Why I’m saying ‘Bye, Felicia!’ to being a public educator (part 1)

There’s no denying that the word ‘crisis’ is a powerful word, nor that it’s often overused. But when people start talking about the teaching crisis in Georgia, there is no mistaking a major problem is beyond the boiling point.

When I graduated from college mid-December 2008, I knew there was a near impossible chance of my getting a full-time teaching position, especially during a time when there were far more teachers than there were positions. Being the passionate, on-fire-for-educating-children graduate I was, I landed a job almost two hours away from home right away. For 3 years, I never knew if my job would be secure or not. Last one hired first one fired (or in the education world RIF’ed) loomed over my head constantly. Thankfully, my principal fought for me each year, signed me up for endorsement classes in order to make me more marketable, and encouraged me by telling me she would write glowing references anytime I needed them. My job security might have been grave, but my morale was astronomical because I was more than appreciated, I was valued enough to be defended.

Years later, after having two little girls and cancer, I really needed a break to revive the fire. I took a year off to get better and enjoy being a mom. During this year, I volunteered teaching at a weekly after-school Bible club, taught Sunday school to elementary students, and started a little side business for my embroidery hobby. Finances were tight, my heart was full, but I couldn’t stay away from teaching in some capacity.

After that year, our family decided it was time for me to return to teaching full time, but this time I would be picky about my job since more jobs were available. I wanted to only consider schools in the county I lived. Within 36 hours of applying, I was contacted by the principal of the middle school districted for my house. In less than a week, I had an interview and a job offer. I was exactly where I was meant to be.

That first year back was exhausting, but the fire was roaring. I was nominated for teacher of the year the first year there—and I wasn’t even eligible. Parents were supportive. Students were dedicated. Administration was on our team.

The next year, the state fully implemented the new teacher evaluation system and some alarming directives on how to evaluate the teachers. I was determined that with my heart for teaching, this would not change a thing; teachers have to be flexible and adapt after all.

Any guesses on how long it took my roaring fire to become ashes and soot?

Less than three months (and that’s being generous).

How could this happen to me? I was born to teach. How could I, who at 7 years old taught her little sister how to read and write, add multi-digit numbers, and even states of matter all before sister was old enough to be in pre-school, transform into a person who can’t fathom the idea of toughing it out until the end of the semester– let alone the end of the school year?

I couldn’t get past the fact that I felt my career identity had been demolished, and more importantly, my heart experiencing such a dramatic change in a glimmer of time.

 

Here is part one of a series on my reasons for why I cannot continue to teach in public education (and, I suspect, why others can’t either):

  • Every day is spent playing defense.

 

When you are naturally talented at what you do, it can be difficult to hear about your own shortcomings or mistakes. The teacher evaluation system, however, went beyond pointing out flaws. Of course I wanted feedback about how to improve! I will never claim to be the best, the image of perfection, the role model for all. I know I have growth areas. What I don’t need to do is defend every decision I make.

Literally. Every. Single. Decision.

Have you ever had to justify why a colleague needed to stand in your doorway while you ran to the restroom after 6 hours of holding it? What about an explanation for why a student, who has failed every subject nearly every year, is currently failing your class? What is it you are not doing that this student is absent so frequently? Why did your class sit at this lunch table instead of that one? Why did you give this student a silent lunch? Follow up: We need a written statement explaining your reason for our files. Did you use data to decide on that homework assignment?

