I Almost Quit Teaching!

Warning: This is a long  post, but I hope you'll read all of it.

Last week, was the toughest week of my teaching career, I almost quit! Anyone who knows me, knows I'm tough, quitting is not my thing, so for me to even contemplate giving up, is serious.

I'll get right to it, last week our school had an awards ceremony, to celebrate student achievement. I'm a firm believer that children should be celebrated for their hard work, however this ceremony was like nothing I'd witnessed before. Days prior to the ceremony, teachers were to submit the names of students who were to be honored. My grade level submitted 12 names. The afternoon before the ceremony, some parents were upset that their child would not be getting an award. They argued that in former years, a different set of criteria was used to determine who would be awarded, and had this criteria been used currently, their child would be on the list to receive an award. After parents made phone calls to leadership at different levels, including calls to the local school board members, the decision was made to honor the past criteria. I, along with two other staff members stayed at our school until about 7 pm to recalculate all 76 students' GPAs, add names to the awards list, type certificates, print certificates, and sign them. Lowering the standard made me cringe, staying at work until 7 pm made me exhausted, but what I realized about the additional  students who would be awarded, made me sick to my stomach. 
I teach 4th Grade Reading for the entire grade level, and as I calculated GPAs, I became devastated, students who are reading at a 3rd, 2nd, and 1st grade level would be receiving awards. How could this be? Well, one reason is that the standard was lowered, the other reason I'll share in a later post. At any rate, we sent the wrong message to our students. We gave high fives and certificates to low performing students. What does that say to our kids? We confused them, we took away the value of a strong work ethic, and completely squandered the concept of hard work. Instead we promoted "just trying", and we celebrated mediocrity. 
Of the 34 4th graders who received awards, only 13 of them are reading on grade level. Some of those students scored at the lowest achievement level on the state test, yet we gave them a pat on the back and said keep it up! In my book, this is an injustice!
In addition, Perfect Attendance Awards were given. I could have fell out, right in the middle of the ceremony. Every teacher knows the students with the worst behaviors never miss a day. Students who display disrespect, and defiance walked proudly across the stage as we cheered them on. Again, what message did we send those students? We literally said, you can behave poorly, and still get a pat on the back all because you showed up. This is an outrage, we are setting our kids up for failure. 
I spoke with my administrator to let her know I just could not teach in a school like this. If certain stakeholders have the clout to dictate the standard I must teach by, then I'm doomed. I would not be able to sleep at night if I carried on in this way. I simply can't do that to children, they deserve better. 
By the end of the ceremony I was sick and already drafting my resignation letter. Due to an incredible support system, when the following Monday rolled around I had made the decision to remain for the sake of my 76 students. While I do not see a future for myself in this particular school district unless major changes are made, I will finish this year for my students.

 One of my favorite authors and educators, Ron Clark, brilliantly sums up my thoughts on this topic. I'll end this long post with an excerpt from his book, "The End of Molasses Classes". Chapter 2 is titled, Not Every Child Deserves a Cookie, in this chapter he says this, "Last year one of our new fifth graders was really struggling. He entered RCA below grade level in every subject and he was failing several courses. When I met with his mom she defended her son by saying, "Well, he made all A's at his other school." When I told her that was shocking, she explained that he had done so well because he had a really great teacher. Urgh! 
There is a misconception in our country that teachers whose students make good grades are providing them with a good education. Parents, administrators, and the general community shouldn't assume good grades equal high academic mastery. In fact, in many cases those teachers could be giving good grades to avoid conflict with the parents and administration. It's easier to fly under the radar and give high grades that to give a student what he or she truly deserves and face the scrutiny of the administration and the wrath of an angry parent. 
I have attended numerous award ceremonies where practically every child in the class received an honor roll certificate. Parents always cheer, take pictures, and look so proud. I just sit there and think, Ignorance is bliss. Are these kids really being challenged, or are they only achieving mediocre standards set forth by a mediocre teacher in an educational system that is struggling to challenge even our average students? Yet, all of the parents look so proud and content.
We must hold every child accountable for high standards and do all we can to push the child to that level. If we continue to dumb down education and to give students A's and B's because they "tried," we are doing them a disservice and failing to prepare them to be successful in the real world. 
We all need to teach our young people that not everyone deserves a pat on the back just because we are attempting to make everyone feel good.  Giving praise that isn't earned only sets up our students for more failure in the long run."

If there are any teachers who encounter this same frustration, I beg you to keep your standards high. Any stakeholder that argues against high standards, makes a strong statement about what they want for our children. I'm maintaining high standards, and that makes a statement as well. It simply means I want the absolute best for our children!

Here's a huge thank you for reading this lengthy post!