Educating vs Programming


“I will shout my barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world.” – Dead Poets Society

May 26th was the day I said goodbye to my final group of students as they left for summer vacation. It was one of the hardest and most emotionally overwhelming afternoons I have ever experienced. The very next day, I quit.


Five years, two countries, two states, well over 700+ students later, and I am no longer a teacher. It will never be about how little I loved the craft or my students, as anyone who knows me will be able to attest. I still refer to past students as my kids, and I’m certain I always will.

I pursued a graduate degree in education because I loved working with kids and knew I would be good at it. Neither of those things have changed. There just came a point when I could no longer sit idly by and program my students to fit into a system that works against their actual education. There came a point when I was tired of justifying my reasons for letting play, open discussion, and reading inhabit my classroom. There came a point when my mental and physical health suffered due to the impossible expectations that I wasn’t already doing enough for my students. So I quit.

What the system doesn’t see, or possibly refuses to acknowledge, are the kids as unique individuals with histories, interests, and questions all their own. I sought to educate, not program. I encouraged them to ask off-topic questions, to discuss solutions to social issues, to learn how to approach a situation or individual with respect, and to believe that they were worth more than whatever test they had to take. And the growth that sprang out of that environment cannot be adequately measured by standardized tests or short observations, because it is not about the objectives or learning targets and never has been. That growth is a direct result of the relationships developed over countless hours connecting with each other on a human level, learning from each other, and pursuing what matters as a collective.

That test may tell you she improved her reading abilities over the course of a year, but it doesn’t tell you why. It doesn’t tell you she finally fell in love with stories because a teacher made them interactive and accessible. It doesn’t tell you she loves to go to the library or borrow books from her teacher’s shelf. It doesn’t tell you that she has become one of the most participative and collaborative students because she’s finally found her thing.

That test may tell you his vocabulary increased over the course of a year, but it doesn’t tell you why. It doesn’t tell you that a teacher made it into a game accessible from his cell phone so he could have a mental respite from a bad home. It doesn’t tell you that he uses those words correctly in all his other classes, not because he wants to show off, but because he finally feels confident that he knows something and can meaningfully contribute for the first time.

That observation may tell you that the topic was dragging and the objectives weren’t met. It doesn’t tell you that the boy who always doubts himself was about to make a breakthrough before you walked in. It doesn’t tell you that the teacher will have to spend the next ten minutes trying to get the class back to its comfortable and open rhythm because the students were too scared to participate. It doesn’t tell you that that was the one class a student normally feels safe in.

Teachers say, “If at the end of the day the students got something out of it, it was worth it,” and while that’s true, we shouldn’t be made to feel like that is the consolation prize rather than the purpose.