Teachers know all too well that it truly doesn’t matter if a problem is out of your control or not; you will be held accountable for an explanation and a solution.

evaluation system quote

I always received good marks on my evaluations, until the state trickled down a complaint to administrators saying too many level 3s were being given and they expect more 2s instead (which is considered a “not-passing score”). Coincidentally, I received my very first 2 on one category the next evaluation. When I exercised my right to complete a written response to the score and posted it onto the state platform, I immediately received a private email from my evaluator suggesting a conference. I declined. What was the point? Did I really need to waste my already thinly spread planning time to have someone who barely knows what goes on in my classroom tell me what I already knew? “We can only score based on what we see in the snap shot of time we are in your room.” Of course, the safeguard for that was supposed to be the incredibly detailed lesson plans I have to have posted outside my door each morning. God help you if an unexpected change causes you to do something that isn’t specifically outlined in that plan either. So, why was it that when I pointed out while the administrator did not observe this particular component during his segment of time in my room, the detailed information was provided in the lesson plan that I had to write to ensure my marks were not lowered due to lack of observance? I have a suspicion that the administrator felt a little defensive, like I might be suggesting he wasn’t doing his job thoroughly. WELCOME TO MY WORLD, BUDDY.

Now, an “outsider” to the education world may think, “Maybe the problem is you. Maybe you really deserve those marks.” To be realistic for a second, teachers talk. And talk. And talk. We are surviving these trenches together. So, when something like that happens we start investigating as to if this is a personal issue or yet another blanket injustice. Every teacher on that hallway that I spoke to about this matter also received at least a 2 in one category on that same evaluation round, most of which had never received anything lower than a 3 before. Sorry, the common denominator here is not me.

How would you feel if you had always dedicated yourself to doing the best you could possibly do, have superiors recognize that fact, only to have some mystical state level person dictate your score and they probably have never even driven through your county, let alone sat in a classroom under the same expectations as you are right now?

Seriously, you’d be angry and offended. And don’t even get me started on how the evaluation scores will directly impact the amount of money I receive on my monthly paycheck.

What you wouldn’t feel is motivated. Why bother? Here’s another great non-educator response to this dilemma: “You do it for the kids, of course!” Those people clearly have no idea what they are talking about. The evaluation system is so far removed from what is best for kids that it’s disgusting.

I don’t write my standards and essential questions on the board each day and then redundantly type them on my lesson plan, and then ensure every child hears me mention them at least twice during the period because it’s best for them. They will have disposed of that information by the time they walk into the next class period- and I know that.

I do it because I am told I have to and it will be evaluated.

I don’t sit down to look at the scores of every single student I teach on every assignment I give, then use those numbers to justify my reasoning for deciding on the next task and then ensure that I write a detailed narrative component on my lesson plan and mention it during collaborative planning and log that information as well to prove the decision I made about next week’s lessons is data based because that’s best for my kids. I could have looked at my gradebook and known the same— but if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.

I do it because I am told I have to and it will be evaluated.

Education should not be.jpg

In fact, what I consistently don’t get to do, is exactly what I know to be best for my students.

I DON’T get to sit down and listen to them cry about how their parents are getting divorced because of an affair, and now they have to choose who to live with. If I did, I wouldn’t be “using instructional time wisely.”

I DON’T get to allow a girl, who is leaving for a week to go to China to meet her new adopted sister, to complete an alternative authentic writing assignment because it doesn’t align with the county required prompt that they use to analyze district-wide data.

I DON’T get to  use teachable moments to impress upon the students the importance of honesty, integrity, work ethic, kindness, or any other ideals that are “not in the standards.”

When children are no longer viewed as children, but rather a number, a piece of data, a risk factor for my student growth model based on the state test, children are no longer the reason education exists. Education should not be a business, nor a competition, nor a data mine, nor an overall dehumanized semblance of infrastructure.

It’s supposed to be a place where mistakes lead to growth, where children discover themselves and their talents, where practice makes perfect, where character development is critical. These are things you will not see in a public education facility anymore. These are things that have no value in the state’s eyes. These are things that drive quality teachers out of this field with hurricane like force, and I am just not willing to board up the windows and ride this one out, because it’s like I’m saying I support these practices as best for children. Educators should not be attached to that abysmal lie.

And this is only scratching the surface…

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78 thoughts on “Why I’m saying ‘Bye, Felicia!’ to being a public educator (part 1)

    1. Thank you! Teaching is my calling for sure, and I have been researching private Christian schools lately. I am not too far from Smyrna and will definitely be taking a look. This is great!

