Monday, February 15, 2010

Where Is The Passion...

I am concerned.

I am concerned for our profession.

I am concerned for our parents.

Most of all, I am concerned for our kids...

I had a long talk the other day with a very good friend of mine. She is a teacher. A very good teacher. She told me that this might be her last year of teaching. Keep in mind she has only been in the classroom for 6 years but more and more she is feeling the burnout. There is too much "extra" stuff to do that is taking the place of authentic teaching, and, more importantly, taking away from authentic learning. Mandated curriculums, pacing guides, testing, it was just becoming too much.

We chatted for a long time after that. And she kept saying over and over that the reason she became a teacher was to make a difference. Now, if you ask most teachers I would be willing to bet most would say the same thing. They liked kids and wanted to make a difference. But think about your schools. Think about your staff. Who do you know who has real passion anymore? Passion for what they do, what they teach, and, passion for kids?

My friend certainly has passion. She loves kids. She is usually the first to arrive at school and always has to get kicked out the building at night. She spends hours crafting lessons and experiences for her kids, some of which are just amazing. She analyzes where her kids are and where they need to be and what she needs to do to get them there.

She mentioned to me about some other teachers in her grade level. They, she says, are not in it because they have passion. Yes, at one time they might have liked kids and liked teaching but now it is just routine. These teachers don't work as hard as her. They come in right before the day begins and are usually gone before the buses leave the lot at the end of the day. And yet their kids seem to be the most proficient (according to the only thing that matters 'round these parts, state testing).

It frustrates her greatly. Because using the same measures, hers are not seen as proficient. (Yes, I know that is not the only measure, but we are talking real world here.) While she is providing a much more rich and authentic learning environment for her kids, it is not translating where it matters and she is beginning to question her ability and her passion.

Whoa...wait just a second...

If there is anyone who has passion it is her. But the problem is, our system keeps trying to push teachers like this out of the profession. National Standards, testing, accountability, all play a part in forcing more and more teachers like my friend out.

And why?

Because, these teachers are not likely to just nod their head and agree with everything. These are not the kinds of teachers to just stand idly by while some suit decides education policy. No, what the suits want are the teachers like the ones on my friend's grade level. The ones who teach to tests. The ones who don't see anything wrong with the system and will just do what they are told without question.

So I am worried. I am worried that all the teachers out there who have the passion, who have the drive and desire to do great things for kids, who are doing great things for kids. What are we doing, as administrators, superintendents, elected officials, parents, students, community members to make sure we have teachers with passion teaching our kids and not just teachers who have nothing better to do?


  1. Our students are so much more than a test score. When do educators get to define student achievement? We should all be worried.

  2. nice post Steven. I think about this night and day... it's my passion... to change the 7 hour day we call school...
    For the students I love dearly.
    For my peers, who are much like what you write about.
    For the world, who desperately needs indispensables, not cogs.

    One of my recent solutions.

    I'm not giving up... we can turn this around.

  3. Great post, Steven! This should get folks thinking.

  4. I can totally relate to your friend. Our system needs changed so badly!

  5. While I hear loud and clear what you are saying, I see teachers everyday with passion. I don't see why mandated curriculum should get in the way of amazing project based learning experiences. We still have to teach something. It's just not always what the teacher might want to be teaching. Teachers should stop looking at this as a hindrance and instead look at it as a guideline for what needs to be learned in the year. I hear teachers complain about needing to meet expectations, and also hear people talk about how our schools are so far behind schools in Europe and Asia. The way to get our kids on board with what they CAN do is to stop looking at the way these things HINDER our teaching and look at them as how they can HELP and inform out teaching.

  6. I truly enjoyed this post.

    I am currently home on a parental leave, but I am one of those like your teacher friend. I am torn myself about returning to a school community that I used to love, but feel has made many decisions that are taking us the wrong direction (often at the expense of the kids) & lost many of the teachers I considered great to other districts.

    I love the PLN that technology provides for me, and am itchy to get back to teaching next year after this break, but I wonder how long before the drain of always fighting the bureaucratic decisions from central office and the apathetic time punching insular nature of many of my colleagues will get to me again.

    Here's to hoping your friend sticks around, always keeps her passion, & can make it contagious.


  7. Steve,

    You colleague has lasted longer than many. The numbers don't lie - and they've been consistent over the years - about 50% leave the profession within five years. (Source: Washington Post, 2006,

    Question is, how does she avoid becoming a statistic? I just blogged about this the other day. In "How’s your alignment?" ( I tried wrestled with similar, though less-powerful demons. I have the upper hand, for now. The questions your friend needs to ask herself - and be prepared for answers she doesn't like - are as follows:

    1) What is my district’s mission, expressed in terms meaningful to me as an educational professional?

