One teacher's story: Testing makes teaching a nightmare

Students made a collage showing hopes and dreams (photo by Alleen Brown)

For some teachers, the years since No Child Left Behind passed have been times of great personal and professional loss.

One teacher agreed to be interviewed on the condition that the Daily Planet not use her name.* The veteran Twin Cities teacher said she’s doing her best to coast under the radar for the handful of years before she can retire early and escape what she described as a nightmare.

This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schools

“There’s nothing noble about teaching any more,” she said.

She described an environment where there’s a new initiative every year. Where teachers are scolded by instructional monitors for straying from the curriculum’s script. Where there’s no time for art, or social studies or personal relationships with students.

Her days are filled with little absurdities:

A tense meeting with the principal about the low test scores of her non-English speaking refugee students.

Harsh words from an administrator who notices her taking time out of a lesson to talk to a student about his frequent fights.

A student’s question about whether American Indians are still alive glazed over by a teacher who used to inspire students with her lessons on Minnesota’s Indians, but who no longer has time for anything but the prescribed reading lesson of the day.

“You have people coming in a million times a day telling you, ‘You’re doing it wrong. You’re doing it wrong.’ I go to a party and everyone wants to tell me how shitty teachers are.”

“My health is affected,” she said. “I don’t have money or a plan; I just know that this is killing me.”

“It’s hard for us, because most of us went into teaching, because it’s a calling. It wasn’t just something that we did, it was something that we loved to do. We do it, because it’s something in our heart,” she said. “Everything you loved is gone.”

“The whole equation of student and teachers and the bond that we had, that’s just decimated,” she said. “I had relationships with my students that meant the world to me and to them. I have Facebook friends who are in their forties, who are like, ‘Hey teach.’ Did they pass their tests? I don't know.”

She reflects on her students and her own children, on the trials of bright children who are too creative to fit in the little boxes of doing-well-by-testing. “How many of these kids are just going to say fuck it and be done?” she asked. “As a person who is much more on the random and creative side of life, I would so be in bad shape under this kind of a system if I was a kid.”

“Now we’re on a trajectory; I don’t know how you’re going to stop it,” she said. “What are you going to do with schools like mine or ours or the umpteen schools in the country?”

* TC Daily Planet's policy is to use the names of sources in almost all cases. We made an exception in this case, for two reasons. First, the teacher felt her job could be in jeopardy if she went on record in this interview. Second, her story is not unique. Other teachers have expressed similar feelings, and no one will agree to be quoted on the record. The only way to have these voices heard is by granting anonymity, and by explaining to you, our readers, why we made this exception to our general policy.

This article is part of a series on testing in Minnesota schools. The articles in the series, published during the week of December 10, 2012, are:

When tests tell teachers nothing: Special needs not met by standardized tests

At St. Paul's Maxfield Elementary, low ranking masks real transformation

Winner or loser? Test scores for Minneapolis's Kenny elementary school say both at the same time

Wonk time: An insider's critique of new Minnesota school rating system

St. Paul teacher: Too much testing hurts kids who need help most

One teacher's story: Testing makes teaching a nightmare

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    Alleen Brown's picture
    Alleen Brown

    Alleen Brown (alleenbrown [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net or Twitter @AlleenBrown) is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.