Plenty of teachers are leaving their profession these days, but few make as much noise doing so as Pauline Hawkins. On Monday, the staffer at Colorado Springs' Liberty High School posted a resignation letter in which she says her reasons for quitting include negative impact from programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, as well as standardized testing that's causing students to give up on their lives.
Her frustrations are resonating well beyond her hometown.
Hawkins hasn't exactly kept her opinions to herself up until this point. She publishes a blog entitled Education Reformation, and her personal website, PaulineHawkins.com, features plenty of missives decrying the current system.
For instance, her March 12 post previews a protest about standardized testing at the State Capitol that's festooned with photos like this one:
Still, Monday's item, simply entitled "My Resignation Letter," has struck the loudest chord to date. In the missive, addressed to "Administrators, Superintendent, et. al.," she says she's leaving Liberty for personal reasons; she's a newly single mom whose beloved son has been fighting cancer and the pay teachers receive simply isn't enough. But in addition to the issue of salary, she writes that "ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children." The entire letter is accessible here -- but this excerpt gives a good sense of her argument:
I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.
It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago -- and it's only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.
I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they've been told they aren't good enough by a standardized test; they've been told that they can't be successful because they aren't jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.
The letter made an immediate impact. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, it received more than 9,000 hits in two days and generated oodles of comments. Many of them are from past Hawkins students thanking her for the part she played in their lives. But others focus mainly on her dire assessment of public education in America.
Here are a three examples:
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I've lost hope in a system that allows politicians who have never set foot in a classroom to make decisions about education and reform (a la House of Cards, anyone?) I don't want to be party to a system that breaks kids down and tells them that they're not good enough. I don't want to be the teacher proctoring a test with third graders and being the person to tell them that I can't help them with content knowledge and analysis questions above their comprehension levels when I'm /supposed/ to be the one to do that. I'm so sad to see that our system has done this. I'm so sad that kids are being taught how to take tests but not how to think and problem solve for themselves. I'm so sad to see wonderful educators like yourself leaving the field because of it and because America, and especially Colorado, don't value their teachers....
Although I may not know you personally I share many of the same views as you do about our current education system. The thought that my kids might have to be taught at a private school to be surrounded by kids who have the same desire to learn is unacceptable. I fear for our country as we freeze teacher salaries and think teachers cause our children to fail. Parents are missing the opportunity to teach our youth to have self respect and responsibility in school and life....
Please Pauline Hawkins, share your beautiful letter but tragic story with the Google discussion group Education Revolution. I sincerely hope you can find employment as a teacher but not in North Carolina...you have already had enough pain in your life.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Education archive circa June 2013: "CU diversity survey: Does university live up to its goals?"