    2) How can the things I am passionate about support that mission?

    3) What can I do to make my instructional leader more successful?

    4) What do I need from my instructional leader to be more successful?

    In the short run, this MAY mean actually focusing on improving kids test scores - and I can ASSURE you that any interest your colleague expresses in that will get ROUSING support - but your colleague needs to try and keep an open mind. Remember, shared goals are the key.

    Your colleague also needs to reconnect with the reason she got into teaching in the first place. For me, it was and is the kids. I'll tell you this: when I'm having a bad day, NOTHING cheers me up like a group of rambunctious, inquisitive, fun-loving, adoring Kindergarten kids. I could be run over by a tractor-trailer. Wouldn't matter. I'd get right back up.

    So, ask the hard questions - go to the well for support - and STAY IN THE GAME - FOR THE KIDS!

    Hope this helps,


  8. I agree w/ food. Maybe it has a lot to do with teaching secondary math, or that its all i know, but I enjoy the framework for planning that the standards provide. I can sympathize with missing out on teachable moments b/c of all of the reading, math, and spelling assessments req. of an elem teacher, but I have less time for those whether or not "Missouri Course-Level Expectations" exist. The standards also alleviate some stress at grade time b/c they make failing the "nice kid" justifiable if need be. I do less hem and hawing. Do the best you can with the circumstances you're dealt.

  9. If I didn't know better I would think that your friend is me. Testing is taking over and stressing our poor kids out. I have been teaching first grade for thirteen years and have seen anxiety among our children rising each year. What are we doing to them? A stressed teacher = a stressed child. Because I think we all know that these sensitive children feel everything that a teacher is feeling. But we have to get creative and work around these obstacles and do our best to do what we think is best...for the child as a whole. Let's remember that as we prepare these children for life that they are already living right now!

  10. Great post... you address a lot of concerns most passionate teachers have! A number of times I feel stifled by my curriculum, not excited or motivated by it! And my students are the ones missing out. It's finding the balance between what we want to do and what they saw we need to do... the frustrating part is the two should match!

  11. A very timely post Steven, considering I have been pondering this very same issue myself lately. When discussing educational reform there are times when it seems you are attempting to hold your ground in a hurricane and the task just seems too enormous to tackle.

  12. Like most teachers I too have felt this burden. However, I must say no one ever said teaching was easy. It is the challenge of teaching that draws me to the profession. I have to keep looking at it this way or I too would begin to burn out. Teaching is a challenge and trying to find the answer is my goal and motivator that keep me going.

  13. I am/was just like the teacher you post about. After 19 years, I'm starting to think this might be my last in the classroom. I'm drained. And it's not the standards, the PBLs, the data analysis - I believe in their value and have had no problem with them. I'm also psyched about technology and the ways I'm able to integrate it, totally engaging the kids. I love to teach - it's exciting, rewarding, makes you want to be better in so many ways...
    What's disillusioning is the "more, more, more" mentality coming from admin., more tests, more forms, more "things" to collect, more time spent preparing for the test. My bldg admin has started pulling the bottom 20% from PE, art, music, and ESL to receive tutoring, they're talking about cutting recess for some kids, it's an urban school and they're fed garbage for lunch, intimidating letters are sent home to parents indicating that it is mandatory for their children to stay after daily for test-prep... and so many more things which in total make it a place I don't want to be a part of. If the leader's vision is so totally warped, what of the staff? and ultimately, what about the kids? I am very concerned for this particular school, let alone the profession.
    I used to think - as long as I worked hard, did my absolute best for my kids, taught as if it were both science and art, continued to learn about my craft, and taught with JOY - that I'd learn to adjust my breathing as the air got thinner. It's really getting hard to breathe now...

  14. My $.02. The problem in any particular school starts in the principal's office. What is often overlooked is that a principal lives in a bubble of huge risk. On any given day, they face the danger of appearing on the front page of the local paper, used by some politico or angry parent in the service of something that has little to do with education.

    Leading from that environment of constant risk, passion is actually very dangerous. It's not really anyone's fault. It's a class going enterprise real problem.

    Yes, the tests are mostly dumb and a huge time sink. And yet some principal's are able to manage the effects. But that usually needs a super star. In a national or large urban system, as in most fields of human activity, super stars are in short supply.

    I think one path might be for evangelists - either teachers, admins, support staff - to consider how to mitigate the risks for their admins.

    I bet there are any number of practical solutions just waiting to be invented. My hypothesis is that as risk goes done, the freedom to invent and most importantly make mistakes would go done.