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      1. I gave my resignation notice last week, and have taken a position at a private Christian School. I’m beyond excited to get back to the basics of what teachers are here for. 😊

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      2. That is awesome! I really want to teach at a private Christian school next year too. My turned my resignation in a few weeks ago for June. Praying everything is wonderful for you.

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    2. I teach in Virginia and it is for the same reason I left last year. After a few months I missed my “kids” and started teaching Pre-K. Your article was spot on and I find it sad that this has become the norm across the nation. Something needs to change as our students are the ones suffering the losses of many great, passionate teachers.

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  1. True story…..part of why I retired in the middle of the year. I never received a “2” but I got soooooo tired of jumping through unnecessary hoops just to document that I was doing my job. And don’t even get me started on RTI….

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      1. I feel like you must have taught at my school. Ha. – Our principal even told us that she expected us to “put on a dog and pony show” if admin walked in to evaluate!

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    1. Here’s one for you: before lunch, a student asks why people in Mecca are being trampled to death. This is a high school American Government class, and I think “Aha! I can attach several different standards to that question!” I spent my lunch time researching and preparing a lesson on what happens when a city expects to get 3 million visitors and gets 5 million instead. Justifications were on the board, video segments used appropriately, students were engaged and discussing, comparative government was thrown in there, and, for 10 minutes, so was an “instructional coach.” You know the rest–this wasn’t the standard that was assigned by the county for the week (I was the department chair, BTW). Our system ginned up a SLO test for each subject, and instructed us not to teach standards that would not be on the test. I retired at the end of the first semester as well.

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      1. So so disheartening! And we all know that that lesson was one of their big take aways for the year too.

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  2. I literally could have written this.
    As I sit letting your words sink in. I feel like you told my story, my point of view, everything. Including the cancer. I am in shock that someone I do not know at all, knows so much about me and what I have been living with for the past year. We must find a way to get in touch.

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  3. I’m close to tears as I read your story. While it is sad enough on its own, more so because it is eerily like my own! After 10 years of teaching, a life time of knowing it’s what I was meant to do, I know find myself in serious doubt & disbelief. While it truly breaks my heart to think it, I know one day soon I will “file” for divorce from teaching & try & repair the soul deep damage it has done. Good luck in your future endeavors & keep speaking the truth!

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    1. I’m so sorry! It was scary to make the choice to resign, especially when we are expecting a third baby, but I couldn’t let the things out of my control change my heart.

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  4. I agree 100% with everything you discussed. I am trying to ride it out since I only have 4 years to retire, but I don’t know if that is possible. Love your blog…keep posting!!!!

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  5. If I didn’t know better, I would swear you taught at my school. It is simultaneously heartening and heart-breaking to know that others are suffering the same ludicrous conditions. I could be changing water into wine in my classroom, but if my EQ and standard aren’t current, or if I haven’t detailed how I’m activating, summarizing, and differenting in my lesson plans, it doesn’t matter. Everything is backwards, and it’s ruining the profession.

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  6. And how about those student surveys…?!
    What? – You mean, you think middle school students with unfinished prefrontal cortexes, mercurial pubescent emotions, and little chance of the ‘big-picture understanding’ that only comes with hindsight, are able to objectively evaluate their teachers on ten complex professional standards?? You think being liked by your students and saying the right catch phrases at the right time is more important than academic integrity and preparing them for secondary education and the ‘real world’?? – Ok. Sure. ‘Cause that sounds like a rational, educated perspective of an intelligent professional… smh… – What brain-trust came up with that??

    (Thank you for such an on-point assessment of the abysmal state of things. Looking forward to Part 2!)

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  7. Thought it was just me … Totally discouraged and out of public schools for now. Miss the kids, miss my colleagues, but do not miss the horribly misguided systems in place for teachers and students.

