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Monday, October 29, 2012

Teacher Kris Nielsen Says, "I Quit"

Letter from disgusted teacher: ‘I quit’

The resignation letter below was written by teacher Kris L. Nielsen of Monroe, N.C. and sent to Union County Public Schools. Why is Nielsen quitting right now? “Because…I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible,” and “I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests,” and more. Read the whole letter, which was first published by  United Opt Out National.
Kris L. Nielsen
Monroe, NC 28110
Union County Public Schools
Human Resources Department
400 North Church Street
Monroe, NC 28112
October 25, 2012
To All it May Concern:
I’m doing something I thought I would never do—something that will make me a statistic and a caricature of the times. Some will support me, some will shake their heads and smirk condescendingly—and others will try to convince me that I’m part of the problem. Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t think so. All I know is that I’ve hit a wall, and in order to preserve my sanity, my family, and the forward movement of our lives, I have no other choice.
Before I go too much into my choice, I must say that I have the advantages and disadvantages of differentiated experience under my belt. I have seen the other side, where the grass was greener, and I unknowingly jumped the fence to where the foliage is either so tangled and dense that I can’t make sense of it, or the grass is wilted and dying (with no true custodian of its health). Are you lost? I’m talking about public K-12 education in North Carolina. I’m talking about my history as a successful teacher and leader in two states before moving here out of desperation.
In New Mexico, I led a team of underpaid teachers who were passionate about their jobs and who did amazing things. We were happy because our students were well-behaved, our community was supportive, and our jobs afforded us the luxuries of time, respect, and visionary leadership. Our district was huge, but we got things done because we were a team. I moved to Oregon because I was offered a fantastic job with a higher salary, a great math program, and superior benefits for my family. Again, I was given the autonomy I dreamed of, and I used it to find new and risky ways to introduce technology into the math curriculum. My peers looked forward to learning from me, the community gave me a lot of money to get my projects off the ground, and my students were amazing.
Then, the bottom fell out. I don’t know who to blame for the budget crisis in Oregon, but I know it decimated the educational coffers. I lost my job only due to my lack of seniority. I was devastated. My students and their parents were angry and sad. I told myself I would hang in there, find a temporary job, and wait for the recall. Neither the temporary job nor the recall happened. I tried very hard to keep my family in Oregon—applying for jobs in every district, college, private school, and even Toys R Us. Nothing happened after over 300 applications and 2 interviews.
The Internet told me that the West Coast was not hiring teachers anymore, but the East Coast was the go-to place. Charlotte, North Carolina couldn’t keep up with the demand! I applied with three schools, got three phone interviews, and was even hired over the phone. My very supportive and adventurous family and I packed quickly and moved across the country, just so I could keep teaching.
I had come from two very successful and fun teaching jobs to a new state where everything was different. During my orientation, I noticed immediately that these people weren’t happy to see us; they were much more interested in making sure we knew their rules. It was a one-hour lecture about what happens when teachers mess up. I had a bad feeling about teaching here from the start; but, we were here and we had to make the best of it.
Union County seemed to be the answer to all of my problems. The rumors and the press made it sound like UCPS was the place to be progressive, risky, and happy. So I transferred from CMS to UCPS. They made me feel more welcome, but it was still a mistake to come here.
Let me cut to the chase: I quit. I am resigning my position as a teacher in the state of North Carolina—permanently. I am quitting without notice (taking advantage of the “at will” employment policies of this state). I am quitting without remorse and without second thoughts. I quit. I quit. I quit!
I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.
I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.
I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.
I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC [Professional Learning Community] meetings or whatever. I’ve seen successful PLC development. It doesn’t look like this.
I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next. I’m far enough behind in my own work.
I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.
I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode. Misery loves company, but I will not be that company.
I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important. I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the EXPLORE test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices.
I totally object and refuse to have my performance as an educator rely on “Standard 6.” It is unfair, biased, and does not reflect anything about the teaching practices of proven educators.
I refuse to hear again that it’s more important that I serve as a test administrator than a leader of my peers.
I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners. There are other ways. It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.
I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.
I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation. I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders. And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.
I refuse to watch my district’s leadership tell us about the bad news and horrific changes coming towards us, then watch them shrug incompetently, and then tell us to work harder.
I refuse to listen to our highly regarded superintendent telling us that the charter school movement is at our doorstep (with a soon-to-be-elected governor in full support) and tell us not to worry about it, because we are applying for a grant from Race to the Top. There is no consistency here; there is no leadership here.
I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG [end of grade] tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college.
I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assesstheir skills.
I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.
I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them. I haven’t seen real professional development in either district since I got here. The development sessions I have seen are sloppy, shallow, and have no real means of evaluation or accountability.
I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness.
Finally, I’m tired of watching parents being tricked into believing that their children are being prepared for the complex world ahead, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures.
I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads in preparation for the EOG tests and the new MSLs—neither of which are consequential to their future needs. As a parent of a high school student in Union County, I’m dismayed at the education that my child receives, as her teachers frantically prepare her for more tests. My toddler will not attend a North Carolina public school. I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.
I quit because I’m tired [of] being part of the problem. It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good. Farewell.
CC: Dr. Mary Ellis
Dr. June Atkinson

2:45 PM EDT

Valerie, please do something about the comments section. I want to respond to this entry but the print is so teeny-tiny that I can hardly see it. Please let the tech people know. Thanks.

