The Washington Post printed a heart-breaking letter from a veteran teacher who is fed up and quitting the profession because of students who make no effort, parents who want their kids to get grades they haven’t earned, administrators who don’t support the educators in the classrooms, all the standardized testing that makes it impossible to really teach, and a principal who told her that students are not allowed to fail — that if they’re getting D’s or F’s, there is something she’s not doing for them.
What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers, I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them, I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time, I was not excusing their lack of discipline, I was not going back in time and raising them from birth, but I could do none of these things. I was called down to the principal’s office many more times before I was broken, before I ended up assigning stupid assignments for large amounts of credit, ones I knew I could get students to do. Even then, I still had students failing, purely through their own refusal to put any sort of effort into anything, and I had lowered the bar so much that it took hardly anything to pass. According to the rubrics set forth by the county, if they wrote a single word on their paper, related or not to the assignment, I had to give them a 48 percent. Yet, students chose to do nothing. Why? Because we are forced to pass them. “They are not allowed to fail,” remember? Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing. I learned quickly that if I graded students accurately on their poor performance, then I have failed, not them. The attention is turned on me, the teacher, who is criticized, evaluated, and penalized for the fleeting wills of adolescents.
I was constantly prodded both inside the classroom and out by condescending remarks like, “It must be nice to have all that time off.” Time off? Did they mean the five or less hours of sleep I got each night between bouts of grading and planning? Did they mean the hours I spent checking my hundreds of e-mails, having to justify myself to parents, bosses, and random members of the community at large? Did they mean the time I missed with my family because I had to get all 150 of these essays graded and the data entered into a meaningless table to be analyzed for further instruction and evidence of my own worth? Did they mean the nine months of 80-hour work weeks, 40 of which were unpaid overtime weekly, only to be forced into a two-month, unpaid furlough during which I’m demeaned by the cashier at Staples for “all that time off?”