“I don’t love teaching because my job is no longer teaching.”

North Carolina teacher Kris Nielsen wrote a provocative and lengthy essay for his blog Middle Grades Mastery.

It begins:  “I love teaching. Or, I did love teaching. I loved teaching when my job was to teach. Now, I don’t love teaching, because my job is no longer teaching.”

Nielsen began teaching in 2006. He taught sixth grade earth science, writing, “I created my own curriculum, based loosely on the New Mexico state standards. My kids loved it! I kept them busy with hands-on, student centered learning that built vocabulary and concepts along the way.”

Nielsen  moved to Oregon and a job he enjoyed, but was let go after two years when his district slashed 350 jobs to cut costs.

Nielsen chronicles a frustrating job search that led him and his family to move cross country to the vaunted Charlotte-Mecklenburg system. He shares his growing disillusionment with the profession.

Here is an excerpt of his blog. Please try to read the full essay before commenting:

What they didn’t tell me in orientation was that I would not have time to teach anything meaningful. I was hired to teach science and the exact same math I had taught in Oregon, but this was different. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a district that is drowning in its own mandates, risk-taking, and testing culture. I think CMS is a microcosm of what’s to come in American education. It’s depressing. I didn’t like it, so I did some research. An adjacent district was hiring some math and science people and I was attracted to two main things: it was closer to home and they had rolled out a one-to-one laptop initiative recently. Every student was carrying a laptop in class every day. I had to get into one of those classrooms!

To make that story short, I did. It’s no different. Despite the lofty ideals and motivating speeches from administration, everything is the same. I’m not an educator, by the definition I had comes to terms with; I’m an employee of a system that has an agenda. My job is to frontload a small encyclopedia of knowledge to a group of students so that they can pass a test at the end of the year. There are now more shallow and meaningless tests, and my job now depends on the scores. That’s not teaching. That’s not what I do.

I’ve heard this several times already: “If you’re teaching students to learn and letting them discover the knowledge, then shouldn’t they be able to pass those tests easily?” At first, I thought, “Yeah! Totally!” But after trying it, I don’t think it makes sense. Standardized tests are rigidly specific in the knowledge kids should have. They are bent way over into the realm of vocabulary and multiple-choice answers and they don’t even come close to teaching 21st century skills. If I teach my kids how to think and how to learn, then they will not be prepared to pass state tests, because that’s not what those tests are measuring. The tests measure two things: memory and application. The second one is important, but not in a multiple-choice or short-answer sphere.

I’ve gotten to the point where I feel good about how a lesson played out, only to check my email afterwards to find no fewer than five menial tasks that I must dedicate my time to. This is time when I should be planning more lessons, conferencing with parents, and learning.

My students are falling apart. They have little hope. I don’t blame them. They are reminded every year of their failure to pass meaningless tests and they watch the news that tells them they are dumber than the rest of the world. That piece of information is not true, by any means, but you can tell it affects them. And no one stands up to tell them they are doing fine.

I wanted to be part of the fix. I wanted to save the world. But every day I see powers greater than me stomp us down and tell us to get back into the classroom and be glad we even have jobs. If this is the way that public education treats professionals, then it’s time for me to find a new field.

I give up. They win. I have joined the ranks of parents who have come to realize that we are only empowered to do one thing: take care of our own. I hope that things change, but I don’t have the energy, the money, or the time to continue beating my head into a wall. And if the choices have run out for my toddler when he’s ready for school, I will do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it for others, as well. Who knows.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

135 comments Add your comment

Fred ™

October 31st, 2012
3:37 am

Wow Maureen, do you have a bad cold too and coughed yourself awake and couldn’t get back to sleep as well lol?

I hear the same story from every person I know who is a teacher.

Fred ™

October 31st, 2012
3:38 am

I guess I should clarify. I hear the same story as Kris Nielsen related, not the same story that they had a cold………..

David Hoffman

October 31st, 2012
4:54 am

The number one problem is the large number of unplanned births of children who did not need to be born. That leads to a continuation of poverty. That leads to chaotic family life that is not conductive to learning. The kids were not learning. They could not do subtraction to make change at a store register. The people who paid the taxes to support public schools got fed up. The students were being taught all about how to artistically express themselves. Math, proper English writing skills, and science were pushed aside to accommodate step dancing and music videos. So the taxpaying public told the teachers to focus on the basics. Reading, writing, math, and science. The easiest way to test for skills in those areas is with multiple choice tests.

