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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Relevance of the New Reality: Where Have All the Thinkers Gone?

Earlier today, my friend who keeps me in my news, sent me a link to the following article from The New York Times. (You should really get yourself a friend like this--she reads a ridiculous amount of news in the form of magazines, newspapers large and small, blogs, and the like--and then sends me links to anything that may be relevant or interesting to me: vaccination information, day care scandals, organic foods, wine and book reviews, education nuggets, etc. Basically, if the blogging teacher had been someone other than me, my friend would have sent me the link to the story! She's really very thoughtful and it's a fun way to spark conversation.)

J. Steinberg's 3.16.11 article "SAT's Reality TV Essay Stumps Some" ( discusses how some versions of the most recently administered SAT had an essay question dealing with reality television which, apparently, caused some students a lot of heartache. According to the article, the prompt included the question, "How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?"

The article also points out that this (and all) SAT questions "are preceded by an explanatory statement -- 'These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives' -- as well as an assertion: 'Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being mislead.'" The intention is to supply students an opportunity not only to demonstrate their writing skills, but also to give them what they need to answer the prompt, regardless of their interest or knowledge on that particular subject.

What struck me, in particular, was this statement: "This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia [executive director of the SAT program] said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students."

(However, despite the attempts at relevancy and engagement levels for students, some of them still complained. One student is quoted in the article as saying, "I kinda want to cry right now" and another as remarking, "I don't watch reality tv at all so it was hard for me. I have no interest in reality tv shows..." What they don't seem to realize is that watching reality tv is not necessary in having an opinion about it. And ironically, most people have stronger opinions on matters they know even less about, and that rarely stops them from weighing in!)

More and more, there is a move to make things relevant and engaging to students. Relevance IS important because it does lead to buy-in and engagement, which, in turn, leads to happier students and, in theory, greater achievement because they care about what they're doing. However--and this is something that has bothered me for years--NOT EVERYTHING is going to seem relevant or be engaging to all students. Sometimes in life, things are boring. Sometimes, we're asked to work with ideas we could give two craps about and just wish would go away. We still have to do these things. Sure, we can complain about them being boring or pointless or dumb, but they still have to get done, and done to the best of our abilities. That's life.

But I've noticed in the past 2 years or so that the move in education is so much more toward the dog-and-pony show, and not enough the reality that not everything is going to be fun.

For one thing, students come in to class and expect to be entertained all the time. They want movies, technology, group work. They hate having to read, think, or be creative. Lectures are boring. Background information--which, ironically, may in fact point out the relevance of the lesson to their lives--becomes a perfect time to catch up on calculus homework or some ZZZs.

It isn't that there's anything wrong with movies, technology, or group work. They can be great. That is, if they are being implemented because they are legitimately the most effective way to cover the information. However, let's face it, there's a lot of work that leads up to the effective use of those other things. How can you have a lively discussion about a piece of literature if you've never read it in the first place? How can you dissect a pig if you don't know where to cut and what you're looking at? It's the "boring" background work that sets up the relevancy but that students seem to so resent (and, in turn, ignore and complain about.)

Students aren't the only ones expecting a show--administration wants the dog-and-pony show, too, that often takes place when teachers are observed.

Teachers are routinely observed by their administration to make sure they are doing what needs to get done and keeping up with district standards and implementing best practices and the like. It could be likened to performance reviews in the corporate world.

In theory, when admin drops in to see a lesson, these lessons should be the normal day-to-day type. However, particularly in announcing their date in advance, there's an expectation that something interesting takes place on that day. (And, frankly, if that isn't the true expectation, it's the PERCEPTION, and thus what teachers do out of fear that if they don't, they'll be negatively viewed.) Therefore, even though there are those lessons where teachers have to just have students reading a section or practicing 20 math problems on their own, those are not the lessons administrators want to see. They sometimes say that they're ok with those types of lessons, but since they have to take notes on the visit, they are decidedly not ok with those types of lessons on those days. So teachers have to plan 'fun' lessons even for the administrators for those days. It isn't that the teachers never do these types of lessons, but it's like they have to break out the good china for their guests those days. The expectation is that the good china will be used.

