After the story ran in the paper about my advanced placement class of 54 students, I became a hero to some teachers but a villain in the eyes of others. I had tarnished the school and my principal’s image. My school operates under what I call “the cult of positivity.” We are only allowed to use the staff email to congratulate one another about what an incredible job we are doing. We are always told at faculty meetings that “we are the best staff in the world.” Apparently we are not the best staff in the world since our administrators chose to exercise their right to give us humiliating evaluations rather than exercise their right to protect their staff from a vicious and capricious evaluation system. Other administrators in my district protected their staff and stood up to the new evaluation system by giving everyone a 50 in order to ensure their teachers would not be labeled “needs improvement” because of a bogus VAM ranking.
I continued to speak my mind throughout the year. For this I was often accused of being negative and a whiner. Many staff members avoided me for fear of being associated with the traitor who made the school look bad. To me, they are the traitors. As a teacher, your loyalty should lie with your students, not administrators. To all of those who spoke poorly of me for speaking up about overcrowded classrooms, my only question for you is “Why didn’t you say anything?”
I did feel terrible that my school had become the poster child for overcrowded classrooms when I have always felt my school should be the poster child for everything that is right about public education. The same week the article ran in the paper, I went to my usual yoga class and the entire class the instructor was talking about how if we followed our hearts and did what we knew was right, everything would work out in the end. We needed to get in touch with our intuition and follow the signs that we were on the right path. At the very end of class she read the following quote:
Give me the strength to be real and true to myself.
Through the truth, God lives in me.
All things are love and peace and light!
Embrace it fully right now, because now is the only time.
She proceeded to explain that the young man who wrote the quote had recently committed suicide. For some reason, I went home and googled the young man’s name. Sure enough, he had graduated from my high school a few years earlier. I have never been a very religious or spiritual person but I took it as a sign that I was on the right path and that I needed to continue to speak up and tell the truth. Some of you might want to write me off as a new age whack job at this point, but if Oprah can make billions off of promoting the idea that a divine force is helping us find our place in the universe so can I.
I call myself an accidental activist. I have always been quite happy to close my classroom door and not focus on what else happens in the world of education. I know that the safest bet for a teacher who would like to remain in the classroom for any length of time is to fly underneath the radar. Unfortunately, this year I saw what happens to teachers when they don’t pay attention to the political world in which we operate. Until last August I had no idea what “Race to the Top” was or what SB 736 entailed. I could probably write a 400 page dissertation about both of them at this point.
I sent off one final nail in my coffin email to the staff after the principal and the district tried to urge us to not take our IPEGS evaluations too seriously. They tried to ease our outrage by telling us the evaluations would not even be used in determining who received “merit pay” bonuses. So we adopted a ludicrous evaluation system to meet the demands of Race to the Top and then we were being told that these evaluations were meaningless in determining who would receive Race to the Top bonus money? More outrage. Now that the teachers at my school could directly see how these new evaluations were being used, they too felt outraged. People called me up over the phone, sent emails and stopped me in the halls thanking me for expressing what they all felt but would never have the balls to put in an email.
As we left for summer break, I have never felt such a depressed and divisive atmosphere at my school. Many teachers could not even stomach the thought of attending the end of year luncheon with the same group of administrators who labeled them less than effective and could not even provide them with an explanation why or how they could improve themselves for next year. Many teachers could not stomach the thought of having to sit next to another staff member who attained the precious 50 not because of what they did in the classroom but because of how much brown nosing and how much work they had done for free for the administration. We were not a team working together for the benefit of our students any more, we were in a race against each other.