The Plight of Making a Difference

In a world of accountability, criticism, and media scrutiny, teachers seesaw between perseverance and quitting. Every day, dedicated teachers decide to leave teaching for less scrutinized careers.

And there are more tragic stories. Rigoberto Ruelas was passionate about reaching and teaching the toughest children in an impoverished, gang-ridden area in South Los Angeles.  Many students spoke of his influence and inspiration in their lives. Then, in 2010 the world of this once zealous, committed teacher came crashing down. The LA Times published an article in which Mr. Ruelas was ranked as ‘less effective’ than his peers in a teacher-rating database.  Not long after the publication he committed suicide.  His friends and family reported signs of depression in reaction to his being labeled as something less than a caring and committed teacher.

How has society come to a point where it’s acceptable to publicly rank and judge teachers?

Teachers don’t have a problem with being held accountable, but fair evaluations are not today’s reality.

It’s difficult to teach when you’re ranked, judged, and labeled…

  • according to the results of unscientific, unreliable test scores of children
  • without regard for the challenges of teaching every child, every day
  • without recognition of the fact that politicians—many who have never taught a day in their life—decide much of what and how teachers teach
  • without understanding that every year teachers are expected to do more with less
  • based on unequal playing fields called classrooms
    • some with many computers verses some with one
    • some with quality Internet access verses some with none
    • some with brand new classrooms verses some with crumbling ceilings

Fortunately for our children, there are teachers that continue to teach, despite the pressures, criticisms and judgments.

Here’s another teacher’s story.

In 2011, a teacher was grading personal narrative essays and was alarmed by one student’s story.  A ten-year old girl had written about her thoughts of suicide. The teacher brought the situation to the attention of her principal. The girl received the help she needed and is reportedly doing well.

This story will never make it to the newspaper. But it is a story of a hero.  The teacher created an environment in which a young girl felt safe enough to share her pain. This is the part of teaching that can’t be tested.

This teacher’s story isn’t all good news. The same year, this hero was labeled “ineffective” due to overall low standardized test scores. She, like Mr. Ruelas, teaches children that bear many of life’s burdens.

It’s wrong to label any teacher that courageously works to inspire and give hope to overburdened children as ineffective. How incredibly sad it would be for this teacher to stop fighting and quit teaching because of unfair comparisons.

How many more teachers will leave teaching before we as a society speak up for our everyday heroes?