Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal Constitution went to UGA to give the education faculty a workshop on writing op-ed pieces. Both Peter and Stephanie took advantage of same and the benefits go to us. Maureen published this piece today on her Monday print Atlanta Forward page. It’s pretty strong, but from my research and experience it’s not, sadly, an exaggeration.

By the way, if you have not yet seen the AJC’s work on their national analysis of test result “improbabilities”, by all means do so, at http://www.ajc.com/news/school-test-scores/

Anxious teachers, sobbing children

Stephanie Jones

Atlanta Journal-Constitution 4/9/2012

http://www.ajc.com/opinion/anxious-teachers-sobbing-children-1411482.html

What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days? Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policymaking — that’s what.

The first murmurs I heard about teachers in crisis came from a principal several years ago. Teachers were streaming into his office seeking counseling services. Many were taking anti-depressants. Some couldn’t sleep at night, and some were so anxious and stressed they were worried their families would suffer irreparable damage.

Teachers enter the profession to do what is best for the students in front of them and for society at large. They earn degrees, immersed in rigorous study of how and why humans learn, how to individualize instruction and how to inspire lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.

But individualization, inspiration and engagement aren’t in current policies, and neither is teachers’ professional knowledge. Instead, teachers must follow pacing guides and move on with assignments regardless of whether students are beyond or behind. Anyone can walk into a teacher’s classroom at any moment and evaluate whether the teacher is following the one-size-fits-all program with “fidelity” and “full compliance.”

The choices are soul-crushing: 1) Slow down, teach creatively and get students excited about a topic, but fall behind the pacing guide and receive a poor evaluation and possible humiliation and job loss; or 2) Move on with the pacing guide and ignore students’ pleas for help or their yearning to learn more, and evaluations might be fine, but students suffer.

Most teachers do a little of both, but their no-win situation is devastating. And when students’ needs aren’t met because teachers are following mandates, they also cry or cry out in other ways.

I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, tears streaking cheeks. When children hold it together at school, they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.

More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they had never thought they’d consider: home schooling, co-op schooling, or, when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.

Teachers, students and parents are not the only emotional players in the game of school.

Policymakers are emotional. Punitive policies forcing the impossible combination of rigidity and test-based accountability are produced out of fear, anger, distrust and arrogance. They are written in an irrational effort to control the people in schools. But policymakers don’t have to endure the physical and psychological effects of their policies — those of us in schools do.

It’s time to stand in solidarity against mandated dehumanization in one-size-fits-all schooling and against overemotional policymakers who have a reckless stranglehold on schools. Demand that humanity be returned to teachers, students and parents who know how to make schools dynamic, inspirational places where everyone can thrive.

Stephanie Jones is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the University of Georgia

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