Maybe if the next generation makes better decisions and plans about having sexual intercourse, pregnancy control, consistent contraceptive use, financial planning, and getting abortions when needed, teachers can go back to the touchy feely teaching methods they like so much.

concernedmom30329

October 31st, 2012
5:30 am

Maureen,

What should worry us, as parents, is that several superintendents, Atkinson and Avoosa included, in metro Atlanta come from CMS.

Atkisnon has brought with her several folks from CMS and I hear they are just dreadful to work with. They are fixated on test results and expect miracles from teachers and principals.

historydawg

October 31st, 2012
6:00 am

The same folks who have legislated and mandated the destruction of good teaching are now pushing charters, to escape the very nonsensical testing and regulatory obsession they in fact created. Hmmm…

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 31st, 2012
6:01 am

I signed on forty-two years ago to teach kids about American History and Government. I resigned seven and one-half years ago after becoming fed-up with the paper chase teaching had become. I wasn’t too good to do clerical work. But clerical work had come to inhibit my instructional efforts- a situation I wasn’t prepared to tolerate.

Lee

October 31st, 2012
6:03 am

Anyone else beside me find it queer that a person would move from New Mexico to Oregon to N Carolina to chase a teaching job?

(I can still use the “q-word” can’t I? Let the politically correct moanings begin…)

concerned citizen

October 31st, 2012
6:05 am

The new principal at North Atlanta wants test prep warm ups, focused on data and wants to be able to compare all teachers the same- apples to apples. Common planning common assessment and common test drill and kill. This is common place around the area- Dekalb’s teacher schedule reads like an robot road map with all of the ‘everyone in the district will be on this GPS standard at the same time on the same day’ garbage. Now, North Atlanta is adopting what I assume is Qwinnet County or Henry County’s version of the same crapola. It comes from the top down and the new principal already invoked the ‘having to answer to Karen Walden’ on top of some incredibly racists comments and stereotypes.
North Atlanta is not a good place to be a teacher .

Karl Marx

October 31st, 2012
6:21 am

Sad but this is a great object illustrating why we need real alternatives and not a continuation of the massive public school complex.

Atticus Joad

October 31st, 2012
6:47 am

Dr. Spinks, the meaningless paper chase and clerical work have increased 10 times at least in the 7 1/2 years since you retired. I used to be proud when former students told me they went into teaching at least in part because of me. Now, whenever I hear a student talking about a career in education, I try my best to dissuade them.

scrod

October 31st, 2012
6:54 am

Same stale story, different state. Quit complaining and fix the problem. Use that ambition to rise to a position with enough authority to lead change. Or, sit back and gripe. Or quit. Your choices.

concernedmom30329

October 31st, 2012
7:23 am

Charter schools have the same testing requirements — only thing they can do differently is how they prepare students.
Scrod, the only people in a position to change this insanity are elected officials. And at least in GA, they are idiots, for the most part.

drew (former teacher)

October 31st, 2012
7:27 am

Lee,
It’s queer that you don’t see the word “queer” used often, but in this context it is entirely appropriate.

drew (former teacher)

October 31st, 2012
7:28 am

And Kris,
I’m way ahead of you…welcome back to the real world.

malleesmom

October 31st, 2012
7:28 am

frustrating. this is precisely why i never got certified. i liked subbing, was good at it. my peers asked me to take the GACE, etc. No thanks. Rarely do good teachers get to “teach”. Now it’s all behavior management, paperwork and test prep. Teaching used to be a profession safe from downsizing, not any longer. I know too many who build relationships at schools only to be carted off somewhere else within a year or two. Not worth it. It’s too bad.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

October 31st, 2012
7:53 am

That “testing” is not knowledge. It’s Mastery Learning/Outcomes Based Education. Checking to see if student now has desired skill or attitude or values. There is so much checking because it gets broken into little components. The Dell Foundation did a report on Charlotte-Meck and it was perfectly clear that the data is just an updated word for outcomes.

And yes it did win the Broad Award but that seems to go primarily to urban districts showing the greatest fidelity and fealty to a political vision of equitable education. At a common, level of the gutter, approach. I have seen the color drain from the faces of Charlotte natives when they hear of the influx of all the CMS vets to Fulton.

