I Dared to Teach

I received the following story from a teacher who wanted to share the ridiculous things that are going on with her/his evaluation process, but was worried about retribution from her/his administration. Sadly, these kinds of stories are becoming all too common as the pressures of the accountability era exert tremendous stress on all involved, as I've shared previously here. And the illogic and inconsistencies of our current evaluation systems for teachers are creating situations that truly defy credibility.


It's time to call this kind of behavior what it is: bullying. Plain and simple.


And it's beyond time to put a stop to these invalid, unreliable, and unprofessional methods of evaluating our practice as teachers, and let teachers teach.


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Within a week after my observation, I was summoned to my post-evaluation conference.  

During that meeting I was told that I was being moved from Track II (reserved for effective teachers) to Track III (reserved for teachers deemed to be ineffective and in need of help).

What happened on the day of my observation?  It was a glorious day of teaching and learning.

Students were actively engaged the entire class period.

What did students learn?  A lesson they will remember for the rest of their lives that was directly connected to the curriculum.

What did I do that was so wrong?

I dared to teach.

I used travel-sized tubes of toothpaste to teach students that their words matter so they need to think before they speak.

I tied it to curriculum through the use of reflective questions in which students citied claims and had to write clear statements to support said claims.

I tied it to curriculum by discussing with students the central idea or theme of the activity.


This is a lesson I have done with students almost yearly for over ten years. Call it a signature lesson that students write to me and say, “I’ll never forget that day in your class when we did the toothpaste activity.”

I had all of the wallpaper in my classroom. I had the behavioral expectations posted. I had my Seven Habits posters in multiple places. I had I CAN statements from the curriculum posted and made multiple references to them.

Because I dared to teach that lesson, I was accused of not teaching the curriculum. I was dressed down for daring to say, “The most important thing I have to teach you as your English teacher has nothing to do with nouns or verbs or adjectives or adverbs or even reading and writing. The most important thing I have to teach you is that your words have power and that they matter, so think before you speak.”

The powers that be didn’t want to hear when I told them that I did directly relate the lesson to the curriculum. I was informed that these are the days of accountability and that they just didn’t see the connection. Never mind that my students did.

Because I used toothpaste to teach a lesson, one of the observers thought he was in a science classroom. I had to inform the observer that I was teaching English in a classroom that had had multiple purposes over the year and that last year it had been used as a science classroom. I wonder if the science tables and chairs had him confused.

Because I dared to give students permission to use the word “stupid” in their answers on their reflection paper (I wrote as part of the directions, “You can tell me that this is the most stupid thing you have ever done in your entire academic career as long as you back it up”), I was accused of using in appropriate language with students. 

Because of what I dared to teach at the end of the class session, that saying “Sorry” doesn’t put everything back the way it was before, I was accused of stalling and inventing something at the end of my lesson to take the class to the end of the class period. While it is true that I added the last part of the lesson on, I deliberately planned to do so when I considered the lesson for this year’s students, and I taught the last part of the lesson in every class.

Because I dared to take class time to answer in detail students’ questions about the next day’s special activity, I was accused of stealing instructional time from students.  Never mind that some students were still finishing up their reflections. Never mind that students asked. Never mind that this would be my students’ first time participating in the activity and I thought providing information ahead of time would alleviate some confusion on the day of.

I was informed that I was being moved to Track III so that the administrator could determine my goals for the year. I went into the evaluation process in good faith. I had all of the required paperwork completed. I had identified my strengths and my weaknesses. I had identified goals I want to work on, goals related to increasing student test scores, improving my use of assessment, and increasing regular parent contact. I understood that goals were supposed to be determined collaboratively between teacher and administrator. I found out that is true only for some people.

Because I entered into the evaluation process in good faith and because I dared to teach the lesson I did, I am now considered to be inferior to my peers. After twenty-five years of teaching and thirty years of effective or highly effective job evaluations in the district, I am where I am. I have to submit detailed lesson plans every Monday before 8:00 AM. I now have to show in my lesson plans that which is assumed that my peers do. I have to detail everything I do, the time I attach to each activity, the standards each lesson addresses (no more than two I CAN statements for each class for each day--I have three preps a day, well, actually four because one of my classes requires a very different delivery of the same content than my other classes), where each lesson fits on what is called a depth of knowledge wheel to prove that I am taking students to higher level thinking responses, and my instructional strategies for each activity. 

I have to do all of this until I am told that I can stop. Who knows when that will be?