    Not really all that different from the dynamics inside the classroom.

  15. Steven,
    I have the same concerns. Teachers who are passionate are being edged out of the classroom, their passion being sucked dry as they try to compensate for those teachers with none. Those of us who are passionate are constantly working to make things better, we are never satisfied with the status quo, and yet, that is exactly what is being asked of us. Don't push the boundaries, don't think creatively. Come in, teach to the status quo so that students pass a test. It is hard to be optimistic and passionate when we are alone.

  16. This is the struggle I feel I am facing. Administrators, parents, and even some of my fellow teachers are so beholden to the "system" that it's hard to be the one to stand out and try something new.

    I recently joined Twitter and signed up to follow educators such as yourself and I get very depressed. For one Web 2.0 is like a whole new world to me and for another, I wonder how much of what you guys post is something I can actually do in my class. We are somewhat limited in technology, but moreso, our school is beholden to test scores, as we have not met AYP for several years (despite being an "A" school two years in a row in our state).

    I know there is a way to include these new strategies in lessons to prepare students for the tests, but I feel I am so alone!

  17. In a paper I just wrote about attendance, i discussed how schools create all these programs to encourage attendance, but the greatest program is to get teachers in the building that students want to come to school to learn from, not be taught to pass a test.

    Great points!

  18. Great points. I am teaching a group of want to be teachers this term and they say they want to be teachers because they 'love kids'. I think that liking children is important but as a mother myself I do not need their teacher to love them. But I do need their teacher to have a passion for making a difference in my childs life. I too am a teacher because I want to open the doors in a childs mind to new ideas, to different perspectives, and to help them find their own passions. Every year at this time I begin to lose my own passion for being in the classroom as the students are not meeting my expectations. Thankfully they are all able to pass the state exam but I want more then this for them. I want them to be independant thinkers, to be able to collaborate on projects and yes sometimes to be able to pass a simple vocabulary quiz. Luckily, be September I will have found my passion again and I will look forward to meeting the needs of a whole new group of students. So don't get discouraged and stay in the classroom because you can be rejuvinated and you can make a difference.

  19. Yes, teachers should be able to *teach*, without being overwhelmed with testing and paperwork. It's a shame that your friend considers leaving the profession, as she is passionate about teaching.
    I don't know if this is feasible, but maybe she could save herself. By "saving" herself I mean saving her energy to avoid the burn out. There is no need, after some years of teaching, to arrive ages before the school starts and to leave school at bedtime. To be a good teacher, a teacher needs to think about *herself* or himself too. To be able to listen to the kids properly, she needs to listen to her own body saying "STOP", I can't taking it anymore, I'm going home and have a good rest, listen to some good music, make a cake or have a glass of French wine.
    And also : she must not feel alone and brood all this over on her own : open up, talk to other colleagues, I'm sure other teachers feel the same, and can provide strategies to "save themselves", to save the precious spark to shine through the days, malgré tout!

  20. It was ever thus! I taught for 30 years and it just about did for me. How young teachers manage nowadays defeats me. There are some amazing people out there and sometimes I get a chance to work with them.
    Initiatives are always sold as small things that won't take much time. Often they do and in any case the totality of initiatives has become backbreaking.
    Teaching is knowing where your learners are and knowing where you want them to be (a bit of a simplification? :)) That leaves you able to work on the engaging stuff like your friend.

  21. Hi Steven,
    There is a fine line between insanity and passion. I have been both in my career. I almost envy those teachers who have found a balance between loving what they do and becoming overwhelmed by it. Put into perspective, there are ways to both achieve according to state requirements, and according to one's own passion to see students grow beyond those stale fenceposts. But is is difficult for a true professional to sit on the fence. Either we are right brained and we drift towards the rules and the test, or we are left brained and we drift toward the people and the learning. Great post.

  22. Great post! I understand exactly where your friend is coming from. As a primary school teacher I feel that, at present at least, I can work around the standardised testing, but it's the "more, more, more" mentioned iin a previous comment that bothers me. I just can't fir any more into my weekly timetable!

  23. Yours is a valuable post. And as one of those district administrators (in Canada though), let me say that it's this time of commentary that really matters.

    Let me ask you though - as someone who is passionate about education, but who is not a teacher but someone elected to a school board - what kind of measures make sense to you?

    I have kids in high school right now. And I see some real passion in some of our teachers - and I see the difference that it makes. I also see some real duds. And I see the difference that they ... well ... that they make too.

    So - how do we as elected officials measure the efficacy of our schools? And how do we as parents and taxpayers do the same?

    I very much hope to see your answers.