And I have chronicled what Heath Morrison was doing in Washoe County (Reno) Nevada to win Natl Super of the Year. Very aggressive affective template.

Gypsy Principals and Gypsy Supers angling for the next lucrative promotion create a very frustrating classroom experience for many veteran teachers.

Others go to Camp Snowball for training with Senge or Vail PEAK training with Spence Rogers and come back gushing like they have been at a cult retreat. Ready to play emotional headgames with the kids in pursuit of a “more engaging” way to learn.

We really need to get back to the transmission of knowledge from the Greatest Minds who have ever lived and stop all these social engineering experiments on children. Theory in practice indeed.

banshee29

October 31st, 2012
8:11 am

Who moved my cheese? Change is good? The reality is that the structure of our public education is changing. I for one are tired of the complaining. I still enrich my students lives and their brains as much as possible while still making the higher ups happy. Not easy, but I have done it. Quit reducing my paycheck and I will stand strong. If I keep losing money however, I will have to look elsewhere. My mortgage and power bill do not take furloughs and salary reductions.

Truth in Moderation

October 31st, 2012
8:12 am

The situation Nelsen describes did not happen by chance. Just ask the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and other large foundation owners. The history of the subversion of public education is well documented in THE DELIBERATE DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA. http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com
This information and warning has been out there since the ’90’s. I know from personal experience that teachers have had their heads in the sand, in complete denial of these documented facts. Now that it’s too late and their necks (and paychecks) will be chained to the State mandated assessments, they are coming up for air. Now, the only way to combat this is to home school and pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn the compulsory attendance law.

As for me, I saw the light years ago and chose to home school. My Earth Science field trip took us to Maui, Hawaii, where we snorkeled in a sunken volcanic crater and drove our minivan 10.000 feet up to the top of the volcano, Haleakala. http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm We also toured the vast caldera via helicopter with “Hawaii Five-O” blasting in our headsets. Science was our favorite subject that year!
Good luck to Mr. Nelsen. He’ll be a great home school dad.

Truth in Moderation

October 31st, 2012
8:15 am

OOPS! Should read:
10,000 ft.
Mr. Nielsen

Georgia

October 31st, 2012
8:15 am

Teaching was my dream. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about grading papers. I thought grading papers would be the coolest, funnest thing in the whole world. That was before I met Mrs. Weston, my third grade teacher. I used to volunteer to clean the chalk boards. She seemed delighted at first, but then there was the rainy day when I had a cold, and I missed a spot on the chalk board. The castor oil flowed freely that day my friends. I never wanted to be a teacher again.

catlady

October 31st, 2012
8:16 am

One time, in a long faculty meeting, I started making a list of all the things expected of a teacher besides instruction and it’s other assumed duties, like preparing and grading work, planning, revising, etc. I made it to 4 double spaced pages before my hand gave out. This was BEFORE NCLB.

Pluto

October 31st, 2012
8:23 am

Teaching and learning have been usurped by other frivolous duties in the public achool system.

indigo

October 31st, 2012
8:26 am

I have said many times that America is steadily dumbing down. This teacher merely confirms it. These “meaningless tests” are just the latest in a long line of social experiments aimed at getting minority students to score the same on tests as their white classmates.

mystery poster

October 31st, 2012
8:27 am

“Your plan was to sweep the world of its feet, so you sweep the garage for the neighbors to see.”

ssidawg

October 31st, 2012
8:27 am

This is depressing and I don’t mean that to be snarky. I agree with the above poster who said that unplanned pregnancies is a big part of the problem. So many kids going to school these days who are just trying to survive. Learning is way down their list of priorities.

mystery poster

October 31st, 2012
8:28 am

Sorry, I guess I’m feeling pretty melancholy this morning.

