Selfish Work

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“They who work selfishly for results are miserable.” Bhagavad Gita

I actually taught before No Child Left Behind became law—I know this shows my age. It was my first couple of years teaching, but I remember the freedom. The district where I worked had a list of standards  to teach each quarter, but those standards seemed manageable and appropriate for my ESL population. And while there were evaluations and visits in the classroom, the system provided pointers and suggestions, rather than punitive measures.

Back then—just like today—I worked with the low-level students, those who struggle to read and write at grade level, and I worked with newcomers, students who have just arrived to the United States and speak little to no English. They all struggled to reach their goal of proficiency, but, without all the pressure to be at grade level, I saw their small advances more clearly; I was able to celebrate those gains, allowing them to see little successes, even though we all knew they had a long way to go. None of us were under any illusion that they weren’t behind, but working as hard as they could to succeed. Somehow, these moments buoyed us to continue down the long path of learning a new language.

Now, even when my students make significant gains, it doesn’t seem to matter as much because in the big picture, they’re not proficient—some of them are 3-4 years behind, and it will take years and years to overcome the poverty, lack of exposure to education, and cycle of illiteracy in their families. Yet everything seems measured on being proficient on district-mandated and state standardized tests.

I feel like Gita’s quote above encapsulates how my students and I feel about all the constant testing: miserable. The problem is that if I work only for my own good—meaning, if my focus is on how well they do taking a test so that I don’t get ‘punished’—my work is selfish, instead of selfless. And if my concern during the day is myself, rather than the students, then being in the classroom doesn’t make nearly as much sense.

Most teachers I know have been trying hard not to focus on themselves, but with the new evaluations beginning—one that links our students’ performance from high-stakes testing to our own “teacher report card” at the end of the year—and the reminder that every few weeks someone is walking into your classroom ranking you by what you have on the classroom walls and what paperwork you have on your desk, rather than relationships and real learning in the classroom, it makes it hard to stay focused, to remain calm.

What do you think? Is selfish work miserable?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Selfish Work

  1. I think I love you. You are an A+ educator. Your students are so lucky to have a teacher who teaches with her heart and mind AND who so deeply understands how to meet their needs. Those who are making the senseless and insulting decisions about your job are tyrants who could be enlightened by spending a few days in your classroom.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words!!! I agree that the people who make the decisions should spend a lot more time in classrooms and in schools. I think it would really change their minds to see the results of their decisions.

  2. Bonnie Schwertner

    You are saying the same thing we say all the time. I love teaching kids, but the 3-ring-circus is exhausting. Why do those who don’t really know education get to make the rules?

    • Thanks so much for commenting on the post. I’ve heard it argued more than once that in order to see significant change, we need more educators in policy making positions. Perhaps when more teachers can make the rules, the rules will make much more sense.

  3. Mickey

    I can’t think of anything more true. Well said!

  4. Gilberto Lobo

    DANA:
    COMO SIEMPRE DESCRIBES LAS COSAS DE UNA MANERA MUY CLARA. CREO QUE COMO PROFESIONALES DEBEMOS HACER LO QUE CREAMOS ES MAS CONVENIENTE PARA LOS ESTUDIANTES Y MANDAR POR UN TUBO LAS COSAS ESTUPIDAS QUE NOS PIDEN LOS DE ARRIBA ( QUE POR CIERTO DEBERIAN DE BAJARSE A VER LA REALIDAD DE LAS NECESIDADES DE NUESTROS ESTUDIANTES).

    TU ERES UNA EXCELENTE MAESTRA Y SER HUMANO. HAZ LO QUE TU CONSCIENCIA DE PROFESIONAL TE DICTE Y VERAS QUE TODO SALDRA BIEN, PUES ESTAS HACIENDO TU TRABAJO DE MANERA HUMANA EN FAVOR DE LOS ESTUDIANTES.

    CUIDATE Y SALUDOS A TUS TRES MOSQUETEROS
    GILBERTO

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