Because of this, I am afraid to ask questions to clarify exactly why I am in this situation and how I get out of it and when.  I fear retribution. I no longer trust a system that has been a part of my career for thirty years. 

Yet, if my career survives this, I will dare to go into the evaluation process in good faith next year and I will dare to teach the same lesson again.

I will cross my fingers and dare."

Write a comment

Comments: 24
  • #1

    Beverly (Sunday, 15 November 2015 14:26)

    Bullying is inexcusable and needs to stop! It is indicative of the promotion of incompetence to the point of actually putting people of this ilk in positions of power. How can this teacher remain at the top of his/her game in this type of hostile environment? Sadly, it continues as one excellent teacher after another "retires" or "seeks other employment." Why? I would be interested in where these attacked teachers fall on the pay scale........hmmmmmm?????

  • #2

    Mharris (Sunday, 15 November 2015)

    "The beatings will continue until morale improves".............

  • #3

    Linda (Sunday, 15 November 2015 15:07)

    I'm so sorry you have to go through all of this. I was forced out of my beloved position in June 2015. I hope you get throu all of this, my prayers are with you.

  • #4

    Mizdiva--anonymous (Sunday, 15 November 2015 15:16)

    So disturbing....it seems as if all they want you to do is follow the prompt and be creative BUT if you are too creative, you are NOT teaching! Scary stuff indeed!

  • #5

    Mary Lou (Sunday, 15 November 2015 15:41)

    I retired in 2001. I am glad to be out of the Ed Biz. I would not be able to keep my temper if I had to deal with this crap. !' It makes no sense. And I have a very hard the putting up with this level of stupidly!
    It is a big credit to your dedication to teaching that you are still there .

  • #6

    RuththeTruth (Sunday, 15 November 2015 15:44)

    I notice that this teacher is a veteran of 25 years. She has obviously proven that she can do the job. This is not happening to her because administrators think she is a bad teacher. They are targeting veteran teachers because we are expensive, and because we know enough to question them when they tell us to do something that is against the education code, or isn't good for the students. They will continue to harass her in subtle ways that undermine her self confidence without doing anything overtly. This is what they do. I wish I knew how to make it stop. Here is an article that tries to justify the bullying: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/12/01/kappan_stoelinga.html?tkn=LMSF2%2B%2B%2FpC0wVbc0Kw0Pefy0b6AKX2JVutdc&print=1#

  • #7

    A (Sunday, 15 November 2015 15:58)

    I have been teaching for almost 30 years. I have seen the "toothpaste" lesson as part of a training for Great Expectations, I think. (But I have been through so many, I honestly may have seen it somewhere else.) Your lesson was completely appropriate because "word choice" is so important in writing and speaking. Words are powerful. I think 6-Traits even address word choice in that way. I must say, as I get older, I hate evaluations and observations more and more. My anxiety over these is beyond ridiculous. I have had 5 different evaluators in 5 years. How am I supposed to put faith in what they say if they haven't spent time in my class. We used to have a principal in our rooms, just wandering through, every week. It was a little annoying at first but when it was time for the observation and evaluation, I felt like she truly knew me and my interactions with the students. I am all in favor of teaching kids test taking strategies. I am also in favor of teaching children about life. The real world dictates that we stop and ask questions why shouldn't we be expecting the same from our students. God forbid, it means they are thinking. My doctor once told me that there are more teachers on anxiety medicine than any other profession, yes I have recently joined that group. My sympathies to you. I feel your pain.

  • #8

    Deb (Sunday, 15 November 2015 16:10)

    I'm sorry this has happened to you. If it makes you feel any better (and I'm sure it won't) at my school every single one of us has to put our lesson plans in an electronic folder by 8:30 AM every Monday. These aren't outlines either. They are full blown plans which include objectives that match standards, questions, assessments, materials, activities... the whole 9 yards. It's at least a page a day per subject and I have 3 preps so mine are 15-20 pages. If they arent there we get an email about it. It's crazy. I've been teaching 20 years and feel like I'm a student teacher. I live in fear that they'll come in on an off day since we only have 2 formal evals and they must average a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. Plus we were told that in many of the eval categories (there are 15) on the rubric that it will be next to impossible to get a 5...so really the scale is 1 to 4.

  • #9

    Diane Sundvik (Sunday, 15 November 2015 16:11)

    I'm not sure what state the writer of this letter is from, but if you are NOT from a "right-to-work-for-less" state, you should go immediately to your building rep, or better yet, directly to your union president. Do NOT suffer and hide in silence. That is what bullies want.

