If you were walking down the street and saw an injustice happening to an innocent person, would you help or would you keep walking?

When I meet with educators I often hear them say, “I love what you’re doing and I’m so glad someone is standing up for us. Normally I would say something, but I only have 3 years left until I retire.”

Or, “I wish I had your courage! But, you know…I need my job so I keep quiet about things.”

I smile and think, so your retirement or paycheck is enough reason to stay silent even when you know what is happening to students is wrong?

Even worse, this summer, during their time away from the classroom, many teachers will spend weeks in a conference room writing test questions for Pearson and other testing companies. Some teachers believe this participation will somehow give them more input and control over the outcome of these tests. But in reality, all they are really doing is making a contribution to the machine.

And after a summer spent writing items for the very test designed to keep teachers and students down, these same teachers will complain about test scores being tied to their evaluations.

More times than I would like to remember, I’ve sat with school administrators while they say, “I agree with what you’re doing 100%, but I’m trying to be principal; so I like to fly below the radar, if you know what I mean (wink, wink).”

Or, “The district signs my check; so I do what they tell me.”

To that I say to myself, implementing bad education policy when you know it’s detrimental to students and teachers isn’t leadership; it’s cowardice.

For administration, summers are spent fueling the machine as they will attend high dollar conferences held by companies like Pearson and Harcourt designed to push the testing agenda.

When testing resumes next year and the off chance students and parents exercise their rights to opt out or boycott the exams, administrators will – in a desperate attempt to fulfill the 95% participation rule outlined in the accountability mandate –bully them into taking the exams. Frantic for that “A” school rating, some will even send testing proctors to hospital rooms to administer exams to sick students (yes this happens…all the time).

“But what can you really do; this is the hard reality, right?”

The reality is that while you are “flying below the radar”, a handful of educators all over the country are out there shining a giant spotlight on the problems, complications and difficulties with high-stakes testing. More importantly, they are drafting solutions and changes needed to revolutionize our schools and stop the machine from hurting anymore of our students.

They speak at school board meetings; they hold press conferences; they talk to the news. They are also harassed by their supervisors and labeled troublemakers. But they stand up anyway because they know it is the right thing to do.

While most principals and assistant principals enforce bad policy, brave educational leaders are refusing to contribute to the problem. Instead they are exercising real leadership.

In fact, a group of New York State Principals – NewYorkPrincipals.org – wrote a letter to educate parents in their community about problems with testing. These principals have also refused to administer unnecessary tests.

Refusing to stay silent when others are being harmed is real  leadership.

The reality is, day in and day out, most educators complain about bad policy but do nothing to change it.

To be clear, I am not at all saying teachers and administrators should quit their jobs, grab a bullhorn, stand outside the district office, and publicly condemn the district and state for imposing bad education policy on students and teachers. That’s my job now.

However, staying silent in the shadows while others fight this battle alone makes this fight even more difficult.

Some are silent because of fear, helplessness, or worst of all, complacency. Some feel there is nothing they can do to change course and the fear of retaliation is too much to bear.

But there are small strides all educators can take to end the oppression imposed on students and teachers. Educators can:

  1. Get together with other educators and form teams to engage in talks with the district and state to change bad education policy. They can’t fire everyone.
  2. Write letters to district and state leaders outlining what is really going on in schools and how it is detrimental to the lives of students.
  3. Refuse to administer high-stakes tests because they are detrimental to student growth.
  4. Be the voice for your students and parents by writing about what is really happening and disseminate that information.
  5. Attend your local school board meetings and present a list of solutions or alternatives to testing. And when they ignore you, which they will, go to the next meeting and do it again.

To propel this movement forward we need everyone’s participation. We need all educators.

When you put your head down and walk by someone who is being oppressed or abused, you are the oppressor; you are the abuser.


