To the Editor:
I agree with Thomas Newkirk’s concern that teachers’ stress is increasing in part because of their lack of control over every facet of how they do their jobs (“Stress, Control, and the Deprofessionalizing of Teaching,” Commentary, Oct. 21, 2009). There are many ways to stifle teachers’ ability to create learning environments suited to their students’ strengths as learners and their own as educators—and only one way to encourage it.
Teachers need control over the decisionmaking that allows them to grow professionally. Mr. Newkirk’s litany of “research-based” programs that teachers must accommodate is enough to put any “idealist” into the category of “disheartened,” to quote the teacher classifications used by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates in their recent study, reported in the same issue (“State of Mind”).
As a teacher, I learned to minimize the effects of required programs in my classroom so that I had more control over the learning environment I created for my students, an environment that could change according to their needs. As a principal, I intervened on behalf of my teachers and protected them from the counterproductive aspects of programs, choosing those programs I could implement with minimal need for compliance, so that teachers would be free to act as professionals and not as assembly-line workers.
It could also be said that students have lost control over their learning, just as teachers have lost control over their teaching. What we give them today is prepackaged, literally, figuratively, and electronically. Too often the parameters of their intellectual exploration are predetermined by curriculum or software designers who may never have been in a classroom, and who certainly are not in the classrooms of specific children.
By controlling teaching, we are trying to control learning, whether we mean to or not. It is just what happens. Too often we do not open students’ minds, but simply fill them in a “research-based” way.
Gillian B. Thorne
Office of Early College Programs
University of Connecticut
A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Stress Grows As Choices Diminish