Accountability Opinion

Letter to Students from a Torn Teacher

By Amanda Sheaffer — April 04, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To my students,

I greet you at the door with a smile, but I feel uneasy. I see your bright faces and hear your cheerful words with an inadvertent cringe. I am caught in a struggle between what I have been told to do and what you deserve. In my mind, I am clawing and scraping for solid ground, but I cannot find it.

I obey and trust the wisdom of an unknown authority whose face I cannot see but believe to be honorable. I follow, with your hand in mine, and ignore a call beckoning to me from my gut—this isn’t the right way. You come along without resistance, a partnership of blind trust and good will.

For a while I am able to maintain the integrity of our space. Academic rigor coexists with preparation for judgment day, and I meet your needs as individuals. But the crescendo of fear plays in my mind as the test steadily marches toward us. While I am proud of your achievement, I know it is too complex to be represented so simply.

Inevitably, I surrender to the pressure. I cannot serve two masters. I panic and reluctantly declare allegiance to that which holds the most power.

I proceed with infamous rituals of submission. I have you read lengthy irrelevant passages, practice strategies for multiple-choice items, and make marks that are suitably heavy and dark. You barely maintain attention, but I give you the you-can-do-it song and dance and promise fun times will follow. We suffer through this ridiculous charade, squeeze in a lesson of value with any remaining time, dismiss, and repeat in the morning. Caught in a trap I cannot define, I steal your time and give it away. I am afraid, but I continue on a mission to higher scores with determination and focus in the name of success for my school, for me, and for you, yet you do not look at me as though you feel successful.

I realize you are silent. It occurs to me that I barely recognize you. I feel uneasy again. Finally, I stop and look in the mirror. I choose to acknowledge my shame while I can still feel it. I must consider my character and decide to what extent I will participate. I sort through this confusion in search of resolve. Though the nation will applaud when your numbers rise, the cost is high. At my core, I am uncomfortable with the sacrifice required.

I am here with you and must make it my responsibility to speak your truth. You are not products to be homogeneously assessed and used as bragging rights. You are much more. Each of you is intricate, a contradiction to the implications of standardization. When given opportunities for curiosity, fascination, and discovery, your insights amaze me. When I offer you occasions to be brave in thought and expression, I am impressed by your abilities. You are smart, and you know that you could never tell the world who you are with a No. 2 pencil within the tight constraints of an itty-bitty bubble.

So as I look at my tired face in the mirror, I make my choice. I do not want to contribute to a system that limits you and expects so little, but if my only alternative is to abandon you, I will stay by your sides. I will steady my frustration and find a balance. I will prepare you for the test, but I will not forfeit your education. I will whisper as loudly as I can to you.

You possess unique qualities that are immeasurable. You are minds and voices unexplored, hotbeds of potential, a gift to your community.

You are more than a number.

And so am I.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Accountability School Accountability Is Restarting After a Two-Year Pause. Here's What That Means
For a moment, the COVID-19 pandemic succeeded in doing what periodic protests about school accountability couldn't: Halting it.
10 min read
Illustration of a gauge.
Accountability Opinion Let's Take a Holistic Approach to Judging Schools
Parents wouldn't judge their kids based on a single factor. So, says Ron Berger of EL Education, why must schools use a lone test score?
8 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Accountability Opinion Are K-12 State Tests Like a Visit to the Pediatrician?
Even if the doctor’s trip isn’t pleasant, at least parents get something out of it they believe is worthwhile.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Accountability Opinion What Does the Future Hold for School Accountability?
Testing and accountability advocates have an opportunity to think anew about how to make the case for testing.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty