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602 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902
Many thanks to Jesse Fox Mayshark for the article, “The War on Teachers,” in your March 3 issue. I have been a teacher in Knox County for 23 years, and am frustrated and saddened by many of the politically-based changes that have affected each teacher and classroom in the last few years. Although your article examined the most recent specific bills, the trouble began with No Child Left Behind, which affected both teachers and their students in counter-productive ways. School administrators suddenly became fearful of their schools making the “blacklist” by falling short of newly specified requirements, a few of which were test scores, the number of absences permitted to a school (which, by the way, changed Knox County’s policy on lice so that a child can return to school sooner—please pass the RIT), and the percentage of children a school may retain. More than once I have worked continuously with a child who could not master a single skill on her grade level, fighting adamantly for her to be given another year to absorb critical foundational material, only to be admonished that we cannot retain that child and meet NCLB mandates. (And the public wonders why students can’t read.)
Education is now data-centered, rather than child-centered. Teaching is required to be a performance rather than a profession. My first 15 years of teaching were years of dialogue and discovery with students as we mastered the curriculum in creative ways. They were days of forging relationships with students—relationships that would affect a “lifelong love of learning.” The years since then have been less and less characterized by enthusiastically engaging students in learning. They have instead been increasingly filled with political and administrative pressures to constantly prepare to test, give the test, record the test redundantly, analyze the results (many of which do not adequately indicate mastery of a subject), and construct lessons based purely on data—all while rushing students through a quickly-paced curriculum whether they grasp the concepts or not.
Yes, as Jessica Holman stated in your article, many are leaving, and many more are planning to leave. I left in June, with a tremendous sadness that the very system that offered me four different teaching positions at four different schools in 1986 (based on my philosophy of education, NTE scores, and their evaluations of me as a regular substitute) would probably not hire me today. My convictions about what constitutes a true education are in direct opposition to many espoused by administrators, politicians and gurus like Bill Gates, and I could not in good conscience pretend otherwise. The politicians and the public may discover that when the smoke clears from the “War on Teachers,” they will have wasted a lot of ammo on an “enemy” that has long since left the field.
Valerie Bryant Bennett