    It’s a total clusterf$&@

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  8. Unfortunately, the crisis is true. All of it! As I read this post, which was forwarded by my mother who knows I am truly miserable, I was saying yes, that is happening in Massachusetts, yes that is too, yes that is true… It is a terrible thing to attack my lesson plan, objectives, essential questions, and data driven instruction, because an evaluation is proficient in the past. I still am a great teacher who comes to work to help children to succeed no matter what my evaluation needs to say. Unfortunately, I too am looking at another district this year in the hopes of finding the one that cares for the educators.

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  9. I retired in June 2014. And I have not forgotten the dog and pony show! I am refreshed, refueled with new ideas, and ready to teach at the beach. But when I read this tonight, do I really want to go back?!!

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  10. I too am a former teacher who is now retired. I retired a year early because I could no longer endure the lack of respect and demoralizing , unhealthy conditions that existed in the school that I worked. The total lack of support and respect had taken it’s toll. Everything you said was spot on exactly what has happened in my district ( Indian River County, Fla) as well. Lack of services lack of humanity in education is what hurt the most. Connecting with the kids was my best attribute which was no longer valued. Anyway I lost a lot of money retiring early but I am glad thst I did it. Everything you have said are words my collegues and I have expressed – “education should not be run as a business”. It’s a weird world today! And I refuse to drink the coolaid!

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    1. Same here! My strong suit is relationship building with my kiddos, and when that was a bottom of the barrel priority I realized I had to step back and reevaluate.

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  11. I too am a former teacher who is now retired. I retired a year early because I could no longer endure the lack of respect and demoralizing , unhealthy conditions that existed in the school that I worked. The total lack of support and respect had taken it’s toll. Everything you said was spot on exactly what has happened in my district ( Indian River County, Fla) as well. Lack of services lack of humanity in education is what hurt the most. Connecting with the kids was my best attribute which was no longer valued. Anyway I lost a lot of money retiring early but I am glad that I did it. Everything you have said are words my collegues and I have expressed – “education should not be run as a business”. It’s a weird world today! And I refuse to drink the coolaid!

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    1. I understand completely. I was just terminated after a so-called “fair” dismissal hearing despite having some of the highest EOCT scores in my district and highest Spring 2015 Milestones EOC scores in my school. I refuse to do the dog and pony show, and I will probably never teach anywhere ever again.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I taught middle school kids for 30 years before retiring and returning to school, this time as a student, in a completely different field. I’ll graduate soon and will be looking forward to fulfilling my second calling. Good luck, Susan, finding yours.

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  12. I lived this today. An administrator randomly walked into the room where I teach 4th period (because I do not have a classroom of my own) and asked what we were doing. I explained, and she stayed. Before the period was over, I had an email asking for plans or a narrative that would explain how I was covering standards 5 and 6 of the evaluation process– scrutinizing data to drive instruction and creating a plethora of formative and summative assessments to gauge students’ progress. I’m sure I’ll have to justify and defend my reply. I’ll do that after I fill out the 2 sheet justification I have provide to fail a student every 4.5 wks (despite month-long absences or failure to turn in any work– in which case I have to provide alternative, “meaningful,” and differentiated work), log all my parent contacts (most of which have to be made through an interpreter– another level of paperwork), and fill out the Excel spreadsheet that I’m supposed to use to track 95 students’ progress on our 40+ standards. This job is soul-sucking.

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    1. I’m so sorry! I hope for a time when we can get back to what truly matters. Would love to see a separate position for all the paper pushing… Haha, in my dreams

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  13. Aside from teachers, is anyone listening? My experiences are the same. I taught English in high school and got reprimanded by administrators and department head for spending a few minutes each day teaching grammar because it did not follow research-based methods. Really? “Can you show me an example?” I ask. “Look up bla bla bla,” I’m told. So there goes another couple of hours of reading educational theory when I need to spend time grading assignments developed not by me who know my students but developed by two other teachers, one who did not even teach my subject, but was able to glibly rattle off the standards. For years I felt insecure. “Can I do this?” I constantly asked myself. I get my answer from former students who tell me they’re so glad we discussed appositive phrases, etc because their college teachers expect them to know how to write more than just simple sentences. Going back to my first question: is anyone really listening who can influence policy?

