A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I had not intended to start my Tuesday slice with an unhappy story, but I need to get past it, so here goes…

Several years ago I was happily bubbling along in my role as an elementary-level ESL teacher. A late-bloomer in public school teaching, I was really appreciating my new career (since 1993) which allowed me to pretty much be as creative as I wanted to be in my own classroom while helping students to learn English. I was rewarded for my work and creativity in 2009 when I received the New York State TESOL teacher of the year award, as well as a LI ESL Teacher of the Year award from Molloy College. Things were better than good. I was enjoying my work, feeling confident about my skills and knowledge after 15 years on the job, and eager to stay on the jobas long as I could.

Fast forward to 2012-2013. The Common Core and new teacher evaluations were summarily introduced into our district with little warning and no preparation.
Panic and chaos set in. Programs which had taken years to develop were curtailed, such as our Balanced Literacy Program. New curricula were passed on to the teachers with no prior professional development.
New approaches were dropped within months because they were ineffective. It was survival of the fittest in every school in the district.

During all this turmoil, the esl students and teachers were the last concerns on anyone’s mind, but I felt from the get-go that the new exams would be inapproprate for esl students still very much in the throes of learning basic English, never mind the more sophisticated and nuanced tasks required of them by the new exams. I was right. When the evaluations were presented to us on the first day of school in 2013, I was one of 11 teachers labeled Developing. As such, we were burdened with a TIP (Teacher Improvement Plan) for the remainder of the year which involved particular tasks, most of which were monotonous, tedious and in my case had nothing to do with ESL pedagogy. I failed to see how I would benefit from this punishment. Furthermore, my students had all done well on the ESL state test, the NYSESLAT, so my evaluation was based on the results of their other state and local tests on which they did poorly. No surprise. I hated the fact that each of the 11 Developing Teachers were invited to “appeal” our case to a kangaroo court which approved only 1 change in status; the fact that I had to spend several hours per week on a TIP plan that was irrelevant to my work; to the fact that I was considered Developing after 20 years of very satisfactory annual evaluations and the awards spoken of earlier. Nonetheless, I continued to teach in the most professional way I could and strove to support my students for the challenges that lay ahead of them.

I decided to retire at the end of 2014 for many reasons, not the least of which was because I was losing my passion for being a teacher. Although I shrugged off the label of Developing, I could see the handwriting on the wall for me. My students would never do well on the Common Core tests, or even the local tests, BECAUSE THEY ARE STILL LEARNING BASIC ENGLISH! They were simply not ready for the cognitive challenges presented to them because of the level of their language development. In addition, as I told both my Principal and Assistant Principal, I would probably be labeled Developing again in 2014 because my students that year were even weaker in language arts than my previous year’s students. Several of them had also been recommended for evaluation for Special Education, a process which took nearly the whole academic year. There were also unidentified Special Ed candidates who had been in my class for a year or two because the parents refused to allow them to be screened and/or the district delayed screening them because of their ESL status. It was a no win situation for them and for me. I couldn’t see the point of continuing to work as hard as I had for 21 years only to be punished again by my evaluation.

So, yet, I retired. And yes, I was mailed by evaluation in late August. And here’s the “kicker.” I was told that I was again a Developing teacher…on the same day I was diagnosed with a very scary, late-stage cancer.

I spent the next six months fearing for my life and dealing with chemo and radiation treatments. I am one of the lucky ones….I am now considered “cancer free.” I know that what really matters is that I have my life back and now I can really retire. And I no longer have to report for a job that devalued my expertise and experience in my final two years of teaching.
But still….

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7 thoughts on “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

  1. What a shame that the system put you through this and have no considerations for the ESL students. The positive note is you are cancer free. Hopefully, writing will help you work through your feelings.

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  2. I am an ESL teacher as well. I feel your pain! More people in power need to realize that ESL students really are language learners, not miracle workers! At the same time I rejoice with you that you are now cancer free!

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  3. WOW! What a terrible process. And kicked while you were down on top of it all. So glad to hear you are cancer-free and can enjoy your retirement. I think like all labels, this one has only the power we give it. Good thing you could retire and leave it behind. I hope you burned those evaluations.

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  4. Such a sad, sad situation that brought about the end of your career. I could feel your passion for teaching slip away as your words went on. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope that you find new passions in your retired life.

    Jennifer

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  5. This was so difficult to read because I can’t stand that these things happen to teachers. I’m so sorry that you were treated like that. I’m so happy that you are cancer free now – and I am hopeful that the passion you had for teaching comes back – and that you are able to harness it in order to enjoy your retirement- you deserve it.

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  6. As an ELD teacher (California) I can relate to your frustration at your students’ inability to shine on the new CCSS tests. The fact that you were judged by their outcomes is cruel and uninformed of those who are doing these evaluations. I’m glad your are cancer free, and sorry you had to experience what had to be so much trauma. I hope life becomes smoother, and you can enjoy your hard-earned retirement.

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  7. I am retired and I left before the reform movement turned the profession I loved into a nightmare. I am so sorry that you had to leave for the wrong reasons. So good to hear though that you can finally move on.
    Welcome here,
    Bonnie

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