Kenneth Bernstein, Eleanor Roosevelt High School

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.

Ken

Kenneth Bernstein will be accepting a buyout this year.

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.

Twenty-two years ago Kenneth Goodman warned:

“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.

7 Responses to “Kenneth Bernstein, Eleanor Roosevelt High School”

  1. Dave Sheppard 20. Apr, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Ken – We taught together at Kettering MS back in the 90′s. I too approached teaching as a calling, to guide the students from where they were in their studies, along the road they chose as they aged. I felt, like you, that this was important and serious work, and that we were serving the students, and not the other way around.

    I learned that dedicated teachers could do wondrous things, but without more support from the system, better outcomes for students always seemed to come from longer hours and greater efforts from the most dedicated teachers – who make it by on salaries much less than many could make in other professions.

    You lasted much longer than I did (only 6 years for me), but from reading some of your postings, I feel a loss that we did not talk much more when we worked together.

    Best wishes in whatever your future endeavors are … there needs to be more teachers like you who take seriously both the day to day as well as the big picture of what’s going on at the school, in the community, in the school system, and beyond. I hope more follow your example.

    TTFN, Dave Sheppard
    KMS 1992-1998

    • Ken Bernstein 20. Apr, 2012 at 2:21 am #

      Hi Dave! Yes, I remember you.

      I am still in touch with some people from Kettering.

      Lynura Jones, who was on my yearbook staff in 97-98, now teaches tech ed at Eleanor Roosevelt.

      I periodically have contact with Melissa, who is now a principal in Howard County. When I was at the Washington Post for my Agnes Meyer Award in 2010, she was there because one of her teachers was also being honored.

      And i am still in contact with Doc.

      Feel free to reach out. You can contact me through twitter or at Daily Kos.

      Be well.

  2. Jane 22. Apr, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    Hi kenneth , I hope you miss teaching after your break. Teachers that care so much are important to students and parents.

    thank you for caring

    • Ken Bernstein 22. Apr, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      each day I look at my students and realize that I may be coming to the end of doing something I really love.

      I am already exploring teaching in different settings, and on Tuesday 4/24 will teach a sample lesson at a very interesting school and see if it might be a good fit (I have professional acquaintances who work there).

      But I am also exploring other ways of being productive for others in society that would not have me in the classroom after this year. As the intro note above remarks, my next steps are not determined.

  3. simone 22. Apr, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    I taught for 33 plus years (mostly high school English and Journalism) and also viewed it as a calling. Your comments are similar to what I would say about my beloved profession. It’s hard for me to recommend teaching to others in today’s hostile atmosphere….plus all the emphasis on testing is such a downer.

    What’s most discouraging is the low morale I hear about in Philadelphia and NYC, where so many teachers and children are struggling in a violent, negative atmosphere. One out of four teachers in Philly were assaulted, according to recent expose done by Philadelphia Inquirer. In NYC, I hear about ineffective administrators all the time. Why would anyone want to work in that atmosphere!

    I wish you well in your future endeavors.

  4. Ken Bernstein 22. Apr, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Thank you for your kind remarks.

    Among the silliness of what we do on testing is the story that broke about the question on the pineapple and the hare that was in fact nonsensical. Even worse is to find that the vendor, paid big money to develop test items, had used the question in several other states. Now, were one of our students to submit the same paper to several different courses, methinks s/he would suffer some consequences, eh?

  5. John Bennett 02. May, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Dan -

    Truly a sad but unfortunately predictable situation faced by you and so many really caring and well-qualified educators. If all teachers had the same commitment to optimizing your impact on students (and many do, fortunately), I would like to think that education would not be in the situation it is today.

    I often reflect back to my K-12 education in a small town school with a large rural portion of the student body. It’s always possible that my parents and I along with engaged community members were naive with regard to the education we faced but I really cannot believe we / they were. I do know this: my parents expected me to respect the school, its teachers, and everyone involved facilitating my education; there was a pretty consistent expectation that any problems that arose were MY causing.

    My most memorable teacher, Mr. Strein, was the head of the high school math department. Math was my passion subject and played an important role throughout my engineering and engineering education careers. It was Mr. Strein who felt compelled to seek me out at graduation – to APOLOGIZE for not being able to challenge me and a few of my classmates! He was scrambling, learning essentially with us.

    Again, he and lots of teachers then as well as now felt / feel the responsibility to facilitate effective learning. It is not only sad but also tragic the way the mandates are driving away the teachers such as yourself. Though I was able to facilitate my university classes without restrictions or mandates, I nevertheless was not inundated with requests for feedback on concerns about learning.

    All the best to you as your career takes a different path …

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