These "expectations" lead to another trend I've been seeing more and more in the past couple of years, which goes back to something not covered deeply in the Times article but which, I suspect, is part of the issue: students expect something specific and classically academic and are very thrown and/or put out when given a choice or asked to think more creatively.

When I was in school, it was a treat when a teacher assigned a project that had choices. For instance, in one English class I had, we were given a 1-page list of options for how to demonstrate our knowledge of the information. We could write a paper, create a brochure, make a movie or skit, write a book or song, give a speech, make a poster, create a board game, draw a comic strip... you get the point.

As students, we were invigorated by the options and the products were usually great because we felt that relevancy as we worked and had that engagement with our product. (We also appreciated the choice.) Some people still went the "standard" route and wrote papers, of course, because that's how they best expressed themselves, but the option was refreshing.

In my first year of teaching, I had students create a newspaper (with several smaller writing samples dealing with multiple topics) instead of writing a formal essay on one over-arching topic. Some students really struggled with this task because it was outside-the-box for them. Some curricula allow for this type of assignment movement, while others do not, so as I started teaching other levels, the obvious opportunities to offer these other choices seemed to dry up.

As the years went on, though, and particularly after I'd taken a really interesting continuing education course on assessment types and strategies, I made an effort to try to vary assessment types to appeal to different styles of learners and to add that originality and creativity to assessments.

I've noticed, though, that in the past 2 years or so, students (for the most part) do NOT find these options refreshing; rather, they seem stressed out by them. Sure, there are still some students who love having a choice, who think that any option that allows them not to write a formal paper is awesome. (Just as some students in the Times article found the reality tv prompt, "a welcome respite.") But more and more, like the student in the article who wanted to cry, they see the other options as exhausting. Create a song? Create a board game? Too much work.

More and more, they OPT to write the paper. (And, trust me, it is NOT because paper writing is how they best expressed themselves...) The rest is just too tiring.

Even when I had students write in a daily journal and assigned a "free write" (for which they could write about whatever topic they wanted to discuss), they complained about it. "What? I hate free writes. I don't know what to write about. Can't you just give me a topic?!"

[They also HATE anything subjective (unless, of course, they earn an "A" on the task; then it's ok and nobody ever questions it as an unfair or mentions it as a potentially subjective assessment.) If it isn't multiple choice or matching (especially with a word bank), they want no parts of it. How are they supposed to study for it? How can I as teacher deem an answer right or wrong? How can I award partial credit? Why that amount and not more? It's not faaaaaaiiiiirrrrr! If it isn't black and white, it tends to infuriate them.]

The struggles and stress students seem to feel at being asked to think creatively or discuss unexpected or subjective subjects is disheartening. So it's really no great surprise to me that some students are having such difficulty with a more "fun"-seeming SAT prompt.

All of this might lead one to set about to answer a similarly phrased prompt: How authentic can these "relevant" tasks be when school systems attempt to design challenges for the participating students and then students cannot alter their set ways of thinking? Or, dare we say, cannot think at all?


  1. I can't believe that you were suspended. What you've written proves your worth. How's it all going, BTW? Will you be reinstated??

  2. Try being an art teacher for a week!

    Ironically enough, I often remind them art is like creative writing, "you have parameters when assigned a creative writing story, beyond those parameters, you can go where you want"...usually that is enough to get them going. If they give a "common response" it is not creative. I have very good rubrics that show how they can earn an A without the worry of subjectivity. But creativity is not a black and white answer, for our "teach to the test" students. It is challenging, I am very sorry, but you can't study for a creativity test, you need to play around with options and for the last few years, they just want the correct answer handed to them so they can regurgitate it. They think art will be an easy A, they end up working very hard and often enough they fall in love.

  3. My students at the college level hate free writes also. They don't want to be given options. I gave my Composition II classes a choice between three essay topics (with one choice being very open-ended)and they complained that they didn't understand what I wanted and didn't know what to choose. One student plagiarized two discussion board topics simply because he was too lazy to come up with his own thoughts. Even worse--he copied and pasted from Wikipedia. It's frustrating, and I'm not sure how we abstain from raising a generation of Helpless Hand Raisers, when it starts so young.

