Wendy Bradshaw And The Resignation Letter Heard Around The World
Wendy Bradshaw is a now-former special education teacher in Willow Oak, Florida, who had enough. She decided to take a stand at the growing uniformity and lack of innovation in public education and voiced all those frustrations in a letter — which she later turned in to a Facebook post — that struck a chord with teachers everywhere.
Bradshaw described her frustration to the School Board of Polk County, Florida, but the problems are ones faced all over the country as evidenced by the more than 72,000 shares and coverage from multiple media outlets. Here are some highlights and some of the most scathing criticisms.
- “Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process. I am absolutely willing to back up these statements with literature from the research base, but I doubt it will be asked for. However, I must be honest. This letter is also deeply personal. I just cannot justify making students cry anymore. They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.”
- “The children don’t only cry. Some misbehave so that they will be the ‘bad kid’ not the ‘stupid kid’, or because their little bodies just can’t sit quietly anymore, or because they don’t know the social rules of school and there is no time to teach them. My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.”
- “On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself.”
While the Wendy Bradshaw resignation letter appeared to be a great catharsis for her, it also offered release for the many others in classrooms all across America who feel the same way. It was also a release for highly qualified teachers, who gave up the profession out of the same frustrations that Bradshaw so eloquently highlighted in her post.
Ever since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was a piece of legislation supported by both Republicans and Democrats including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush, there has been a disturbing trend towards increased testing and a “benchmark” level of education that all kids are supposed to somehow reach regardless of their developmental capabilities.
NCLB was a “one size fits all” approach to education exacerbated by Common Core. Now teachers like Wendy Bradshaw are pulling back the curtain to reveal the struggles that public education now faces.
To fix the problems of education, 5 things must happen.
Firstly, parents must get involved.
The problem with most political reforms in education is that they are constructed on the bogus idea that bad teachers are responsible rather than bad parents. Parents have the most responsibility for making sure their children learn and grow developmentally. While some issues may be beyond a parent’s control — such as those with special needs — they still have the most influence over environment and instilling responsibility. However, as standards have tightened for teachers, they’ve grown looser and looser for parents, whose children are not performing at the appropriate level. As a result, parents have grown spoiled in expecting teachers to not only teach, but to also handle their children’s disruptive behaviors.
Secondly, teachers must be allowed to differentiate instruction.
As Wendy Bradshaw noted in her resignation letter, teachers are often held with their feet to the fire when it comes to differentiating instruction. They have the impossible task of bringing all students to a certain “benchmark” level in spite of the fact that some students may be on course while others are several grades behind. Different people learn in different ways. The current system doesn’t allow for that.
Thirdly, legislators have to stop making teachers the enemy.
Teachers feel unfairly scrutinized by many of the laws that happen at the state and federal levels. It is not lost on them that they are being asked to do the impossible based on a complete disregard for cognitive science. Furthermore, their pay is being threatened by “merit pay” laws that seek to punish them for not living up to said impossible standards. Many highly qualified teachers (like Bradshaw) wake up one day and realize that they don’t have to take the B.S. anymore, so they leave the classroom and find jobs elsewhere that value their efforts more. As a result, the education system is depleted in its ability to reach students.
Fourthly, the basic ‘structure’ of school needs to be rethought.
Public education, particularly at the post-secondary level, has come under an increasing amount of fire lately for continually teaching the old ways without keeping an eye focused on the future. As a result, many I.T. and other computer-based jobs — the probable future of employment in the U.S. — is all but worthless. There isn’t much that a degree can do for an enterprising coder, who takes the time to learn programming languages, for example. And since the new economy has a greater focus on skills and results than degree certifications, it’s going to be hard for colleges to justify the increasing tuition fees. But all that is an aside. The deeper issue here is that school isn’t preparing students for the world. In order to do that, the basic “structure” of school has to take a more application-based approach, where students are able to see the value of what they’re learning in the real world from day one.
Finally, America needs to start looking at what others are doing.
America has been lagging behind in education for years, and it seems like a problem that is only getting worse. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, it’s important to look to other countries that are performing well in education. There are ideas out there that can be effectively implemented in the U.S. However, it’s also important to note that it is a mistake to simply look at a culture and think something will automatically “work” here just because it does there. Culture, size, and demographics, all play a major role in approach. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try new ideas.
What do you think about the words of Wendy Bradshaw? Do you think they’re pretty common emotions among teachers in the U.S.? And if you originally wanted to teach (or still do), what fears do you have moving forward? Sound off in the comments section.
[Image via Wendy Bradshaw Facebook]