10 Responses

  1. amferry

    OK, I will admit that I was really bothered by this post. I guess what I didn’t really appreciate being called an abuser (go figure)! But, as I always do when bothered, I began to reflect on why I was so agitated. After all, I am a person who cares about kids, who wakes up at 5 am every morning from August – May to teach sometimes surly students in the hopes that they improve themselves and have a shot at success as adults. And, I do this even though I don’t need the income (lucky for me). I do it because I truly love it (well, love-hate, but that’s because I put so much into it and get pissed when the returns don’t match). Then, as I was puffing myself up for being such a terrific human being, it dawned on me: It pissed me off because it is true. In fact, I posted a Facebook status during the height of “testing season” that claimed I felt like a torturer, not a teacher as I proctored re-takes and saw the same group of kids each time, walking down the hallway to the windowless lab as if it were their last mile. I had become a prison ward, and the testing script was like reading the kids their rights before arresting them for a crime they didn’t commit.

    Many teachers refuse to proctor, but I only know of one who has done so to stand up against the over-assessment of our kids. The rest don’t want to give up their planning period. Seriously. So, the students are left with a small pool of proctors, and some are super cranky because they have so much of their time sucked up. My philosophy has been that I want to be the proctor, especially for the ESE rooms, so the kids have a friendly face, a calm environment, and the Hershey Kisses, Peppermint Lifesavers, and Dentyne Ice Artic Chill gum that wakes them up like a triple espresso when they start to doze off.

    What I did like were the suggestions for action. I can find a few things from this list that I am comfortable doing. I simply don’t have the balls to flat-out refuse to proctor. Although I am slowly but surely becoming a little braver, my comfort level with being labeled a trouble-maker is zero. It’s just not me. I also don’t want to quit my job. Yet.

    So, thank you for making me mad, but also making me more driven to stop the insanity for our kids’ sake. While I will still feel like a hypocrite, at least I know that I am quietly and in a way I can live with doing something instead of just bitching about it.

    • shannon

      well said. many, many feel this way. good to get angry.. at both sides. at yourself, and at the system.

  2. Nikki

    Ok…good argument, but maybe as you get closer to retirement age (and you have a long while) you will realize that without paying in, you get nothing in return. Some of us work for food!

  3. Suzan Harden

    I will never forget my first course in my master’s program, called Ethics in Teaching. I took that class in 1986. One of the first topics we discussed was whether or not teachers had an obligation to monitor the system, including each other, for ethics violations and report abuses. When the class first started, most of us–including me–believed it was administration’s responsibility to report ethics violations and pursue justice. By the end of the class, the majority of us had swung to the other side of the issue.

    The reason I mention the year is to remind readers that these issues are not new to education. If more educators at the grass roots level had spoken up for reform prior to NCLB, would our path have been different? We don’t know, of course. However, we certainly know that this system benefits few and hurts many. It is an ethics violation of the worst sort to perpetuate a system WE KNOW hurts students, zapping their interest in school and their belief in themselves. Since so many of our leaders seem unwilling or unable to take on this battle, we must do so.

    I was a reluctant test coordinator for years, and I NEVER knew there was a legal opt-out for students. Was that information deliberately withheld? Or are our leaders just following along without questioning because it is the safer thing to do? It is up to each of us to become informed about the issues and speak out.

    Yes, it’s not always easy. I left a school counselor job with great potential because I could not get out from under the testing burden. I regret that. I should have stayed and stood my ground and refused to work a supplemental contract I could not have been forced to accept. It would have been hell, but I would have had more respect for myself. I can’t go back; I can only move forward. But I have promised myself that NO ONE WILL EVER TAKE AWAY MY VOICE AGAIN. I owe it to my students. And I owe it to Dr. Reagan, the professor of my Ethics in Teaching class.

    I, too, work for food. It’s time to nourish my soul.

  4. Tami T

    Thank you for reminding me why I chose this profession, which was to make a difference in the lives our our future. I just finished my 4th year teaching gifted students, and each day I see a “one size fits all” model of education for these students. I will be more committed from now on to having my voice heard.