  4. I second Fraudulent Teacher's sentiments! I love everything you've written so far and the school you've been suspended from (as well as the students who have lost you as a teacher) made a huge mistake. It's their loss.

  5. Posted Today In the Washington Post -
    Have you read it?

  6. this goes back to all these kids being made to feel entitled. Seriously. Get over Johnny and Suzy being special and we'll get back to the real world.

  7. Yeah; I'm with "fraudulent" up there.

    Another thoughtful and revelatory post, Miss. I really hope all is well, and I further hope that sensibility bears out. But I am also a bit tweaked by the whole tenor of the current and broad snipings at the profession, your experience being only one example.

  8. @ Fraudulent Teacher-- thanks! Still in a holding pattern re: firing/reinstatement. They indicated at the board meeting a few weeks ago that they are waiting to make a decision until sometime during my maternity leave (which could basically be between now and September!) so we'll see.

    @HipWaldorf-- Thanks for sharing!

  9. Wow Natalie, I totally love this blog and wholeheartedly agree with you. My son, who is 11, is a huge fan of free writing. He says it's like opening the door to the cretive mind. When his teachers give him a topic, he doesn't have the same enthusiasm as he does when he can pick the topic. I am hoping that this continues as he progresses through middle school to high school. He also does enjoy the other *fun and exciting* activities, but many times it's overstimulating for him and he won't get out of it what his classmate might. I'm very blessed to have 2 teachers that have the same goal I do with my educate him so he is ready to go out into the world. We all work together as a's great!
    He's actually wanting to go to an online distance learning school because he can't stand 90% of his classmates. When I asked him what he meant, he said they are so disruptive to the class that he can't concentrate. To the normal child that might seem like nothing, but to a child who has Aspergers it's frustrating. Luckily, he has 2 teachers who will let him work in the pod when it gets really bad. Do you have any suggestions that might help him with dealing with problem classmates? As a teacher, I would love your insight on this.

  10. Also an art teacher here. I like coming here because I disagree with you a lot Natalie. :P Seriously, you make me think. I do see what you are saying, and I have similar frustrations with trying to assign "free draw" assignments only to have students doodle flowers and butterflies and peace signs-- they have no real thought about what they want their art to be about.

    Yes it is frustrating to come up against a generation of lazy thinkers, however is it not our job to try our best to transform them from lazy thinkers into creative ones? Granted, I'm sure the task is much harder now than it once was, but at least as an art teacher I see my basic function not as to teach them technique but to teach them HOW to think creatively. I don't accept answers that are "in the box." If a student turns in a drawing of three crosses on a hill or a peace sign or a Browning logo I give it back and tell them to try again. And yes, this frustrates them. They don't understand that the purpose of art (at least in the modern era) is to find your own point of view, not to copy something else. It's frustrating for them, but they need the experience of being frustrated so that when they finally come up with something original and I praise the hell out of it they know they actually accomplished something.

    I think art teachers have been doing what you refer to as the dog-and-pony-show for years; my high school art teacher was all about individual expression, finding your own way, and using whatever type of materials achieved your ultimate idea.

    I guess my question for you is this: what is it you're saying exactly? That teachers shouldn't offer their students options? That parents should teach their kids to think more creatively? What's the solution?

  11. I graduated from CB East a couple of years ago, so I know more or less where those kids are coming from.

    I agree. The educational system is a mess. The way we raise kids is often a mess. I'd vote for you for superintendent or to make education policy for sure.

    But if you hate high school students, don't teach them. (I was fortunate in high school to have teachers that saw the good in me, even when my behavior was not that of a poised adult. It makes me sad to think that your students probably don't have that.)

  12. Your "scandal" was the reason I deleted a blog I loved and enjoyed. I decided I lived in a community that just might use it against me. I also decided it wasn't worth it.

    I came into teaching late and was never more proud than the day I received my license and first assignment. I never imagined, not for a minute, that my profession would be so brutally vilified. I cannot believe the hateful turn the public has taken towards teachers.

