A veteran kindergarten teacher’s heartbreaking resignation letter reflects a growing frustration among teachers over a nationwide education mandate known as Common Core.
“I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve,” Susan Sluyter wrote in a resignation letter published by The Washington Post.
In the letter, Sluyter lamented that students are now subjected to more tests than ever before in her 25 years of teaching, in addition to excessively difficult new academic demands. She writes:
I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.
A large part of Sluyter’s frustration stems from national education standards known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) created in 2009. Adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia, Common Core is a set of high-quality maths and English language arts/literacy (ELA) learning goals consistent across all states for kindergarten through 12th grade.
The theory behind Common Core is that kids from different parts of the U.S. should have the same goals.
But the one-size-fits-all approach to education has been criticised by teachers and parents.
National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel recently posted an open letter on the NEA website saying many states had “completely botched” Common Core because they hadn’t consulted with teachers about how to implement it.
“Imagine that: The very people expected to deliver universal access to high quality standards with high quality instruction have not had the opportunity to share their expertise and advice about how to make CCSS implementation work for all students, educators, and parents,” Van Roekel wrote.
Massachusetts, where Sluyter taught, has adopted new state curriculum frameworks aligned with the Common Core. Sluyter said her position came to rely more on data collection than teaching, writing:
When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterised the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.
In addition to her published resignation letter, Sluyter has written a more extensive account listing issues she claims are negatively impacting public school classrooms as a result of new federal and state educational requirements. Her claims include:
- Increased kindergarten assessments requiring teachers to leave the classroom.
- Challenging literacy goals for kindergarteners, such as forming persuasive arguments from stories and giving examples in the text, which suck the joy out of reading.
- Increasing academics in early childhood classrooms in place of playtime.
- A teacher assessment system requiring teachers to document their success, which is time-consuming and involves arbitrary ratings.
- Adoption of a new maths curriculum more aligned with national standards, requiring many hours of additional teacher training although teachers are sceptical whether the new curriculum is an improvement over the previous one.
While Sluyter is certainly not alone in her concerns, there are some people who say universal standards for American schoolkids are not necessarily a terrible goal.
“We do need to have strong national standards because a child in Mississippi or Texas or Colorado or Massachusetts should all be taught to the same high standards,” Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), told Business Insider. “There shouldn’t be high standards in one set of states and low standards in another set of states.”
But schools have had mixed success with implementing the new standards, Toner said.
“I think some districts have a well thought-out plan for assessments and they are using it appropriately, and they’re providing teachers with time to actually review the results and make adjustments to their teaching,” Toner said. “And other districts, they’re not. They’re just piling things on. So in addition to assessments and the new evaluation system and teachers learning how to teach to the Common Core — excuse me, to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks — very well, they’re spending in some places probably more time testing than they are actually teaching.”
The schools that are “piling things on” may lose veteran teachers, like Sluyter. Here is the full resignation letter Sluyter wrote and sent in February:
I am writing today to let you know that I am resigning my position as PreK and Kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools. It is with deep sadness that I have reached this decision, as I have loved my job, my school community, and the families and amazing and dedicated faculty I have been connected with throughout the district for the past eighteen years. I have always seen myself as a public school teacher, and fully intended to work until retirement in the public school system. Further, I am the product of public schools, and my son attended Cambridge Public Schools from PreK through Grade 12. I am and always have been a firm believer in quality public education.
In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children. I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced. I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them. Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of Kindergarten and PreK. I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviours and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognise many of these behaviours as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!” I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above. Each year there are more. Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best — and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.
I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same: to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom. I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity. I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away. I felt anger rise inside me. I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly. I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.
It is with deep love and a broken heart that I write this letter.
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