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    1. I wish they were. I think no one is listening bc we have all been put into a place of fear. If we speak out we will be fired. If we don’t, then they can claim no one is suffering.

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  14. I retired at the end of the 2013 – 2014 school year after 32 1/2 years of teaching. I could not take the madness anymore and needed a break. I miss teaching everyday but I am just not willing to get back into that rat race. Thank you for sharing your story and putting into words what so many of us feel. I pray for my teacher friends often and hopefully look forward to the day when the children are put first and not the data.

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  15. Wow!!! I read your story once to myself and it touched home so much that I read it aloud a second time to my husband…. It’s sounds so much like my current situation that my husband asked, “What did YOU write that for?”

    I respect your humility and honesty and I don’t personally know you, but through the tone of your story I would like to chat further..

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  16. I’m one of the oddballs that made it more than five years in the profession. I made it through eight years before I threw my hands up and went into training instead. And it wasn’t even as bad as it is now. But there was already a lot of bad. For example, I was a high school science teacher and I had to spend valuable instructional time collecting writing samples. Not short answer stuff. Full blown essay type writing samples based on a prompt and written in a timed session. Basically I was training them for the graduation writing test. In science class. It didn’t take me long to realize that no one was reviewing my papers that were being submitted so I stopped eating class time for it and kept turning in copies of the exact same thing. For three years. No one caught me until I turned myself in to the administrator in charge of the initiative after I had already submitted my resignation. And the gal in charge honestly told me not to worry, it didn’t matter. All she needed was something to turn in to her boss. I couldn’t sum up educational administration any better than this example and it sounds like it’s still exactly the same as it was a decade ago.

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  17. As a mother to a 4th grader in Cobb county (which is where I suspect you are, too), thank you for writing this post. I’m literally sitting here with tears in my eyes because this is exactly why we are moving our son to a private christian school in the fall. We are thankfully lucky enough to have the financial means to do that (though there will be sacrifices that have to be made). My heart cries out for the children whose parents cannot do the same or are not clued in to the current public school crisis. So – thank you for this post. And know that your sentiments do not fall totally upon deaf ears.

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    1. I desperately want my children to go to Christian school, but I know there’s no way we can afford it without God’s intervention.

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  18. I was in college last semester to be an educator, after looking at all the “dog and pony show” antics and loopholes educators have to jump through, I jumped ship. I’m now an accounting major and volunteer to teach at church. It’s a shame that this is what the education system has come to.

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  19. I retired in 2014. That was my first year of receiving less than the highest marks on my evaluation! If it took 30 years for me to be told I needed to improve, then “the powers to be” let me fail approximately 600 children. Seriously??? I’m seriously considering homeschooling my grandchildren! My oldest goes to kindergarten next year and I simply don’t want her in that “pressure cooker”.

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    1. Same here for my own children. I refuse to put them in pre-k because I want them to enjoy being children first. I am really thinking about what our game plan is for our 4 year old when it’s time for kindergarten.

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  20. I taught in Georgia public schools for five years. Five gut-wrenchingly long years. (One year at Valdosta City, 2 at Echols County, and 2 at Lowndes County.) I always was second guessing myself, always felt on edge about whether or not I was really cut out to be a teacher. While I was at Echols County I taught pre-k and I’ll never forget the Bright from the Start consultant who got in my face and insinuated that I had made up some of the artifacts that were in my students’ portfolios. I started bawling and wondered in what universe I would have ever had the time to even begin to make up portfolio artifacts with all of the other paperwork that I had to do. Another consultant didn’t like the way I had my room arranged (I had kept it the same as the previous teacher) and he called in my principal and vice principal to move furniture around. Again, I was mortified.

    We moved to Arkansas five years ago and I subbed for a bit, and then decided that I didn’t want to teach anymore. After a few months I did end up working part time at a private school as their librarian. Private schools have their issues too, but I’m thankful for my job. I’m so thankful to have administrators who simply let me use my education and experience to do the job they have hired me to do. No second guessing myself any more.

