We Mourn Another Tragic Loss

This past year there have been several public resignations by teachers too fed up with current education reform to continue in their chosen and (previously) beloved profession.  This is tragic.  And now we must mourn yet another great loss by a teacher here in New York state.  Here is her letter of resignation.  Please wish her well.

May 6, 2013

Dear Dr. M., Board of Education Members, Mrs. S.,

It is with great sadness and disappointment that I submit to you my resignation from the Brockport Central School District, effective at the close of this school year, June 30, 2013, under the provisions of our current contract.

I understand some of you may see my resignation as odd, perhaps unique, as Brockport is a wonderful school district. I feel very fortunate to have spent close to 17 years teaching here with my outstanding colleagues at Barclay School. 

Yes, typically, after a long teaching career, one would announce retirement with joy and a sense of fulfillment. I am saddened, however, that I’ll not be one of those individuals. I am not leaving with joy in my heart. Rather, I will leave disappointed. Disappointed in myself for being unable to finish something I started so many years ago, and disappointed with the profession I have loved since I was a little girl.

Please allow me to digress with a little background of how I was blessed to become a teacher in my Alma Mater School District. Did you know “Alma Mater”, a Latin phrase, actually means “Nourishing Mother”? I find it ironic that I am completing this letter the week of “Mother’s Day”.

Looking back, I feel much of my life’s path led me to my career in Brockport. You see, I was inspired to teach by two wonderful, nourishing educators that many of you may be familiar with- Mr. G. H. and Mrs. J.B. 

Mr. H. was my 6th grade teacher in 1980-81 at Barnard Elementary School in Greece. At the time, he was a young, vibrant teacher with great passion for his job and his students. He inspired me to always put forth my best effort. The “Brockport” connection is that Mr. H. is the husband of M.H., longtime beloved BCSD elementary teacher. 

Shortly after moving to Brockport while in high school, Mrs. J. B. was my BHS psychology teacher. Mrs. B. was such an enthusiastic teacher who truly cared about her students. She taught a unit on child development at the time and we were able to work with young children from The Schoolhouse and present a paper on our findings. She wrote a comment to me inspiring me to continue on my path of becoming a teacher. Yes, another “nourishing mother”. Ironically, Mrs. B. has been the next-door neighbor of my husband’s parents for over 2 decades. 

Both Mr. H. and Mrs. B. were metaphorical keys; keys that opened the door to my future career in education. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to tell both of them that they had a positive impact on my life and my chosen career. This is what makes being a teacher so special – helping to inspire and shape lives. I am resigning because I feel as if I am no longer able to do the same for my students. 

You see, over the past few years, I have seen young children filled with anxiety, not enthusiasm, over school. When I began teaching in the early 1990’s, educational stress in my students was virtually non-existent. Since the mid 2000s (think No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top era) a gradual shift has been taking place in the makeup of many children. It seems as if our youngest students, who were once eager to come to school, have been showing signs of depression, anxiety, fear, and humiliation.

Expectations are exceedingly high. The increase in “rigor” over just the past year or so, meant to get our students better prepared for “college or career” has, rather, placed students and teachers in a very stressful setting. Professional autonomy in the classroom is being stripped away and “modules” are taking its place. 

I believe our nation is taking a dangerous path away from free, productive, creative public education and using irresponsible high stakes testing as a means to get there. Instruction is turning into test prep and authentic learning is taking a back seat because of it. Moral is low, stress levels are high and everyone is suffering because of it. From children to teachers, to administrators all across our community, our state and our nation, we are suffering.

My career is no longer in sync with my values. For a rather poor analogy, I liken it to a movie I saw a couple of years ago, a movie my husband and I thought was supposed to be a light-hearted comedy. Turns out, partway through, the movie was pure blasphemy. My gut told me to get up and leave the theater; this was not where we needed to be. Our values are different from what we are viewing and listening to. This is how I am feeling about the current state of education “reform”. I feel I am doing a disservice to my students by subjecting them to unnecessary stress and anxiety via these soon-to-be nationalized, high stakes standardized tests.

I’ll end with a quote from Matt McElligot, children’s author from the Albany area who visited our second and third graders in Barclay School this year (and in year’s past). He recently (May 5, 2013) had a letter published in the Times Union of Albany stating his position of our nation’s craze with standardized testing. 

McElligot writes, “Standardized tests measure how well students do with a narrow set of skills at one specific moment in time. To use standardized testing as the primary metric for measuring student and teacher achievement, much less school funding and teacher quality, is a dangerous system indeed.”

“Dangerous” is certainly not a synonym for “nourish”. I am listening to my gut. It’s telling me to get up and leave the theater. 

With sincere respect for each of you,

Deborah S. Howard

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9 thoughts on “We Mourn Another Tragic Loss

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