    Your blog now is right on point. Students are in charge and so many just do not care. Their parents blow smoke up our a$$e$ when there is a problem and nothing changes. The things that admin forces us to do, the redundant documentation, the guidelines, etc... It is all so stupid.


    It's your rant, but thank you for giving us a voice.

  13. You write: "How can you have a lively discussion about a piece of literature if you've never read it in the first place?"

    Yet earlier in the piece, you said, ". . . watching reality tv is not necessary in having an opinion about it," and thus being able to write an SAT-worthy essay about it.

    So which is it?

  14. Margaret - there is a difference. The prompt was about the relevance and authenticty of the shows, not actually discuss certain examples (though having examples always makes your arguement better.)

    Discussing a piece of literature, you need specifics from the book. How you can discuss "Pride and Prejudice" specifically without having some background of it. The SAT prompt did give them some background about the shows and never cited one specifically. If they had said "talk about Jersey Shore," then, yes, you would need to know specifics about J-Wow's and Snookie's relationships.

    So, in this case, it is both.

  15. Hi Margaret,

    Actually, it's both.

    To have a meaningful and lively class discussion about a piece of literature (or any topic, really) in any great depth, one has to be familiar with it. Teachers always start off with a type of pre-read engagement discussion to get students thinking of an opinion on certain matters that will crop up in the reading (that, at this point, it isn't necessary for them to have read in order to have an opinion about): "Let's talk about these concepts: what would you do if you suspected your friend had killed to gain the throne? What would you do if you'd been prophesied to gain ultimate power--would you be willing to do something to help yourself get it or would you hope it happened on its own?" etc. But then, in order to continue the discussion about the literature specifically, so they could comment on what actually happened with the character motivation and the plot structure and its relevance to their own lives (thus, making connections TO the literature), students would need to actually have READ Macbeth.

    The matter with SAT (and other standardized test) essays, however, is different. As I also indicated in my piece, the SAT supplies information up front in the prompt to give students some framing for the prompt. "The intention is to supply students an opportunity not only to demonstrate their writing skills, but also to give them what they need to answer the prompt, regardless of their interest or knowledge on that particular subject."

    Standardized test prompts are seeking answers more in line with teacher's pre-read questions than the post-read discussions. They are designed to make sure a student can form an opinion about something and support it with anecdotal and/or hard evidence, and can discuss it proficiently in writing for a few paragraphs showing a coherent beginning, middle, and end. These timed essays are very rarely works of genius, but are drafts of ideas in an overall sense. Any student--regardless of interest in or knowledge about the subject--could write an SAT-worthy essay about it, whether or not they watch reality tv. They can still form an opinion about it, just as they can in pre-read discussions. It really comes down to the level of depth one is looking for in the discussion.

    Hope this helps in clearing things up!

  16. I love you post and I love reading all the responses. I just have to remind everyone that everyone does not learn the same way nor does everyone enjoy doing the same activities. Everyone isn't creative and we shouldn't expect that. Some people want some type of structure in their lives and can't function without a formula, while others enjoy having choices to expand. We can't punish those who prefer one over the other. Teachers as well as parents just have to be open to the variety of personalities that exist in the world.

    I do think everyone should have access to both and based on what they prefer they should be able to be graded on the work provided. How can you ask a non-artist to paint a painting and if you do, how would you fairly grade it? I would hope they would get full credit just for effort, anything less would be unfair.

  17. @a_lotofthings:

    I don't think anyone in good conscience would say that Natalie hates high school students. Most of us who teach passionately to high school aged students are merely disillusioned with the state of education on a variety of fronts. I'm of an age with Natalie, teaching in similar conditions and not one word of what she has written does not also ring true for me. It boils down, I believe, to a lack of accountability being placed on the student and their parents. In particular, nearly all accountability that should be shouldered by students, parents, and even some aspects of administration teams are placed squarely on the classroom teacher.

    We are extensively trained professionals who frequently are incapable of performing the duties for which we are paid because of a growing percentage of our students who let their apathy and disdain for education taint the learning environment in which they find themselves. We're charged with engaging every student in the classroom to ensure their personal and academic success and often that task is near impossible due to sheer percentage imbalances. We end up spending so much time trying to put out small flames in the classroom it detracts from the ability to deliver content and everyone in the room suffers for it.

