels and through a variety of instructional and assessment methods and means.

      So, no, as an educator I don’t feel a sense of fear to speak my mind. Many times I have said things in direct opposition to the State and National Board of Education, especially when it came to Race to the Top and NCLB, as well as the flawed way in which the CCSS has been developed and subsequently rolled out. But that doesn’t mean I abandon the CCSS, which I actually found to be more in line with the way I was teaching than the convoluted Voluntary State Curriculum that the State of Maryland had previously implemented.

      That being said, my research in the effectiveness of the CCSS has been in my own classroom, with my own students, and in discussion and collaboration with other teachers within my school district. The only backlash to the CCSS has been from teachers who still insist that “drilling” their students with “workbooks” is somehow good instruction. Aside from this, as Language Arts teachers we have designed, implemented and still continue to create incredibly innovative formative and summative assessments that afford students the opportunity to express their knowledge, skills, and abilities through means and measures that appeal to their learning styles.

      Will this prepare my students for “The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)” that is coming up in another month? I have no idea. That assessment doesn’t align with good instruction and assessment that takes into account the way 21st century students actually learn. Personally, I don’t care if any of my students even pass the PARCC and a part of me hopes that they all fail. Maybe that will give Arne Duncan and the U.S. Dept of Ed a clue that politics and the wealthy 1% should not be the definers of education in the United States.

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  5. Debra says:

    Why are teachers so afraid? Well, of course they are afraid of losing their jobs but that is not the full story. Once you rise up and voice your outrage at injustice (like I did) you become a “pariah.” Peers are afraid to associate with you even though they may agree with you. Even family members tell you lower your profile or risk losing your job. In my district, fear is the norm and it comes from the top down. There are enough horror stories to keep a Jane Fonda from raising her voice.

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  6. meg1974Megan says:

    Um, tell that to all of the teachers who have been fired for speaking up. It’s happening all over the nation.

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  7. meg1974 says:

    Yeah, except there are LOTS of teachers who HAVE been fired for speaking up. All across the nation. What about them?

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