  5. Dana

    I’m glad I heard about this on Glenn Beck. I haven’t learned as much as I could about Common Core, but I’m very interested. Regarding this subject, I’ve seen teachers shake their heads and roll their eyes, but have never seen anyone do anything, and I’m pleased to see your leadership.

    I’m very concerned about both my boys, but luckily my oldest started it during a transition to middle-school, and he was prepared to work extra hard as a large transition was expected.
    My youngest started 1st grade; however, and I couldn’t believe his teachers sent home a test that none of the students were able to complete. I’m glad they did though. Actually the directions written at a 9th grade level (at least) using words none of the kids understood so the teachers sent them home to the parents too. I’m sure they felt for these kids. The my son said that the teachers were not allowed to help. The whole situation of crazy.
    Indeed the directions looked like they were translated from some other language in a way that the words had to keep their exact meaning, or they didn’t have the time or money to change the language to an age appropriate level.
    Reading some of the comments from teachers… I’m happy to see them. I’ve known some great teachers – fantastic teachers, and some real stinkers. I appreciate people that are introspective and want to make a difference especially with when they wish to right a wrong and aren’t worried about a payoff, I mean pay check.

    Finding these people I think are very important as they need lots of support. Thanks for helping to find these people!

    Take care, keep up the great leadership, and many blessing!

  6. Sue D'Nem

    I have been that person speaking out while others praised me in private, but refused to say anything publicly. I left the community and moved on but the damage done by the administrator people were afraid of still lingers almost a decade later. I understand why they were afraid to support me (the superintendent was a spiteful, vindictive person) but it really hurt to see bad things happening to children all in the name of education. Some people should never be allowed in schools. And when they are, education professionals needs to speak up!!

  7. Gerald Savoy

    I am a former teacher in a public high school in Florida. I was hurt in the line of duty four times in five years. Three of the incidents were from assaults from students. I am now on SSD and Medicare.

    The school district covered up the events involving the assaults. Numerous other assaults and sexual molestations occurred for years on staff members by students.

    When I tried to be a whistleblower in 2009 I was retaliated against.

    Can you recommend what I can do to expose these instances to the media?

    Thank you

  8. patsy

    It is very easy to say these things when you are not the one relying on that paycheck. Trying to make teachers feel bad because they are not lobbying is a mistake. Would it make you feel better to see families of teachers on welfare because they stood against the system? The teacher’s job is to TEACH. The majority of them are doing the best they can. The majority of them went into teaching because this is their passion. Instead of complaining that more teachers aren’t speaking up, you should think about the fact that many are already spending 10-12 hours a day working in the classroom and preparing for your children. Their thoughts are not on, “How can we get rid of these assessments?” Their thoughts are on, “How can I help Jonny learn to read? How can I get Suzie to engage more in class?”

    Secondly, I agree that the way we assess our students needs to change. There does, however, need to be some form of assessment for the students in order to measure progress. We cannot just get rid of testing. That is silly, yet I hear it all the time. I would love to see a more authentic form of assessment. We cannot, however, get rid of all assessments.

    I also do not have a problem with basing teacher evaluations, in part, on student assessments. I have seen too many teachers stay in their classrooms because of teacher unions, when they were pretty much worthless. While they are not a large percentage, these teachers need to be under some sort of scrutiny. I understand that testing can have problems with validity and reliability based upon the individual child, therefore I do think this should only be a part of the teacher’s assessment. I have suggested for years that video cameras be put in every classroom, and principals could do formal evaluations without the teacher “prepping” for them. I think in this way we would get a much better picture of what the teacher is actually doing in the classroom.

    Finally, many teachers are doing what they can to promote change. The change a child experiences when they read a book for the first time and feel that self-confidence they have never felt before. That is the type of change teachers focus on.

    I encourage everyone to stand up for what you believe in. I am, however, tired of the teachers getting hammered because they do not attend council meetings or hold up signs. LET THEM TEACH!


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