Category: Recovery

Diane Ravitch…and all the rest of us

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Prize, Advises Young People Not to Enter Teaching Because of Common Core and Testing

Nancie Atwell, a teacher of literacy in Maine, won the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million prize as the Global Teacher of the Year. This is like the Nobel prize of teaching. She was interviewed on CNN about teaching, and she talked about encouraging children to read and write, following their interests and passions. She is donating the $1 million to her school, which needs a new furnace and other improvements. When one of the interviewers asked her what she would tell a young person interested in teaching, she said she would tell them to go into the private sector, not into public school teaching. The interviewers were taken aback. Atwell explained that the Common Core and the testing that goes with it had turned teachers into “technicians,” making it hard for them to teach the best they knew how. She would urge them to find an independent school where there is no Common Core and no state testing.”

Nancie Atwell’s comments, which any seasoned teachers and most new ones recognize as absolutely accurate, were then criticized by male teachers as either misguided or irresponsible. As in nursing, a man’s experience in a female profession is not the same, but they feel free to think it is because, well, they have de facto the right to evaluate women’s work.

Ravitch,  a leading contributor to the teacher status debate, articulates perhaps more clearly than most how teaching reflects the cultural resistance to women receiving professional equality. She joins over a hundred years now in the discourse about teachers’ low and undeserved status accompanied by studied determination to keep it that way.

Why is teaching’s low status so intrinsically intractable in our culture? Because it has always been a gendered servant role. Men were only teachers until they could move on. Allowing women to teach was acknowledged as a lower cost alternative early on. We will be looking at the foundational attitudes toward teachers and why, even after severe protests and costly effects of ignoring teachers’ professional wisdom, teachers will remain a servant class.

Not only overt historical development of public education but educational reform movements and research are primarily instituted by men: men in law, men in business, men in legislatures, men in psychology, to name a few of the fields. Most of the time men who have never taught or have never taught at the level they are trying to reform. While anyone can find reams of books, articles and other materials about what should be done in education, very few materials are available on the teacher’s actual experience or on ways for teachers to have professional autonomy and authority. This is because the teacher doesn’t have time to pursue writing books and articles and developing programs because they are teaching. So the reality is not that those who can, do and those who can’t teach; the reality is that those who teach, are; and those who aren’t, study it and mandate the latest “classroom innovation”. This amounts to not much more than hubby coming home and telling wifey how she can do better. A gross simplification? Perhaps. But see if you find very many exceptions to the management of education that do not smack of this attitude.

It has been long understood that the younger the child, the more women are prevalent in their education.  Women became preschool and elementary school principals earlier than at other levels. With each level up, the number of women decreased while the number of men increased, until we have many male professors studying teaching and introducing
“reforms”, which earn the college lots of positive PR, until that comes under attack and the next horse on the carousel comes around.

In subsequent posts, I will list some of the historical milestones, educational reforms, and cultural contradictions and whether or not a woman educator with experience in the classroom was the originator. Hopefully this will help demonstrate that a teacher who thinks there will be an improved status change in our country should look elsewhere for professional fulfillment. This does not negate the influence that women have made; it demonstrates that there is a foundational commitment to keeping women out of any major authority in their profession. Like nurses, we can only dispense medicine if the doctor says so. And when we begin to become doctors, the status and pay in the field decreases and the amount of oversight increases.

My hope is that those who have an opportunity, will stop burying their talents in the ground without demanding proportionate respect, acknowledgement and compensation. And if that means not teaching, it may have to.  History will show that there are as many pressures to remove teachers as there are pleas for them to stay underemployed. A teacher needs to face the fact that she is disposable and will never be acknowledged in any numbers as an autonomous professional; in fact, every attempt will be made to remove her ability to made decisions about using her skills.

Atwell appears to understand this, but she still gave away the million.

Twelve Steps of Recovery*

With thanks to AA

  1. We admitted we were powerless over educational insanity, and our lives are unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that we could stop being victims of our own ideals.
  3. Turned our careers over to our common sense.
  4. Made a searching and fearless admission of how we were being dehumanized.
  5. Admitted we could no longer accept these conditions.
  6. Were entirely ready to begin a new vision of our role in education.
  7. Decided to create our own profession.
  8. Made a list of all people we were no longer responsible for.
  9. Made amends for not being honest about our inability to be superpeople.
  10. Humbly dedicated ourselves to a more realistic approach to our professions.
  11. Sought to continue daily in a rational approach to our role in education.
  12. Having experience sane living as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other suffering, overwhelmed, mind-numbed, brainwashed, and soul defeated teachers who deserve better.

* Originally published in 2005 by Shirley Fessel on

Since the time I wrote this, it occurred to me that the major omission is the systematic attack on public education that is not acknowledged as creating this insanity.

In future posts, I plan to address the lack of women’s voices in this predominantly woman’s profession and how the political agendas in America, serving greed, systematically stripped teachers of their professions. Those outside the classroom do not know the story. I will also be looking at the skills that teachers are currently burying that they could transfer elsewhere with mental and physical health benefits for themselves.

