Susan Sluyter has been a teacher for more than two decades. One can imagine that she’s seen and adjusted to her fair share of change within the educational system during her 25 years in the field, but the more recent shift in requirements was so dramatic that she resigned last month.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
“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,” Sluyterwrote in her resignation letter to the Cambridge Public School District in Massachusetts in February.
The kindergarten and pre-K teacher said she’s watched her job requirements “[swing] 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.”
As a teacher, requirements for Sluyter included attending classes and workshops that filled her in on new content for her students, which she wrote were like the academic demands for a first- or second-grade student. In addition, she wrote that she has needed to schedule more meetings to address the “extreme behaviors” of her students, which she believed were the result of them not being able to fully comprehend the content.
“I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, ‘I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!’ Sluyter’s resignation read.
“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,” she continued.
Where did these changes start? Sluyter thinks with No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
“Over the years I’ve seen this climate of data fascination seep into our schools and slowly change the ability for educators to teach creatively and respond to children’s social and emotional needs,” Sluyter wrote to the Post.
It started with upper grades and trickled down eventually into as early as pre-K. She wrote that it started with a “push for an overload of literacy” and later more standardized testing was added.
“We are now expected to build in more math instruction time each day, with ‘math blocks’ to mirror our ‘literacy blocks.’ This is kindergarten and pre-K. These are 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. Children this age do not learn well though blocks of single subject academics,” Sluyter wrote. “We help them learn best when play is integrated with academics and theme-driven projects extend over time, weaving academics throughout.”
Sluyter detailed further demands placed on teachers and children, saying that they can lead to many children starting “feel incompetent and frustrated.”
She blasted moves to cut play out of pre-K and kindergarten education.
“Play is essential to healthy development and deep foundational learning at the kindergarten level,” she wrote.
Sluyter also takes issue with teachers having to learn a plethora of new tools and techniques to make sure their students can meet the demands upon them. And then there’s the accountability system being forced upon some teachers.
“Now, I believe there needs to be a system of accountability for teachers and administrators, but I have seen no evidence that this method (though it takes an enormous amount of teachers’ time to fulfill the requirements) would actually show anything about the quality of a teacher’s work within the classroom and with the children,” she added.
Sluyter argued that teachers being brought out of the classroom not only negatively impacts student education, but causes students to act out.
“Teachers everywhere are seeing an increase in behavior problems that make classrooms and schools feel less safe, and learning less able to take place. Children are screaming out for help,” Sluyter wrote. “They are under too much pressure and it is just no longer possible to meet the social and emotional needs of our youngest children. They are suffering because of this.”