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Virginia Journal of Education

Let Me Teach!


by John Crenshaw

I exist at the very bottom of the educational food chain, the lowest of the low, the hired help. I am a classroom teacher, the one locked up with teenagers all day slugging it out in the trenches and lower decks of public education.

I used to be a good teacher, but not anymore. The contemporary yardstick used to measure teacher proficiency, high-stakes standardized testing, has determined that I am now a blundering incompetent.

To help me, educational experts have devised an inexhaustible supply of gimmicks, magic bullets and fads du jour. (Note to entrepreneurs: If you want to make a big profit in education, dream up a miracle cure, guarantee a 96 percent pass rate on the Standards of Learning tests and be prepared to roll in the dough.)

There is also a limitless supply of educational experts, ranging from political hacks in Richmond (who have cynically duped a gullible public), robber barons at Pearson (who seem to own public education in Virginia), university academics (who are great thinkers and theoreticians ... for a make-believe world) and school system bureaucrats (many of whom do not know the difference between historiography and a hysterectomy).

None of the above actually teaches; they are talkers, not doers. They are not, as President Teddy Roosevelt termed it, in the "arena." The more they help me, the worse I become.

It would seem that the experts want to create a new master super-teacher type: teachers who all look alike, think alike, act alike, teach alike, plan alike and assess alike. Cold-blooded, mass-produced, interchangeable-part automatons, if you will.

Well, no more of that for me. I refuse. You can't make me. No drill and kill stuff: no Tests For Higher Standards, no Interactive Achievement, no 8-Step Instructional Cycle, no pre-tests, no post-tests, no snapshot tests, no benchmark tests, no coach books, etc. I'll not allow experts to take the chalk out of my hands and transform me into a fake, figurehead teacher.

In whatever time I have left in the classroom, I will continue to give it my all and be the very best teacher I can be. I will act as a conductor leading my students on a journey through the past. I will endeavor to make it as exciting and fun as possible and may even blunder into an occasional episode of higher thinking.

With my own assessments I can quickly determine which students are in academic distress, without the use of graphs, charts, data walls, etc. Instead of numbers and percentages, I can provide actual, specific names of students in distress. I will know which students are in danger of not passing an SOL test with "increased rigor." If experts really want to help me, tell me what to do for those students whom I have identified as being in academic danger.

By becoming a glaringly recalcitrant insubordinate, I may well have outlived my usefulness and signed my own professional death warrant. But that's OK.

When the time comes to fire me, just do it. Don't humiliate me by shunting me to some other class (non-SOL, of course) that I've never taught. Don't take the sleazy way out and transfer me to a different teaching position that further budget cuts will eliminate next year and then RIF me.

Just fire me.

That would be the loving, respectful thing to do.

Crenshaw, a member of the Craig County Education Association, teaches history at Craig County High School.


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