What’s all the crying about? Education policy that requires teachers to engage in malpractice – that’s what.
The secret is out, teachers, and you are not the only one crying over the soul-crushing policies in schools.
The first murmurs I heard about teachers in crisis came from a principal several years ago. Teachers were streaming into his office seeking counseling services. Many were taking anti-depressants. Some couldn’t sleep at night, and some were so anxious and stressed they were worried their families would suffer irreparable damage.
Teachers enter the profession to do what is best for the students in front of them and for society at large. They earn degrees, immersed in rigorous study of how and why humans learn, how to individualize instruction, and how to inspire lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.
But individualization, inspiration, and engagement aren’t in current policies, and neither is teachers’ professional knowledge. Instead teachers must follow pacing guides and move on with assignments regardless of whether students are beyond or behind. Anyone can walk into a teacher’s classroom at any moment and evaluate whether the teacher is following the one-size-fits-all program with “fidelity” and “full compliance.”
The choices are soul-crushing: 1) Slow down, teach creatively and get students excited about a topic, but fall behind the pacing guide and receive a poor evaluation and possible humiliation and job loss; or 2) Move on with the pacing guide and ignore students’ pleas for help or their yearning to learn more, and evaluations might be fine, but students suffer.
Most teachers do a little of both, but their no-win situation is devastating.
And when students’ needs aren’t met because teachers are following mandates, they also cry or cry out in other ways.
I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, crocodile tears streaking cheeks. Their bodies rejecting the relentless mistreatment they receive from impersonal curriculum, strict limitations on socializing and movement, and harsh punishments for child-like behavior. Students reject dehumanization.
When children hold it together at school they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.
Some parents seek therapy for their children. More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity, and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they have never considered: homeschooling, co-op schooling, or when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.
And I cry.
When I spend a lot of time in schools I often cry. Each day when I would leave a particular school in New York, I would find a park bench and have a good cry before heading home on the train. I cried for the children because they were so young and vibrant and constrained to desks for seven hours at a time and they were unable to talk during lunch and they were only allowed outside for ten minutes – if at all – and those ten minutes could quickly evaporate into no minutes if the line to the outside door wasn’t straight enough or quiet enough or fast enough. I cried because I witnessed their crocodile tears streaking their cheeks as they sat silently into space.
I also cried for teachers. They were often threatened by administrators and humiliated in front of their students, they were told at the last minute that no, they wouldn’t be teaching fifth grade like they have in the past two years – they will be teaching kindergarten and they better damn well be happy they at least have a job. They were told to collect data, look at data, analyze data – and any mention of an individual child’s struggle would be interrupted with some line about “data.”
And I cried for myself and every other parent out there who would never want her or his child treated like a number, a digit on a data sheet, a potential deficit to the school’s reputation. I have hugged and consoled countless parents who were crying and suffering in silence when their children weren’t around to see them. Parents who try to support the school’s wishes and tell their children to do what teachers say, but then fall apart in private because they know their children are miserable, sad, depressed, and crying too much over school.
Some people might say that crying is an expression of emotion and that it ought to be kept private. Some might even say crying is a sign of irrationality, of over-sensitivity, of hysteria – all insults used to pathologize women (most teachers and all mothers) for at least a hundred years.
However, teachers, students, and parents are not the only emotional players in the unbearable game of school.
Policy makers are emotional. Punitive policies forcing the impossible combination of rigidity and test-based accountability are produced out of fear, anger, distrust, and arrogance. They are written in an irrational effort to control the bodies that fill schools every day.
But policy makers don’t have to endure the physical and psychological effects of their policies – those of us in schools do.
It’s time to stand in solidarity against mandated dehumanization in one-size-fits-all schooling and against over-emotional policy makers who have a reckless stranglehold on schools. Demand that humanity be returned to teachers, students, and parents who know how to make schools dynamic, inspirational places where everyone can thrive.