By Kaitlin Glanzer and Ted Glanzer
Updated: Gov. Dannel Malloy has responded to the concerns of teachers and officials by calling for a delay in the implementation of the teacher eval and the creation of a Common Core Task Force.
Original story: An opposite-editorial piece by a West Hartford teacher published in the Hartford Courant has gone viral, raising the issue of whether reforms made in the name of improving education may just rob schools of their most critical asset – great teachers.
The piece, “Why I Want to Give Up Teaching,” written by Sedgwick Middle School teacher Liz Natale, details how a trifecta of changes to the Connecticut educational system – implementation of Common Core State Standards (a stringent new curriculum), Smarter Balanced Assessment (an online test replacing CMT and CAPT) and a new system of teacher evaluations - have demanded teachers focus their attention away from their basic mission of teaching and caring for children.
“Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children,” Natale writes. “…Until this year, I was a highly regarded certified teacher. Now, I must prove myself with data that holds little meaning to me. I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. … Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children's passions — committing "readicide," as Kelly Gallagher called it in his book of that title.”
Natale clearly is not alone. Her piece was shared more than 123,000 times by Jan. 27 and was echoed by hundreds of comments. Follow-up editorials, including one by a speech pathologist from Simsbury said, “I too have experienced Ms. Natale's ambivalence and disillusionment.”
Retired elementary school principal Margaret Rick, of West Hartford, applauded Natale and called for those who teach to be invited into the discussion on how to improve education.
“Let's end the war on teachers,” she wrote.
In West Hartford, administrators have been talking with teachers and are working to address their concerns, according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment Nancy DePalma.
“It has to be addressed. You can’t have teachers going into classes every day with that level of stress. We’re working to put it in perspective. It’s difficult sailing through a perfect storm without taking each component separately and looking at each part’s separate worth,” DePalma said in a recent interview.
Taking on the three mandated changes at once has been stressful for teachers, she said. But the evaluations – which reduce a teacher’s performance to a number tied to student achievement, with a classroom observation component – are particularly worrisome to teachers, DePalma said.
In West Hartford, administrators are trying to meet the demands of state requirements while providing support to teachers and remembering that the focus is on what’s in the best interest of the students, she said.
That means extending deadlines (to the extent possible), talking to administrators and encouraging them to be flexible, to get away from worrying about numbers and fostering conversations with individual teachers.
DePalma noted that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List sought an alternative plan to the teacher evaluation component - but that plan was rejected by the state.
“What’s critical when sitting down with an administrator and a teacher is saying, ‘what can I do to help you?’ … We’re having individual and collective dialogues to create a level of flexibility to meet needs.”
The emphasis is that “You are not alone,” she said.
State Sen. Beth Bye said she objected to the onslaught of changes hitting teachers all at once but was assured the implementation wouldn’t be a problem.
“Those concerns expressed by West Hartford and by me were well-founded. You can’t do these three things at once effectively. Each one of them deserves deliberation,” Bye said in an interview Monday.
Each should have been piloted with time for feedback from teachers and to make adjustments, she said. Instead, districts have been asked to do too much too fast, hurting the perception of the three programs – all of which have merit.
Though the changes are in progress, Bye said she and others will continue to listen to teachers and parents – the experts in education.
“Our job, after we’ve passed reforms is to listen… We have to ask how do we make it better? How do we make it for kids and for you? What is going to help kids with learning and what is getting in the way. You have to listen to them and do your best to make adjustments. It’s a complicated process,” Bye said.
One problem is that teachers are not feeling listened to – that’s why Natale’s piece resonated with so many, she said.
“I thought it was brilliant. … [Natale’s piece] is a really good example of what we need more of. I give her so much credit for writing that piece.”