    It used to be that consequences were enforced for inappropriate actions by students. Natalie has just put a voice to the frustration we as educators face. Were there times when she could have perhaps been more tactful? Of course, but that was during a time when she felt she was writing to an audience consisting only of her closest relationships. Since she has regrouped, her posts have not only been professionally engaging but it is absolutely CLEAR that she has a passion for her job and her students.

    I remind my students constantly that there is a separation between liking a person or group of people and still carrying out one's professional responsibilities. In my behaviorally challenged classes I often have to remind them that I am strict *because* I care and that it doesn't do them any good now or in the future if I let their poor behavior (both personal and academic) slide.

    I make the effort to find something good to say about every student *to* the student, but follow up with a reminder that I give grades for effort, hard work and concept mastery; I have no problem giving them the grade they have earned -- even if it isn't passing or the grade they desired. This does not make me popular to some subsets of the student population. My tough love approach means that I've earned the respect of many of my students (beyond what they are required to give.

    With all the accountability being placed on the classroom teacher when it should be doled out more accordingly to every individual involved (student, parent, administration AND teacher) it would be naive to demand every teacher keep their opinions, thoughts and feelings under lock and key. We need arenas where we are allowed to voice our frustrations as well as our accomplishments. For a long time this was carried out in workrooms where it was acceptable to say *almost* anything about a student so long as you followed with the clause, "bless his/her little heart!" [E.g. "Johnny wouldn't have passed that test even if he'd tried, bless his little heart!"] In an ever changing technological society, naturally modes of expressing our thoughts and opinions have turned to electronic modes such as social networking and blogs.

    The student generation now is so ego centric and self absorbed that either they've never been taught or have merely forgotten that just because someone else shows frustration with them (individually or collectively) it does not necessarily mean that they are hated. Short of being told explicitly that you are hated, one should almost never assume this to be the case. So far as I know Natalie has never come out and said she hated a particular student/group of students -- only behaviors they've exhibited.

  18. As an educator of adults, I see the end state of the primary and secondary education system in America. The problem for my students is that they have just spent 12 years being graded "objectively" by "one size fits all testing" at great profit for ETS. Then they hit my class and I give them the dreaded subjective, essay kind of test, or worse, their assignments require them to compare and contrast, or discuss, or analyze and predict. Their pain and lack of readiness is palpable. And yet, it isn't the fault of primary and secondary teachers. It is the fault of a society that facilitates and requires latch key kids, television baby sitters, iPad/Pod/Phone communication, and an expectation that they, as kids, are somehow entitled because "times have changed" and "the pressures are greater."

    Key questions without good answers. Where are the parents? Where is parental accountability? If you send your dirtbag kid to my class and he or she refuses to learn, don't accuse me of not "teaching." More important, don't expect me to teach the what to think when I know that the true life skill is the how to think. Kids have to learn to learn and once that goal is achieved, the rest is simply facilitation.

    When I was in high school, and before, if you didn't pass each grade...graduate from high was very obvious what kind of life you would lead. Today, well, maybe you can beat the system and live the good life....too many have done it and become admired, idolized. Educators can't change that...but parents...the community can...and they aren't.

    Yeah, there are real problems with the American system of education, but those problems are systemic, and pale in comparison to the ones in which the system exists.

    And sadly, that ultimately drives off the very folks who would help kids to learn to think.

  19. @Margaret- as Natalie was trying to explain in her post, students expect to be told what the correct answer is - just like your question. One of the most exasperating things about teaching adolescents to become adults is that life is not a series of choices between polar opposites (black/white; good/bad; right/wrong)- especially in the humanities. Actually, one of the keys to thinking critically is being able to evaluate the various shades of gray - being able to see the value in varied sometimes contradictory ideas.

