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.