Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"I was proud to say I was a teacher." Past tense.

"Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono
A morning mare rides, in the starless shutters of my eyes
The spirit of a misplaced childhood is rising to speak his mind
To this orphan of heartbreak, disillusioned and scarred
A refugee..."

                                               ("Pseudo Silk Kimono," from Misplaced Childhood, by Marillion)

“I was proud to say that I was a teacher.”  Please note the use of the past tense in that sentence. I was proud.

First, Gerald Conti’s retirement letter went viral (I’d like to think my little blog helped a little).  Conti, who for the time being, teaches in the high-performing Westhill School District, just outside of Detroitesque Syracuse, NY, posted his letter on his personal facebook page, and for a short while, it stayed in the local community.  A very short while. The rest, as they say, is history. 

And just as Mr. Conti was fading from news headlines a few weeks later, another public resignation shocked the teaching world, at least here in New York State – this time, a principal.  Kathleen Knauth’s retirement letter was shorter and sweeter, but packed just as much of a punch.  It did not have the same viral impact, confined largely to New York State (and my humble blog).  This surprised me, since the Frustrated Teacher is so commonplace an archetype as to be practically a cliche, but an administrator breaking ranks with Management to speak truth to power? That blew me away.

A subsequent public resignation from a School Board member, Julie Brissette, also in Upstate New York, drew almost no news attention outside of Syracuse’s city newspaper, the Post Standard.  I thought, perhaps, that what I had hoped would be a movement of principled acts, of Gandhi-esque gestures, of gentle, humble, almost plaintive middle fingers at the educational powers that be who are destroying the most important of our domestic institutions, public education, was dwindling into nothingness.  The starter engaged, the engine almost turned over, but the motor never roared like it should have.

Not yet, anyway.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So what's a 10-minute youtube video worth?

Enter Ellie Rubenstein, a teacher from Illinois (Finally, one who’s not from New York! I was beginning to think it was just New Yorkers who were pissed off about all this!)  A few days ago, Rubenstein posted a 10-minute long video to youtube (watch it here) that has drawn, at this point, almost 400,000 views.

An excerpt: 
Over the past 15 years, I've experienced the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of communication that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching. The emphasis in education has shifted from fostering academic and personal growth in both students and teachers to demanding uniformity and conformity.  Raising students' test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it the creativity, flexibility and spontaneity that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated. Everything I love about teaching is extinct.  Curriculum is mandated, minutes spent teaching subjects are audited, schedules are dictated by administrators. The classroom teacher is no longer trusted or in control of what, when or how she teaches.
Eventually, if it is heard enough times, it will believed by the people who need most to hear it.  Let's all listen:
Julie BrissetteI no longer choose to spend my valuable free time representing a community that, it appears, puts private agendas ahead of the children.
Kathleen KnauthThis is not the purpose of public education and I believe [these educational reforms are] destructive in many ways to the children and to the teachers, and to education as a whole.
Gerald Conti I am not leaving my profession[;] in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.

Ellie RubensteinEverything I love about teaching is extinct.
Don’t anyone dare accuse these educators of “giving up” on students, the spiteful insult defensively hurled most often at educators such as these, who have made this hard choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are not giving up on students; they simply no longer wish to be part of a system that is actively damaging them. They recognize that their enemy is too great to defeat from within the system, and as long as they stay and obey, they are inadvertently helping to perpetuate the problem, even as they try their best to shield students from it.

If this is your first awareness or inkling of this issue, please take a few moments to look back in time two months to the letter that got it all started, at my earlier blog posts on Gerald Conti and Kathleen Knauth (click the names for links to the articles).

We recently celebrated Memorial Day, in which we pause to remember those fallen in defense of this great nation. Let us also remember that , in their own way, teachers serve this great nation too. And when one falls, we should notice, and we should understand why. It’s a different kind of battlefield, but it’s a very real fight.

And it’s one worth winning.

Thank you, Ellie, Kathleen, Julie, Gerald.


  1. thank you, andrew. this post was truly moving and speaks the truth in its purest form.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I'm just a guy with a big mouth (or so I've been told) :-) It's nice to know that others out there agree, though. I mean, with my post, not that I have a big mouth... LOL.

    2. Oh, my... I didn't see who you actually were until just now, when I clicked on your avatar. Well, it means all the more to me now knowing that I got it pretty much right, right from the source :-) You got to do what I could not, or was too timid to, do. My end came a somewhat more inglorious and less public way, but at least I have my blog now. Joe Theismann broke his leg playing the game, and it ended his career, but he still was able to sit in the announcers' box and hold a microphone and call it like he saw it. Hope things work out for you!

  2. Educating the students has certainly taken a back seat to the agendas of the those in charge of technology and teaching materials in the schools. Bill Gates, Pearson Book Company, and Sunny Perdue of the Common Core Curriculum are not in charge of the new standards for their health. Follow the money. The administrators are far more concerned about how they look on the "report card." The teachers are bearing the burden of all the mistakes the children make while learning. It's a sad day for American public education.

    1. "The teachers are bearing the burden of all the mistakes the children make while learning."

      I like that. The quote, not the reality.