    @a_lotofthings - I've struggled with this my whole teaching career. I'm passionate about my work, my students, and the literature we study. That means I'm also passionate about my hopes and disappointments. Often times, I blow off steam by saying things in the teacher workroom, or at home, that are not appropriate for the classroom (and maybe even a blog without password protection). That being said, blowing off steam is a necessary way to figure out how to get the best out of my students. Asking teachers not to have human emotions, while expecting them to humanize the education experience is a totally unrealistic expectation.
    @Meg - Got a kick out of "bless his heart" comment. When I first started teaching south of the Mason-Dixon, I heard that phrase a lot in the workroom. Finally it dawned on me that if
    I replaced the phrase "bless his heart" with "the poor b*stard", essentially, the sentiment remained the same. ;)

  20. @LaVonya
    I'm an art teacher and I ABSOLUTELY expect non-painters to make paintings, and then I grade them. To me it would be less fair if only the talented students had to work hard while anyone calling themselves a "non-painter" could just coast by with their easy A, so everyone has to work hard, I give specific grading criteria, and no, they don't automatically get an A just because they show up.

    For example, when I teach still life, I'm not just throwing them to the lions and asking for a beautiful masterpiece. We start with basics. I demonstrate extensively things like breaking an object down into its most simple shapes and then gradually adding detail, filling the page with the composition, and setting up compositions to be interesting. I teach overlapping and how to create space-- that an object which is close to the viewer is large and low on the page while a far away object is small and high on the page. Then when I grade, my rubric has the following sections: Criteria (did they try to use all the things I just showed them), Time Management/Attitude, Artistic growth (are they improving over time), Willingness to take Criticism, and Overall Result. There's a little room to be subjective, but the same is true of an English paper.

    And let's be honest: their boss is going to ask them at some point to do something outside their comfort zones, and they will be evaluated on the results. For example, a research scientist may love being alone in the lab away from people, but someday he may be asked to give a presentation in front of a board of directors and he will be evaluated on his performance, whether or not he's naturally good at public speaking.

    You cannot simply give students an A for effort and call it done because it's "just art" (read "not important." I tried my very best to be good at math but it just wasn't my thing, so should I have gotten an A? Art is a skill that anyone can develop.

  21. As a fellow (former) English teacher, I know precisely how much students loathe the open-ended essay prompts, when it comes to writing about lit. I always said, "There is no right or wrong in this subject; it is all about how you state your case and use language." They could NOT deal with that; they would tell me all the time, "I like math. In math, there is only one correct answer." They could not see the beauty in English's many possibilities! They also hated the creative projects because they were paranoid they could not get an A (at least, not for sure). To remedy this, I always handed out specific rubrics to let them know what I was grading and how...very important for an English teacher to be transparent this way, I think. But in the end--and this may be from another post of yours--it's all about the paying customers...I worked in a private school, so that did not surprise me. I was, however, unpleasantly surprised not to have admin with backbones, who worked to protect their teachers. My admin didn't care a whit about any teacher (even though they were also teachers, at least once). That is WRONG. Teachers can trust NO ONE. Parents are out to get them, sometimes, and send their kids in to spy on teachers. No one sees anything wrong with vindictive or crazy parents trying to get good teachers fired for petty reasons. I am an excellent teacher. I do not think I ever want to teach again. I am sickened--literally--by how teachers are disrespected. I promised all my kids' teachers--even when I disagree with them, I understand what they are up against, in terms of the make-or-break tests that keep them employed, and the zany rubrics that are foisted upon them by school boards--that I am not the sort of parent who would ever threaten their jobs. I am on the side of teachers. I would expect anyone else who has ever taught, such as a school principal, to do the same. Parents who attack teachers should be forced to teach for a year...preferably, in a school with major discipline problems!



  22. I just saw this today:

    I can't shake my head enough. :(

  23. Excellent, if somewhat depressing, blog. You probably are aware that colleges have the same phenomena. I think that a student's attitude about thinking started with their early childhood. And then these non-thinking children grow up to be non-thinking adults and raise another generation of non-thinking children. Finally the non-thinking adults become the administrators, etc. etc. Who was it who first said, "whatsoever you sow, you shall reap?"

