Focus on testing over student need drives veteran teacher out of the public school classroom
To say that Wanda Lee is a seasoned educator would be an understatement.
The 43-year teacher has taught school all her adult life. The bulk of her career – 38 years – was spent in public school classrooms in South Central Mississippi and her mission as a teacher is simple. It has always been to meet the needs of her students. Over the course of her career in the public school classroom that mission became more difficult.
“I’ve seen so many things come and go,” she said, “and the saddest part about all of it is that we’ve quit thinking about the child. We’ve become focused on testing and scores. We are so under the gun as far as performance that we’ve quit thinking about the child’s needs.”
Wanda recently left the public school classroom along with several of her colleagues because of the intense pressure from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).
“The state was in our classroom nearly every day,” she said.
Wanda’s frustration only grew as she was cited by MDE for giving her children in her classroom a math problem to work when department staff deemed the instruction time as reading time.
“They told me morning was not math time,” she said. “I’m not a cookie-cutter teacher. I do what works for the child because every child is different, and it was hard having them in my classroom telling me how to teach.”
Wanda recognized the value of adapting teaching styles but also recognized the lack of confidence MDE placed in her as a professional.
“I felt intimidated in my own classroom,” she said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of being in the classroom.”
As MDE made more frequent visits to the school, Wanda said it became a production for the visitors.
“When we would find out they were coming, we knew that we had to pull out the dog and pony show,” she said. “Our principal also knew it but asked us to do what they were looking for and then when they would leave, we could go back and teach the standards the way we knew how. By the time the school year was ending my friend teaching across the hall, and I had had enough. We were not going to let someone come in and tell us how to teach.”
Wanda’s sentiments were echoed among her colleagues.
“Teachers are not treated as professionals,” she said.
Wanda noted that she believes in using testing for progress monitoring.
“But the state test is not differentiated for students,” she said. “We’ve quit thinking about the child, and everything is centered around a score.”
Last year Wanda made the decision to move to a private school – Simpson Academy in Magee.
“It’s been great,” she said. “The principal, when he hired me, told me he knew I knew how to teach, and he was going to stay out of my way and let me teach. That’s the best thing a teacher can hear. He comes in to visit my classroom regularly, but it’s to observe. There is no pressure to perform for the state department. Not one day have I dreaded going to work this year.”
Wanda gave up a nine-minute drive to work for a 30-minute commute to her new school and said she would drive twice as far.
“The kids and teachers are not under the immense pressure,” she said, “and that makes everyone happier. Learning has become fun again and my students are not anxious or stressed about a test, and they are on track. They are learning everything they need to learn. Testing ruins our students. In this new environment, testing is not the number one focus and students are flourishing because of that.”
Wanda’s biggest advice for education leaders in the state?
“Let the teacher teach,” she said emphatically. “The state department should not be involved in our classrooms telling us how to teach.”