I had a singular focus. Prepare students for their state mandated test. Specifically, present them with readings of a similar quality and purpose of the state test, and then, drill them with the skills necessary to understand the texts in a desperate hope that the students would retain the skills, apply them to the readings of varying content and difficulty, and actually care about any of this to begin with.
I learned quickly that too many of them were incapable of satisfying all, and in some cases, any of the unrealistic expectations.
I left this school, firmly committed to the delusion that other schools were different. After ten years, I’ve learned they’re not. Granted, there are still schools, and their staff, that have eluded the debilitating demands and pigeonholed pedagogy of the testing-plagued reality of public education today, but they are fewer and fewer. And their time will come.
Ten years later and I am again teaching skills of questionable merit and molding (or manipulating?) minds into blind conformity all for a test of little to no immediate or long-term value. This is education. Sorry taxpayers, it’s true.
As a culprit in this silly game, I can’t help but feel ashamed for sacrificing my professional integrity for such wanton and unachievable pursuits as “Adequate Yearly Progress” and “100% Proficiency”. Most days I can deal with it, particularly in the summer time, but more than ever, when I stand in front of a class of such lethargic and insipid minds, browbeaten into a sad submission, I feel dirty.
It’s the eyes that do it to me. Those dead eyes. Excuse the hyperbole, but if there is ever a true zombie apocalypse, I feel confident that public education will be to blame. There’s arguably nothing sadder than the look of sheer apathy in a student’s eyes, especially when you’re debating the existence of the American Dream. It happens, every day. If only we could be assessed by our ability to produce such indifference. Then we’d be respected.
But that doesn’t stop me from secretly, and sometimes openly, admonishing their lack of intellectual curiosity. Warning- Stop reading if you still believe in public teachers! I make jokes, at the students’ expense, grossly sarcastic jokes, the ones we’re constantly told not to employ on account of their alienating effects. The Horror! But this sarcasm that is my only professional and mental sanctuary loses its antidotal usefulness every year, every day. It’s a coping mechanism. I’ve read they’re bad.
I still show up every day. Well, most days. I get there early, grade a little, prep some. I greet the students at the door, just like I always have, knowing how important it is to get a feel for their mood, collectively and individually. I nod, ask how they are, say hello, and model basic social skills and all-around civility.
Teaching is something else though. Every minute of every class of every day is accounted for. I do my job, and do it fairly well. I hold everyone accountable, by the same standard. I attempt, with what little room I have, to expand their minds intellectually, never accepting a single point of view, always demanding multiple perspectives.
Unfortunately, it’s all a façade. We go through the motions, some days sprinting and others trudging, but we always get where we inevitably knew we would. Another day, another test, another failure of modern education.
Nothing purposeful occurs, and if it does, I’ll never really know, and neither will anyone else. Which may be a good thing, at least as far as job security goes. This is so many of my peers’ outlooks, even if they won’t admit it. We frequently spurn the system that tolerates such mediocrity, but rarely acknowledge our complicity in its demise. We routinely lament the students’ incapacity for real learning, yet hardly ever consider our own inability to truly teach.
This is education. This is teaching. This is who we are, or at least who I am, and I’m sorry.