Solutions

October 31st, 2012
8:34 am

If all teachers feel the same way as this author, it is a condemnation of the universal “free” public education model. The word “free” is inaccurate, it should be “cost transferred to the innocent property owner.” Regardless, the solution is to end “free” universal public education paid for by a third party. Only when the student and his/her parent(s) have their own money in the “education process” will there be an improvement in both student and teacher performance. As long as some nebulous third party is pay the “free” public education bill, you will get this CYA nonsense from teachers, administrators, students, parents, and politicians. End “free” universal public education NOW!

mathmom

October 31st, 2012
8:39 am

Having participated in meetings with the publishers of the Georgia’s EOCTs in mathematics, I can tell you that the state’s official position is that students can “work the problems backwards.” This means that they do not need to actually know how to do the mathematics – they just need good test taking skills.
If teachers write to any DOE official or the governor’s office to inquire or complain about the curriculum, testing, budget, or any other public policy affecting eduction, those teachers can be assured that the teachers’ administrators will be contacted. If the administrators are in the same camp as the teachers, that is fine; but often it is not fine, and speaking up proves to be a job-endangering activity.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 31st, 2012
8:47 am

Atticus Joad,

My experiences as a volunteer in local public schools over the last several years confirm your frightening comments about the magnitude of the current paper chase. Why: Too many lawyers? No, too many effete school board attorneys.

Me

October 31st, 2012
8:49 am

You know it’s funny when a parent says the things that Mr. Nielsen wrote, they are applauded for speaking the truth. When a teacher says it, they are considered whiners who should be thankful for their jobs. No wonder many just go with the flow or change professions. They are darned if the do and darned if the don’t.

Inman Parker

October 31st, 2012
8:55 am

I started teaching in 1971, and I heard this same complaint then. Today’s teachers seem to think there was some golden age of teaching when there was no paperwork, when all parents were supportive, and when every administrator had the best interests of their teachers at heart. Never happened. Never. Get on with your chosen profession or get out of it.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 31st, 2012
8:56 am

(S)sidawg,

Reproductive and “parental” irresponsibilities top my list of reasons why learning isn’t a top priority for many of our kids.

So long as we acquiesce in such sloughing-off of responsibilties toward innocent children, everything else we do to improve our educational system will be as effective as “placing a band-aid on a metastatic cancer.”

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 31st, 2012
8:58 am

Inmn Parker,

Unfortunately, too many of our more-able teachers are exercising your second option.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 31st, 2012
8:59 am

OOPS: Inman….

Whirled Peas

October 31st, 2012
9:00 am

Whether she is employed by the school systems of Oregon, No. Carolina, Georgia or any other state, she has an employer who has a monopoly and is a government. Add these two and you have a near 100% assurance that it will be inefficient and bureaucratic and likely not a nice place to work.

It is time to go one step beyond charter schools. It is time we give our kids real choice. It is time for school vouchers. The school that treats their teachers well will be able to attract and keep the best teachers and will provide the best education for the buck. Why do we need to be stuck with these monopoly school systems?

skipper

October 31st, 2012
9:00 am

The dynamics have changed……..folks want schools to raise their kids now, as many of today’s “parents” (in many cases a poor word-choice) are just not up to it.

Phil from Athens

October 31st, 2012
9:00 am

“The number one problem is the large number of unplanned births of children who did not need to be born. ”

Spoken like a true Marxist.

Phil from Athens

October 31st, 2012
9:03 am

Once the country goes bankrupt next year, you’ll see education change like never before. All the moaning and groaning over charter schools will be long forgotten by then.

nsnstv

October 31st, 2012
9:04 am

@Hoffman…

Very clever…step dancing? Well, don’t forget line dancing. Nice try.

Don't Tread

October 31st, 2012
9:21 am

“And no one stands up to tell them they are doing fine”

Unless they’re in APS…then not only will someone tell the kids they’re doing fine, they’ll change the answers to make sure.

I know a lot of teachers with a similar gripe…”it’s not about teaching anymore, it’s babysitting”.

Claudia Stucke

October 31st, 2012
9:22 am

@David Hoffman
You may be surprised and dismayed, as I was, to learn that many of those teen pregnancies are actually deliberate, not “unplanned,” by young people who want someone to love them–if not the boyfriend himself, at least the resulting baby. When a female student, often a child herself, happily announced that she was pregnant, I had my list of responses: (1) offer her help to make sure she stayed on top of her schoolwork, (2) inform the counselor (required) so that support services could be set up, and (3) cry.

Drawstoo

October 31st, 2012
9:35 am

I taught High School for 29 years. My daughter and daughter-in-law were both teachers who gave that up to be stay-at-home moms. My daughter had a good saying. “I love teaching, I hate being a teacher.”

bootney farnsworth

October 31st, 2012
10:00 am

sadly, the system is broken beyond repair, for too many reasons to list.

while I support the concept of public education as a basic cornerstone to a successful society, the way we go about it must change dramatically.