I want to quote here an excerpt from a more recent post by a teacher who has left the profession, showing the current end result of testing on teachers and students. In urban areas, it is even worse. When I left in 2008, urban children were being tested up to 5 or 6 times a year in order to make money for testing companies, which then led to textbook changes and increased textbook sales. We are only narrowly escaping the gun lobbyists desire to sell guns to every teacher, a money sign on every trigger. It is the final insult to the teacher-student relationship by those in power who do not care and see education as a way to make profits from tax monies.

“So why did I leave? Clearly, it means a lot to me to be a teacher. People assume that maybe the kids were too much, or the parents were a lot, or the pay was too low, or any number of reasons that have been trivialized on memes and complained about on Facebook. Taking a hiatus from teaching didn’t have anything to do with any of those reasons…..Jan 2016 Import 015

The solitary reason that I chose to leave teaching has to do with the politicized environment of education. People may wonder what politics have to do with teaching, and the answer is everything. When policies are made, the impacts come into our lives and change them drastically. Over the past few years, there has been widespread ‘educational reform.’  These reforms have increased the importance of spreadsheets, columns of data, evaluations by inexperienced observers, and the accounting of data in every teacher’s life. The focus has gone away from people; students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers, and onto data. The most important elements of teaching cannot be quantified onto a spreadsheet and put into a power point. When data is given importance above all else, time and resources are directed as such….

About five years ago I gave a presentation at a staff meeting dealing with recognizing childhood hunger in the classroom. Oregon leads the nation in childhood hunger, with about 30% of children living with food instability; they don’t know when, if or what they will eat. I was teaching in a county with 25% of our children living with childhood hunger…

I have offered to give this presentation every year since then (with different principals and different schools), and I have consistently been told no, there is not enough time. Not enough time. For one-third of our children. There is not a place in my heart in which this is acceptable.

We are in a people business, not a numbers business. It is not that teachers do not value data and information systems. We absolutely do, so that we can know where each child is in their mastery of the concepts that we have taught. Record keeping, evaluation of scores, and calibration of lessons based on the data are important parts of being a teacher. Data is just not the entirety of what it means to be a teacher. Teaching and learning are about more than test scores. There are so many more verbs that describe good teachers other than data collection. However, this piece of our profession is now emphasized above all other traits and qualities. It is more important to value the child, work with the family and teach at a pace that makes sense for the learners than it is for teachers to know yet another way to compare data on spreadsheets. Current teachers are doing all of this and it is too much, and too unnecessary. The only educational reform that should be considered should be designed by experts; our experienced teachers, parents, community leaders and students.” -Elona Schreiner  October 22, 2015 “The One Reason I Quit Teaching”

Elona is being charitable. It’s been more than a few years: it’s been decades. Unfortuately, those who legislate and lobby and profit do not care what any teacher thinks. Since the 80s, it was decided that education, and especially teachers, were an educational free for all football, and we’ve been kicked around ever since. And when we don’t submit to being kicked around, well, we are replaced by a myriad of options: homeschooling, temporary teaching certificates, union busting, and online K-12 isolation.

That is why we need to face the fact that we have  no leverage. Our schools are not appreciated or acknowledged for their strengths. It is time to stop accepting the heaping coals of criticism. It only enables the abuse. The same chauvanistic message husbands would criticize wives with (even those who “help you babysit the children” not “our children”- I  heard a principal actually say this to a teacher in 2005 when  he asked her “Who will watch the children?” ) will be hurled at us: but what about the children? To which I say, “Yes, what about them? You have created an impossible task, what I call making bricks without straw, and I am not going to pretend it can be done anymore. You take responsibility for what you have created. I cannot participate in dehumanizing the students anymore.”



A Teacher’s Anonymous Meeting

Welcome to the Friday night meeting of Teachers Anonymous

Hi, I’m Kathy. Welcome to the Saturday morning meeting of TA. Let’s open with the Prayer for Patience. “God, give me patience, but give it to me now!” Harry, will you read the Preamble please?

Harry: “Teachers Anonymous is an organization of teachers who share their experience, weakness and despair with other teachers in order to support one another and save our sanity. TA makes no claim as to expertise, excellence, or exceptionality. TA does not affiliate with any professional educational organization or support any educational trend of movement. Discussion of what is best for the student, lesson plans, or educational techniques are not allowed during the meeting.”

Kathy: Thank you, Harry. We’ll now have introductions.

Lois: Well, I’ve had a relatively good week. I was able to surrender the idea of being all things to all people. A parent came up to harangue me about her son’s failure to do any work, but I was able to realize it was her problem and stop apologizing or attempting to soothe her in her desire to escape facing the kind of person her child is becoming..

All: Thanks, Lois.

Grover: Well, I’ve struggled this week. The principal is still after me to take all the responsibility for student behavior in the halls, but I was able to sort out in my mind administrative responsibility from teacher responsibility. Now I’ve got to get the courage to act on it. He tried the old ruse that if my lessons were interesting…no, entertaining enough, the students would just want to be in my class. “You can’t make the horse drink water but you can feed it salt,” is one of his favorite brow beaters.

