By Lane Rosencrans
Williamson Strong Guest Blogger
I’ve taught junior English in Williamson County Schools since 2004; my first job after I earned my Master’s degree was the inaugural year at Independence High School. I still remember Dr. Marilyn Webb calling me in the middle of Target to offer the position, and I jumped and ran down the aisle with excitement. When I showed up for my county interview with the late Eugene Wade, he pursed his lips and said, “Oh, you’re the persistent one.” See, I knew from the start that I wanted WCS to be my home and where I would spend my teaching career. Since then, I transitioned to Ravenwood and lastly at Summit for the last two years, where I served most recently as department chair.
And I resigned from WCS effective at the end of this past school year.
I have wrestled with this choice for the better part of this school year and sincerely grieved my decision to leave my students and a profession I had always considered a lifelong career. I left diplomatically, but I also vocalized in my exit survey and in person with my principal my disagreement on the extreme emphasis on high-stakes testing as the sole means to measure student learning, which is being touted more so this year than others. It does go further than Common Core; it really is a systematic shrugging of the shoulders with repeated responses of “It’s just the direction things are going.” This is extremely disconcerting as a teacher who believes in fostering a love for literature and written expression. My students’ learning cannot be reduced to a simple multiple-choice question, nor can my son’s natural curiosity and passion for the sciences. I’ve witnessed it slowly snuff out the love for true inquisition and learning as students (and teachers) have adapted to focus on the products of their assignments rather than the processes. When I started in 2004, the majority of our professional development was spent “Working on the Work” – that is, examining student work and using backwards design to create innovative units that maximized student engagement. In more recent years, the majority of our time has been spent examining spreadsheets of data, strands, sub-pops, and standards. While this can be a valuable tool in some areas, it shouldn’t be the entire toolbox. However, the emphasis on high-stakes testing, in local, state, and national arenas, reduces the curriculum and subsequent approaches to teaching it to simply “mastering” the test. Sure, it looks good on paper, but ask any student what their most memorable class or teacher was. Almost certainly, they say the ones where their curiosity and creativity were harnessed in tandem with rigor. Designing instructional strategies with a 60-question multiple test in mind simply doesn’t measure up (pardon the pun).
That being said, we as teachers have a choice to continue the good fight in the four walls of our classrooms, doing what’s necessary to jump through the minimal proverbial hoops while maintaining a sense of rigor and integrity to our craft. But with this past year’s shenanigans with our newly-elected School Board, I no longer hope to believe that the powers that be who influence educational policy have our teachers’ or students’ best interests at heart. Instead of focusing on legitimate concerns that affect students and teachers, I shamefully watch these people quibble over semantics of national holidays and use their position for political grand-standing rather than thoughtfully look at real issues, like the aforementioned one, and strive to affect meaningful change. It sickens me to witness week-by-week my profession being marred by childish antics with myself, my colleagues, and my students being the collateral damage left in their wake. It’s enough now for me to choose to give up the hope for better days and in place indignantly choose to no longer be a pawn in their political scheme. The plans to continue my family’s education in the county much longer is doubtful as long as testing is king and the current school board are the rulers who have thrown away the key. I admire the few who have consistently vocalized their dissent with their fellow board members and what Chairman Mezera has done to diplomatically attempt to quell the four-ring circus that Susan Curlee is leading. However, it simply isn’t enough. Whatever means are necessary to replace her should be used; she is in direct violation of the code of ethics to which she agreed. Enough is enough. Whatever her motives are, it is unclear – but what we do know is that this hostile work environment will certainly drive a wonderful superintendent to a neighboring district and leave us searching for a new captain crazy enough to take the helm in this storm. Dr. Looney isn’t perfect, but no one is. What he does consistently succeed in is advocating on behalf of his teachers and putting students first, something I have yet to see from any board meeting since the last election (and yes – I voted).
So many teachers are afraid to vocalize these thoughts, and honestly, I simply can’t keep quiet anymore. I have a strong reputation in the county as well as top-notch evaluation and student test scores, and I would like to leave my mark by being a voice for those who feel they cannot speak. There’s nothing here that I did not include in my exit survey, so I’m not withholding anything that the county didn’t already hear from me.
I truly love teaching, and I will likely return some day. I used to tell my students to harness their voice and speak their minds, yet I was too afraid to do it myself for fear of retribution.
I was wrong.
Speak, teachers. Speak, parents. Demand more for us and let’s get back to the business of what really matters – true learning.