-end compulsory attendance after elementary school.
-focus on educating the average student. the extremes (AP level, special needs) should go to charter schools.
-put CRCT, NCLB, STEM, ect and put them in the dumper, never to return
-end HOPE. a classic example of good intentions paving the road to hell
-end HS sports
-institute drastic changes in how BOEs and regents are staffed and require a measure of accountability
-expand the funding procedure to include all users, not just homeowners. exempt retire age
adults from the process, and fund like health insurance. X- for this many kids in the system, y-
for this many, z-anything above

bootney farnsworth

October 31st, 2012
10:01 am

@ claudia

as long as our society promotes, glamorizes, and pays for single girls to have children sans marriage/active partner, they will.

APS Parent #2

October 31st, 2012
10:08 am

The question is “what does being educated” mean? What should be measured in our bucket of educational values that our taxpayers fund?

(a) To learn and master a specific set of data (which is quickly forgotten at the first dive into the summer swimming pool), or
(b) To learn how to critically think so that you can find the data you need to solve problems (a framework that stays with you and allows you to manage real-life issues throughout your adulthood).

Public education is heavily weighted on (a) – test results are an easy way to fool parents into a false belief that their darling children are prodigies because they have good short-term memories.

The school settings where they get to (b), then you see true and lasting results in student achievement. Unfortunately, the measure for this learning is much more difficult and not as easy to capture with the volume of students funneling through our schools.

Many of history’s most famous inventors and thinkers came up with ideas – Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, Galileo, Aristotle, Socrates, etc. – because they used their minds. They did not have computer programs and perhaps some of them weren’t in formal school settings. They all weren’t born into privilege or homes with educated parents.

True creation and genious aren’t linked to a set of coded-data and are not the exclusive domain of children born into households of privilege. They are the result of an ability to creatively and critically think outside of the box that either the person develops by luck, individual hard work or an effective educational system that values this end result.

Parents are part of the problem & we can be part of the solution. We need to listen to our remarkable teachers and demand that the system supports them in the art of teaching (which teaches our children to learn), not the art of regurgitation (which teaches our children to vomit).

Woody

October 31st, 2012
10:08 am

Everyone should read: “Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types” by Keirsey and Bates. Although on its face an interpretation of the Mierrs-Briggs personality scales, it describes the author’s personal experience and observation in the educational system. Authors purport that American education is a battle zone between test-and-objective-oriented personality types and less dominant intuitive teaching types. As we see in the essay above.

HAM-H

October 31st, 2012
10:09 am

The bottom line in all the RT3 testing is $$$. Follow @dianeravitch on Twitter. You will see the greed, pushing and shoving for the $$$. Teachers’ and children’s needs are not a concern. Only Big $$$! DCS is broke and schools’ conditions, materials, dangerous schools, technology, infrastructure, are at a crisis level. But, DCS superintendent will spend RT3 $$ for university tuition of 9 principals to receive their PhDs. What? Really? Where are the needs of the children and teachers of DCS? Taxpayers?
Outrageous! No one is stopping her and the board. Help!

bootney farnsworth

October 31st, 2012
10:14 am

not too long ago, I read a huge (I mean huge.) biography of Mao. of special interest to me was the Cultural Revolution, which was primarily a systematic a deliberate attack on education, educators, and anyone smart enough to challenge the system..

I was struck with the comparisons with our society today. a large hunk of our society does not value education, sees educators as enemies, and are cheered on by lawmakers who do everything in their power to hamper education while criticizing educators

Dee Davis

October 31st, 2012
10:41 am

I will be relocating to the Atlanta GA area very soon, and hoping to go back in the classroom as a elementary school teacher after teaching thirty-one years in another state. I still have the drive and desire to teach children to reach their highest potential knowing what the school system is looking for as test scores and if students have benchmarked in a particular subject. It is sad to see what education has come to, but someone has to do it, and at least leave an impact or impression with one or more students. My feeling about education is that those who can teach, teach. Those who cannot, do not take an administrative position and you see a teacher doing a fantastic job at their craft knowing you could not make it as a teacher and now it your position to make their teaching life miserable. Educators are doing their very best at what they were called and learned to do.

Mortimer Collins

October 31st, 2012
10:43 am

Aww…Im gonna cry….boo hoo.

“ADDITIONAL DUTIES AS ASSIGNED”

OR
Find another job.