Diana McKay is a currently teaching, Utah public school teacher who wrote this poem, “I Became a Teacher– Why?” and the essay “Saturday Musings” below, and also the statement on Common Core below that.
She said, “This poem sums up what it is that we want for our educated children and why I went into education –and why I never would in today’s climate. It is frightening to look at how political maneuvering can have a subversive intent that is not immediately apparent”.
I Became a Teacher. Why?
I became a teacher
to lead children along the journey of learning
so they might journey to where the love of learning leads.
I became a teacher
to introduce children to the world of awesome art
so they might create art to awe the world.
I became a teacher
to ensure children recognize and cherish nature’s gifts
so they might ensure nature’s gifts are preserved to cherish.
I became a teacher to encourage children to dream so they might find encouraging dreams to follow.
I became a teacher to open children’s minds to all that is possible so they might put their open minds to making the impossible, possible.
I became a teacher to show children how to find peace in the world around them
so they might bring peace to the world.
I became a teacher to inspire these future citizens of our country to have a vision
so they might envision a greater future for our country.
I became a teacher to model putting one’s efforts toward that which is greater than one’s self
so that my students might find the greatness within themselves.
This why I can no longer be a teacher. I can no longer do what I went
into teaching to do.
by Diana McKay
A Letter to my mother-who believed I could have been more.
I just called you, wanting you to tell me that it is acceptable, no, justifiable, to still be in my pajamas at almost noon, escaping in novels, or just musing, thereby avoiding the endless and monumental pile of test papers waiting to be scored. I wanted you to tell me, that after almost forty years of nights, weekends, spent on lesson plans, on time consuming preparations and collections for science experiments or social studies lessons, on wasted hours providing so called “instructional feedback” that I deserve a break. I needed you to tell me that I am entitled to enjoy a Saturday. You didn’t answer. But, you would have scolded me again reminding me that I was magna cum laude, Phi Beta
Kappa, for hell’s sake, I could have been a doctor, lawyer, chief executive officer and I’d
retort, “They make only money, I make a difference.”
I often wonder was a “difference” worth it?
Then, once in a decade, a letter arrives at the school address, with “please forward to” in front of my name. No need to “forward to” me, I’m still here. The letter opens with, “You may not remember me, but I was in your 2nd grade class in 1988 and I became a teacher because of the way you taught,” or “ I just wanted to thank you for making me believe in myself,” and a flood of emotion washes over me. Is it joy in knowing I did indeed make a little difference or is it relief that my life was not totally wasted in hours of test grading? But, then it hits me with astounding clarity. It is not the lessons, the science experiments, the hours spent writing “constructive” feedback on papers or comments on report cards that make a difference. It is the moments spent in “real” time, the “teachable” moment, guiding students toward something far more vital and ephemeral. It is the discovery that we are only here in this world, this universe, to learn and grow into whomever we are meant or choose to be, and we’re here for such a short time.
So in these last hours of a lifetime career, I will wave a white flag and surrender the minutia of unnecessary skill “kill” drills.
I’ll surrender soul-sucking data delirium, and follow my 1969 musings about my future in education. I’ll embrace this quote by John Holt as I did in those youthful years when choosing to become a teacher.
“Children do poorly in school because they’re bored with the meaningless work . . . scared of being punished or humiliated . . . In essence I’d realized, from observing and teaching, that school is a place where children learn to be stupid!” – John Holt
Holt explains why in these last ten years I am shockingly aware of the seeming decline of intellect. In the effort to “train” students to perform better in world competition for the right answers on tests, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 has failed to raise test scores, failed to lower drop out rates, failed to increase literacy rates and failed to increase rates of college graduation. It has only been successful in “failure”. Failure is the theme, the torch, the stick, and the misnomer given to the public schools. Feed on failure, focus on failure, hold failure foremost, and what you get is failure. Is it the schools or the teachers’ failure or is it a failure of leadership?
It is a fact, as the proportion of children in poverty rises, the scores for US schools drop. In November 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau reported more than 16% of the U.S. population lived in poverty, including 22% of all people under age 18, approximately 13 million children. The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty is approaching 1960s levels that led to the national War on Poverty. The war on poverty has been replaced with a war on public education scapegoating teachers who devote their
lives to educating our youth, despite the rhetoric.
Maybe next year will be my last.
I’ll be a casualty of that war, but, before I go I may just finally teach children “to fish” so that they will always be able to satisfy their hunger for information. Maybe I’ll create “seekers of knowledge” and guide them in their self selected quests to quench their curiosity. I will promote passion. I will not police production, or sort students by standardized scores, and waste gifted minds with endless mind numbing repetition so that “no child is left behind”. Next year, I will not bow to the tyranny of parent terrorists whose agenda is to destroy at least one teacher each year to appease their guilt over not really wanting to participate in educating their own child. I will not become dispirited by legislators abusing their political right to blame educators for their own failure in economic policy to reduce poverty. I will not surrender to the district dictates to demonstrate mastery of core skills under the NCLB Act which demoralizes both the student and me, with the threat of being doomed to failure if we don’t continually collect data as mandated, and to master the skills on the testing timeline. I think next year I will actually choose to “fail” to do what I am accused of failing to do and instead I’ll make a difference. But first, I’ll have to quit musing and get busy. I still have all those tests to score.
Statement by Diana McKay on Common Core:
My position is that the Common Core Standards left to teachers to teach is not the problem.
The problem is multifaceted. The data addiction and dictates derived from research using easily measured variables in schools impacted from poverty and applied to all settings is causing no child to be “left ahead”.
Overzealous testing of easily measured objectives using multiple choice answers and the omission of any untestable processes that are essential, reduces education to training. The arts are therefore being lost, but it might be worse if the arts were to be tested.
Scapegoating teachers and reducing them to robots who follow scripted lessons “with fidelity” that are designed by publishing companies has killed the professionalism of talented teachers. Publishing companies are profiting most from the Common Core– one set of texts fit all–no updates needed. Profiteers selling data system management has caused spread sheets to become more important than the content of instruction.
The grading of schools is a precursor to justifying voucher systems to line the pockets of richly connected individuals who can tap the taxpayers for private school buildings, etc. that aren’t needed, and which contribute to a caste system as children are prevented from mixing with ethnically or economically different peers.
This is my position. Politicians and corporations have no business in education and school districts
should not use taxpayers’ money to support the goals of business.
Thank you, Diana McKay.