Ellie Rubenstein, a fourth grade teacher at a high performing suburban Chicago school speaks up about how standardization is hurting kids.
When educators in low income urban schools resign due to frustration with the direction of public education, their concerns are usually brushed aside by critics who say those teachers simply don't want to work hard and don't want what's best for their students—kids who are generally not performing well on state tests. Can the same be said when teachers working in well-off surburban schools—schools where students knock it out of the park on standardized tests—resign and cite the same issues?
Last week Ellie Rubenstein, a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in the well-heeled Chicago suburb of Highland Park was told she was being transferred to another school because she was contributing to a negative environment on campus. Instead of accepting the transfer, Rubenstein tendered her resignation through a 10-minute YouTube manifesto which explains her decision to leave the teaching profession.
Like many other concerned educators, Rubenstein decries the current trend toward "uniformity and conformity" and says that raising standardized test scores "is now the only goal" of public education. As a results, says Rubenstein, "the creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated."
Rubenstein, who came to teaching as a second career describes how field trips, projects, and recess have been cut in favor of skill and drill assignments and testing. And although employees from all professions are "happiest when given autonomy," Rubenstein also says that's no longer what's happening for teachers. Teachers are routinely disrespected, she says, and now even tenured educators can lose their jobs if their students are too loud in the halls or if they take more time to teach their students a particular concept.
As far as contributing to a negative environment, Rubenstein says she simply refuses to be "a yes man" and she speaks up when there's a decision being made that negatively affects her students. She gets choked up at the 8:20 mark when she says "I thought I would be a teacher for the rest of my life, but I no longer feel I'm doing anything meaningful," she says, "I'm being forced to function as a cog in a wheel."
District 112 superintendent, Dr. David L. Behlow, responded (PDF) to Rubenstein's resignation, saying that it "crossed the line and was entirely unprofessional," and was "factually incorrect." Behlow acknowledges that being a teacher is incredibly difficult since "Federal and state mandates for testing and curriculum have expanded, and the bar for student achievement has been raised." On top of that, says Behlow, "Teachers are responsible for ensuring their students grow academically, socially, and emotionally, have good character traits, make sound nutritional choices, and so much more, and to do it all in a way that engages children and instills a love of learning." Unsurprisingly, he doesn't agree that the emphasis on test scores is killing creativity in the classroom. "We expect our teachers to develop their own unique style, and we celebrate teaching excellence," says Behlow.
So in other words, Rubenstein, who eagerly worked 10-hour days and took the initiative to seek out authentic, creative lessons and projects, just couldn't meet the high bar being set, and didn't know how to develop her own magical teaching style. While some may agree with Behlow that Rubenstein shouldn't have posted her concerns online, with over 365,000 views, her remarks have clearly struck a chord.
Scroll through the hundreds of comments on the video's YouTube page and you'll see parents, teachers, and students commending Rubenstein for speaking up. As commenter Beth Daly noted, "You say you thought you'd be a teacher for the rest of your life. With this video, you're teaching a lesson you'd never planned for and your class size just grew exponentially!" As for the education administrators and policy makers, they can keep trying to brush concerns about the current direction of public education under the rug, but if much-loved educators like Rubenstein are walking out the door, wouldn't it be wise to listen?
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