Kenneth Bernstein is a veteran Maryland teacher. He maintains an active presence on Twitter and Daily Kos, and has contributed in the past to The Huffington Post. His next teaching steps are not yet determined.
I chose to teach so I could make a difference. When I came to teaching in my late 40s, America’s schools were already under siege, but I believed then and I believe now that dedicated teachers — if given the necessary support — could provide an exciting and effective learning environment for our young people, better preparing them to pursue their dreams and thereby enrich us all. I also believed that by modeling being a lifelong learner I could empower my students to take control of their own learning as a necessary step toward taking control of their lives.
I also became a teacher because of what other teachers had done for me. Those wonderful human beings provided the support a troubled young man from an exceedingly dysfunctional family needed to help him sort through the difficulties of living.
They made a difference for me, and I felt an obligation to try to do the same for others.
I like to think I have, in my 13 years of teaching high school history and social studies (and 17 years of teaching overall), both Advanced Placement and regular classes. It has been satisfying to see eyes light up and to have students become impassioned about their studies, going far beyond the course syllabus and required readings.
I believe that my teaching is a political act; it’s my attempt to empower those students who come through my classroom, empower them to move off the sidelines and become engaged, however they see fit and on whichever sides of issues they choose.
“There are strong pressures today to dehumanize, to depersonalize, to industrialize our schools. In the name of cost effectiveness, of efficiency, of system, of accountability, of minimal competency, of a return to the basics, schools are being turned into sterile, hostile institutions at war with the young people they are intended to serve. As teachers we hereby declare ourselves to be in opposition to the industrialization of our schools. We pledge ourselves to become advocates on behalf of our students.”
Friends, it’s worse today. Our voices are not valued, our insights and experience are dismissed, and our ability to teach is increasingly restricted by testing and paperwork.
Teachers need to be able to meet the needs of their individual students. Instead, we are now expected to adhere to rigid ‘pacing guides’ and stay on a fixed ‘cover the curriculum’ schedule.
Thus, I have reluctantly decided to take a buyout and retire from my current position. I have not totally abandoned the idea of continuing in a classroom — I am exploring options outside of public schools in Maryland, but at my age (soon to be 66) I recognize that many schools may be reluctant to hire me, despite the fact that I do not lack the energy or enthusiasm to continue to be an effective teacher for a number of years.
When senior teachers like me depart, their school systems will be able to afford to replace each of us with two brand new teachers. But what is the loss to a school community when the senior teachers are no longer there to provide a sense of continuity in the school community? Who will then mentor the younger teachers, helping them get through the inevitable times of difficulty we all encounter?
I have loved being a teacher. But right now I simply cannot continue on that path.