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    1. This system has created a massive witch hunt with the silliest of accusations being tossed around like confetti. I’m sorry anyone questioned your professionalism.

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  21. I received my first 2 this year as well, as did everyone on my hall in third grade. I’m out. Just like so many, I work a minimum of twelve hours a day and it’s not enough. I’m going to mentor so I can affect children in a positive way and hopefully make a difference in that way. I’m fortunate that I have a choice. So many great teachers are just stuck because it’s not financially possible to get out.

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  22. I am a 67 year old DeKalb County social studies teacher who is being hounded out of my school by egregiously unjustified bad reviews – probably because my age – principal says it’s all about the kids. Yeah, right. It’s all about his saving his butt.

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    1. If I hear one more administrator or politician say he/she is in education for the kids, I will just retch. It’s his/her career that is of primary importance.

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    2. It is so heartbreaking that our veterans are being ousted in exchange for practices that do little to serve our students!

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  23. One of the most egregious things about our (Georgia) evaluation system is that in most cases there is no recourse if you disagree with a score given on your evaluation. I teach at a small rural school where I am the entire high school science department. I teach physical science, biology, and chemistry plus the honors version of those classes. I also coordinate all of our educational technology, serve on the RTI committee, and even volunteer as the press box announcer at our football games. I voluntarily tutor students 4 days a week after school. Despite this workload, my biology class had the 15th highest scores in the state on their EOC.

    Yet, we got a new principal a couple of years ago and I believe it has gotten under his skin that I have been this successful for several years without buying into his educational philosophy (really ideology) and instead use actual data, legitimate research, and my own experience to guide my teaching. So my evaluations had started trending downward. Most of the “feedback” is either unfounded or minor, petty complaints. On multiple occasions he has used a single issue (I’m late entering grades into our online portal due to extensive data analysis and a unique grading system I use) to decrease my score in 2 separate standards.

    I can make comments about how I disagree with these scores on the online portal, but that empty cry into the void is the extent of my ability to challenge whether the score was valid. So he’s getting his way and I’m looking to move my skills to another school. I imagine the front office is going to be a bit surprised since they hired me originally and I’ve worked there longer than any other teacher at the High School. Not to mention, that only one other science teacher managed to achieve score above the state average, much less in the top 15. But for some administrators, getting their way is the number 1 priority.

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  24. I congratulate you on following His plan Malorie! I taught a self-contained, Severe/Profound classroom at an elementary school in Georgia for 8 years before leaving the profession a few years ago. I absolutely LOVED the kids (and still miss them) but got so sick of the GAA (Georgia Alternative Assessment) and other nonsense that came along with the job. Most of the students I taught had IQ’s under 30. I had some in wheelchairs, some that had to be tube-fed, most needed assistance with toileting and all had communication needs. If a student was in 5th grade, I had to teach him some of the same skills a general education 5th grade student was being taught and then re-test him showing he made growth! I had some students who could not talk and didn’t even know their own names yet had to teach them skills such as a “number to the right represents 10 times a number to its left” and “the student will identify the elements of a personal budget and explain why personal spending and saving decisions are important.” I finally got tired of the games and began to pray to Him to either change my heart or change my location. Well, He decided to change my location and now I get to travel to churches around the country and help others handle their money better! He will lead you where you are supposed to be. It is so sad that wonderful teachers like yourself are getting out of the profession and I worry about the future of education. Until those in charge realize how they are driving great people (who love children and want what’s best for them) away, I am afraid many are going to continue leaving and, as a result, future generations are going to be greatly affected. I look forward to reading about your journey Malorie and the awesome things He has in store for you. Thank you for being brave enough to share your thoughts with the world and showing others what is like to be a teacher!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing a part of your journey too. I am encouraged to hear that you have followed a calling and pray I will too. I am also so worried about the future of education for students. My heart truly aches for them!

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