  24. @Amber,

    While I agree with much of what you are stating in your post, I must disagree with the statement that "Art is a skill anyone can develop." That is an unfair and untrue statement, because after being in art classes from 1st grade to 8th grade, which is when they stopped requiring Art, I never could pick it up and failed that class every year. There simply are some concepts that I never could get. To this day, the extent of my art abilities are stick figures and doodles. How does an Art rubric work? I understand how a rubric would work in an English or Math class, but how do you fairly grade a student who honestly does not have a knack for Art? What about a student who has issues with depth perception, do you take that into consideration when grading their work? To make a blanket statement like the one you made does nothing to sum up your otherwise interesting post.

  25. I appreciate the stark honesty of your post. I've worked twenty years to encourage teachers with words like yours and I can say your frustrations are common. They are not new. Society has shifted, but frustrated teachers remain the same.

    I can be empathetic, but at the same time, I have to say please remember that not all kids are the same. My child is curious, engaged, and excited to learn. If you cluster him with all the others and pour a bitter syrup over him, his experience in school will be poor.

    Remember, all students are volunteers to the learning process. And it seems that cultural changes are causing fewer volunteers to step forward. They are still there, however, and we need strong teachers who can shake the mud off their boots and march forward to excellence . . . even if many students could care less. Some students do care.

    Three things I have learned that might help you:

    1. Consider teaching in a school with multi-leveled classrooms or volunteering to work closely with students who are older or younger than the ones you teach. It will help you see how kids grow. Many teachers get frustrated because their kids never get older. Working with multi-level classes reveal that most every child has great potential. You can see them grow and change.

    2. Reflect on the concept of 'fun'. That word gets misused in education circles on a regular basis. Fun is not a goal, but an indicator of having participated in something worthwhile. Fun and entertainment are two different things. Fun is the result -- it could be the result of an orchestrated event, or the result of a spontaneous event. Teachers must focus upon design, not fun. If they do, their success will be felt and fun will likely be one of the results.

    3. Abandon the notion that there were glory days. Embrace the realities of what is now versus what once was, because it never really was what we think it was.

    I have teetered on the same tipping point where you now are. This moment may help you find a career that fully utilizes your gifts and talents, or it may take you to a new level of teaching. If you think teaching is where you belong, then consider reading Parker Palmer's book Courage to Teach. It will acknowledge your wounds and serve as a balm. You are not alone. If you think he is a quack, you might want to move on. You might have a different calling than teaching.

    I wish you well.

  26. I just found your blog on the NYT site. Yes, yes, yes to all of it. I taught high school Spanish for two years and dealt with a lot of the situations you describe. Never, ever, ever again. I will be the most overqualified makeup salesperson at my local mall (I'm writing my dissertation now and am thisclose to finishing my PhD) before I'll teach K-12 again.

    It's not that I think I'm too good for the job (quite the contrary; I still feel like I failed miserably at it), or that I don't think it's important--it is, and vitally so. It's just that the job destroyed my soul a little bit every day, and that there are so many easier ways to make more money and to be treated as an adult in the process. So I bailed.

    Finally, all the people who've scolded you for various posts on this blog have clearly never taught. Just saying. Thank you for you work and best of luck to you!

  27. Hi Natalie, Here's two links to news articles you might want to read...the Times article mentions you (though not by name). Peace!

  28. Hi Natalie,

    I only heard about your story today. I can see why you were suspended. You're obviously a disruptive influence to the current education system, what with all your carefully considered thoughts and judgements.

    Didn't you know that you must never judge children, even if lack of judgement is ultimately a detriment to their care, education, personal development and future prospects?

    Instead you must respect their right to receive an inadequate and faulty start in life, without being burdened by the thoughts and opinions of an experienced teacher with good intentions and real, actual expectations for her children's future.

    Have you considered taking ritalin? Perhaps it might help you to stop caring so much....

    (end of sarcasm)

    Seriously, well done you!

    Have you come across any of these people/ videos before? I recommend them all.

    Good luck!

    Charlotte Iserbyt - Deliberate Dumbing Down of the World
    John Taylor Gatto - State Controlled Consciousness
    Education System by David Icke
    The Future of Freedom is the Truth of the Past - Lessons in Propaganda from Government Education


Please feel free to comment. However, please note that not all comments will be posted, and that it does take time to read through them, so your comments may not be read the day you write them.

Thanks to all for your thoughts.