All: Thanks, Grover.

Vivion: My week was really emotionally disturbing. I’m still being expected to show a month’s test score gains for one month of instruction and my kids cannot focus on the printed page for over five minutes. I’ve got to release my anxieties. The doctor said he cannot prescribe any more medicine in good conscience.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mike: I’ve had a good week. Since last week’s meeting, I stopped trying to get all my emotional needs for a sense of accomplishment from teaching. I realize now I can’t be Super Teacher. The kids must take some responsibility. If the administration, parents, business community, government and general culture can’t reinforce what I’m doing, it’s not reasonable for me to flagellate myself, one person, any more for the entire school’s failures.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mary: Yes, I’ve learned it’s not my job to spoon-feed anymore. I used to apologize for everything, feel responsible for everyone and others were more than willing to dump on me. I thought being a good teacher meant people-pleasing, blame-taking for all. I started to see that teacher infighting and disunity was the result of a sort of oppression we’ve suffered all these years. Divide and conquer through guilt trips, intimidation, and supply rationing has been the strategy. Snitches have been rewarded. They talk about wanting creativity, but you really get into trouble when you want to go the extra mile. I know now I’m not a bad teacher because I want decent pay and don’t get turned on by the light in a kid’s eye when I can’t live above a lower-class standard of living, even though I have a college degree and 30 years of experience. There’s got to be a larger reason why there’s so much lip service for better pay but it never quite keeps pace for the last 50 years.

All: Thanks, Mary.

Kathy: Well, we’ve had quite a meeting. We’ll turn now to our daily meditation for the following week:

“I am a professional person, not a child. The world is not my parent. I am not responsible for the sins of the culture.”

Let’s join hands as we close. Peace be with you all. See you next week.


A Teacher’s Steps to Detachment, Coping and Renewal

Adapted from Emilie Rose

 I surrender…

I admit that of myself I am powerless over my frustration to

teach students who do not want to learn from me. I

surrender my frustration: I let it go.


I believe…

I believe that a higher power resides in each one of us that does the

true teaching/guiding. I believe that this power is available to all now.

I no longer equate my worth with others’ lack of positive response.


I decide…

I make a decision to respond to the guidance of an inner, higher light.

By this decision I surrender my ego involvement and am released

from all tension and pain. I no longer give myself to mistreatment and

use my assertive skills.


I release…

I release all preconceived attitudes towards the students, the

administration, my performance, and my peers. I set no

blocks or limits to what I can accomplish, but open myself

to a willingness to be all that I can be, even if that means leaving

teaching in this setting.


I forgive…

I forgive myself for berating myself when the lesson flops, the

students are uncooperative, the administration unsupportive, the parents hostile or

my peers indifferent. I forgive  myself and all others. I bless the opportunities for

spiritual  and professional growth which surround me. I forgive, I release,

I set free, myself and others.


I ask…

I ask that I might have the peace to follow higher consciousness guidamce for myself and the courage to direct my talents elsewhere if so guided.


I accept…

I am gratefully accepting the peace I have gained in my chosen

profession. I know that my life and the lives of those I touch shall

be made richer through me. When that ceases to be the case, I find

another outlet for my talents, abilities and dedication.


I know…

I will be guided to know when to leave the classroom and use my

multiple talents to better advantage in another setting.


Teachers Anonymous

In 2012 I began a blog by this title but did not pursue it. The name had been inspired by a few of us laboring in an urban high school in a still somewhat posh neighborhood that was hated by the district administrators who remembered getting hand-me-down textbooks from the school. That was in 1986 or 87. We invented our 12 Steps for Recovery. And we made our jokes in order to keep our heads up.

Since then I see the name has caught on. I counted over a dozen Teachers Anonymous sites during a recent web search. I also found an Academics Anonymous for college profs (they are always a separate entity). The erosion of dignity, freedom and respect has reached there too.

There is so much enormous misunderstanding, so much uninformed slander, and so many teachers who just want to know that they are not crazy for thinking what they are going through is real or that they are the only ones, that here I’m letting it all loose!

This blog is for all the outrageous and insulting practices that I suffered in education. And I welcome true stories of other educator’s injustices! The Union didn’t tell the whole story. The legislators and corporations didn’t know the whole story. And the parents and students definitely didn’t know the whole story. With the over 30-year attack on public education, it’s time that teachers stood up here, because they were too demoralized or exhausted to say a word when they leave work at the end of the day!

Here is the record of the progressive erosion of any professional autonomy that I experienced during my 30 years and more of education. I had the responsibility for implementing others’ visions of my classroom but not the authority to teach as I had developed skills for my students.

Feel free to share your experiences of professional powerlessness. From textbooks that boasted they were “teacher proof” to totally structured content delivery and the current movement for standardization, I’m reporting one person’s experience of what it really is like to be in education before you lost your mind. My hope is that, rather than being seen as a rant, it will open others’ understanding to understand who is profiting from the carnage of public education, stop buying the story that it’s our fault, and join those who want to establish teacher control of public education so it can regain its dignity as one of the three essential pillars of our democracy.