  • #10

    Debra (Sunday, 15 November 2015 16:46)

    You keep doing exactly what you do best. Teach. The lessons of life are a basic indicator of growth as an individual. If we do not teach that, we are unable to teach everything else that goes with it. I think that lesson was probably very valuable to many more students than you realize. You should be praised not reprimanded for a job well done.

  • #11

    Mary C (Sunday, 15 November 2015 17:02)

    It is like this in all schools. We are no longer allowed to think. Yet, we went to our universities and passed all the tests that the teachers and administration did. If we weren't deem fit as a teacher why did we get high marks. I think it is a witch hunt. I tell young people do not go into teaching because of this crap! That is why there is a teacher shortage. These school districts need us because we are the dedicated teachers! The young ones don't stay because they get in the classroom and realize it's not worth it.

  • #12

    LK (Sunday, 15 November 2015 18:50)

    They want experienced teachers to quit. Newbies are much cheaper and easier to push around. Am I cynical? Perhaps. I really believe this is the simple truth. They don't care about the kids. Want to know why things happen? Follow the money.

  • #13

    Nee W (Sunday, 15 November 2015 20:02)

    We need to demand our money back from the universities since they claim we are not passing our observations. Most of us went to good universities that assured us that we will be great teachers. Just like they blame us for our students, we need to blame them for being ineffective.

  • #14

    Mitch (Sunday, 15 November 2015 20:33)

    I teach at a university, and certainly am not "blaming" any school teachers for sending us their students. I'm thanking them, as our students are wonderful.

    Let's try not to solve these problems with circular firing squads--we are all teachers, and need to support one another. The problem is invalid and unreliable evaluation systems, that were not designed by teachers. I understand the frustration, but we will be more successful working together and supporting each other in addressing the problems inherent in these teacher evaluation systems.

  • #15

    Christine Meglio (Sunday, 15 November 2015 21:37)

    I am a school psychologist and a former teacher who often counsels teachers before and after their evaluation feedback. (I am also a part of this evaluation system.) I know I would not be able to conform to the current expectation of teachers as my training capitalized on teachable moments; something that we are no longer encouraged to go with! My husband and I are two individuals who value education. Even though my children are grown, I often reflect on their learning styles when I see a creative lesson, thoughtfully planned and executed. I would have loved for my children to be in your classroom on the day of this lesson. I am sorry that your administrators feel that the additional paperwork they are requiring of you is the best way to increase your performance. I see it as a hindrance to your creativity. What do your test scores say? Can you stand behind your data? Unfortunately, that is what teaching has become.Stay true to yourself!

  • #16

    Cdg (Monday, 16 November 2015 05:47)

    I too have been teaching for 30 years and am deeply troubled by this evaluation process. I am troubled by being evaluated by people who don't understand the mathematical VAM well enough to explain how I can improve my score by .25 or to tell me what "innovative" looks like beyond they know it when they see it. I am resentful of being evaluated by administrators who have been out of the classroom so long they never had their teaching evaluated in such a manner. Yet, I am also resentful of administrators who started their grad work in leadership directly out of college, taught less than 10 years and are now evaluating everyone else's teaching. Time to retire.

  • #17

    Jennifer (Monday, 16 November 2015 11:56)

    I haven't been given an ineffective yet, but at the school I left-a public school ranked 6th in the state and that ranking is with public and charters. A school that is revered in our area as THE BEST.- I was rated as less than I should have been because according to my principal I should have made me first year teacher peers use more technology and give surveys and implement differentiated lessons-something I have worked on for years-and because I did not, because they weren't ready as a first year teacher to tackles these things- I did not show leadership. Nevermind I participated in a State Leadership program. Never mind our department administrator told me to do less because my peers were not ready for this. It boiled down to I was a veteran in a school full of beginner teachers who follow orders and don't question.

  • #18

    Tracy (Monday, 16 November 2015 20:21)

    I've already been told by my admin that I may score 'developing' (I'm a 12th year teacher with two master's degrees and have never scored below proficient) because I am new to my district...My admin has never seen me work, has never been in my classroom...wait, I don't have a classroom. I don't ask my students to spout out the standards because they usually don't speak English that well. I know what I am developing...the urge to walk out on my job and never look back.

  • #19

    Kerry (Tuesday, 17 November 2015 08:39)

    Get a lawyer.

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