3:58 PM EDT


If you're using a PC, try zooming by holding the Ctrl key and scrolling up using the mouse dial. It will enlarge everything on the page.

4:10 PM EDT

Thank you. I do have a PC. I followed your directions, which enlarged everything except the print when I write a comment (such as this one). I'll have to ask a teenager to help me.

1:41 PM EDT

A lot of this is happening because there is a huge glut of teachers.

In my home town there are several colleges that spit out dozens if not hundreds of freshly minted certified teachers each year. Yet there are very few positions for those teachers to occupy.

Some move away to other areas. While those areas sometimes have more job openings they also have teacher-prep programs and churn out their own graduates.

The result was obvious at least a decade ago. Schools treat teachers like crap BECAUSE THEY CAN. 

11:24 AM EDT

More people who feel as this teacher does should follow her example. Education has changed, people who do not like and or support the changes need to leave the profession. You will only drive yourself crazy and won't be of any benefit to today's students if you stay when you are so unhappy.

9:44 AM EDT

Ms. Nielsen,

As a parent I would like to thank you for your honesty. In the short term your departure will affect your students but they are being subjected to relentless tests and an insane system that is not really meeting their needs. It is sad that both presidential candidates hold essentially the same education policy. I think voices like yours are important so please keep speaking up because the solution will not come from above but from people like you and me.

8:28 AM EDT

Bravo Mrs. Nielsen! She has said what all of us want to say and she has done what most of us want to do but financially can't. I've worked in DC Public Schools for 10 years now. I've never seen things worse--and that is saying a lot considering things were a mess when I started teaching.

Privatizing public education is NOT working--is anybody paying attention? Look at the data. The reforms have been a miserable failure and all they have done is widen the achievement gap, exhaust teachers, students and principals and create an environment that I used to say is toxic but now it is downright deadly because is saps all the creative energy from teachers and students. We have NOT seen test scores rise significantly. We've seen a massive cheating scandal not fully investigated. We "observe" our teachers to death with no real improvement in test scores and no correlation between good observation scores and test scores. Most "highly effective" teachers are in the more affluent areas of the city. Hello???? Is everyone in charge stuck on stupid????

The problem in our public education--and in our country really--is poverty. As we watch the number of children in poverty rise in this country we see problems rise in our educational system. Any and all research proves this beyond a doubt and the reformers continue to ignore the data.

I watch excellent teachers--both veteran and promising young new teachers--flee education every year. Not that they can't hack it but that they are just tired and don't need the bs.

When will we start facing the real problems in public education: poverty and poor parenting. Maybe when we can't get anyone to go into teaching then perhaps it will get better.

8:45 AM EDT

"When will we start facing the real problems in public education: poverty and poor parenting"

That's like saying that the real problems in civil engineering are unstable soil and bad weather. The weather certainly played a part in the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but you'll notice that it hasn't happened since. Why? Because in other professions the thinkers study the problem, devise solutions, and novices learn these solutions as part of their routine training. "Professional Development", in other professions, actually is.

In education, the thinkers -- that is to say education school professors as well as many of the self-proclaimed "master educators" to whom Valerie gives the bullhorn -- are dumber than a steaming pile of horse dung. In consequence, teachers have absolutely NO MEANINGFUL TRAINING before they enter the classroom. How can anyone in their right mind expect optimal results? 

11:28 AM EDT

I'm dismayed that a science teacher would equate two uncontrollable variables - soil and weather - with two controllable variables - poverty and parenting skills.

12:11 PM EDT

"poverty and parenting skills"

These are not controllable either, certainly not by the education world.

People have been working on getting rid of poverty for centuries. Has it worked? I suppose we could do something about the parenting thing if we were willing to go the North Korea route, but then mediocre education would seem the more pleasant choice.

The education world needs to focus on what IT can change and not on what can only be changed through revolution or dictatorship. This, it stubbornly REFUSES to do. Look at the so-called math wars. How many people are there out there who oppose Everyday Math -- including parents and various science and math professionals -- and yet the ed world stubbornly clings to crap ideas? Why is this?

6:30 AM EDT

She sounds like a tree hugger that got tired of East Coast structure. Privatize schools and run it like a business. Make them compete for our dollars. The gov spends so much on public education and yet things are still the same or worse.

7:49 AM EDT

Why even fund education? Why should you or me pay to educate someone else's children?

8:06 AM EDT

Yea, screw those poor folk's children! It's ttheir own fault their parents wouldn't be wealthy enough to afford privatized education. It's not like they get anything out of public education except for learning how to be poor and dependent, just like their parents. So take it away from them! What good has a public education ever done for anyone? It's not like we've ever had anyone truly notable in our country go on to do wonderful or amazing things for humanity. Nope, all of them, every single scientist, engineer, politician, actor, etc who has done anything worth noticing, went to private schools, and did not benefit from the public education provided by the states of this Union, which only serve to leech money which could otherwise flow to the private sector to buy more stuff, stuff, stuff!

10:30 AM EDT

In case you haven't noticed, school systems are businesses - publicly funded businesses. It's supremely ironic that the one thing every politician crows about is the importance of education, and that one of the first things on the chopping block when it comes to budget cuts is funding for education. Couple that with the obsessive desire to "teach-to-the-test," regarldess of the validity of the test, and, not surprisingly, you wind up wih a disfunctional system.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Just as an observation, I believe Kris Nielsen is a "he" and a "Mr.". And I say "bravo" to him!