This post is an excerpt from An End to the Quiet War, by APT’s Matt Daly. Preview and explore by clicking the following links. 

Introduction

For the month of August, we will be publishing excerpts of Matt’s upcoming book, “An End to the Quiet War.” The book covers a wide range of issues teachers face nationally in education, both in terms of perception, as well as our ability to do our jobs effectively and ethically. At the end of the month, the book will be released on the Kindle Format. We are incredibly excited to generate discussion on these topics, and hope you enjoy the selections as they are released.  

Manifesto

If you had asked me 15 years ago, what I would be up to today, I would have told you that I would be in the classroom, working with middle school students until I reached retirement age. I didn’t see any need for any other future. I was part of a vibrant and rewarding community, teaching a subject I loved, in the town where I would one day raise children of my own.

The pay wasn’t exceptional, but it was plenty.  I was cultivating progress and commitment in my students, forging relationships with parents, and in general, feeling enormously successful and fulfilled.

It was okay that the vast majority of people I interacted with had little to no functional understanding of what went on inside my classroom.  My students were happy, and my students were learning, and that was enough to garner a semblance of trust from parents and the community, and the respect that went along with it.

I never needed to be an advocate for the profession, the proof was in my students.

Something has changed dramatically in the past 10 years however.

The level of distrust in educators has reached an all time high, and I fear that it is rapidly approaching a tipping point.

There are abundant reasons for this, many of which I will discuss in the subsequent chapters.  One theme should emerge fairly quickly however: as educators we need to stop believing that anything will change in our profession without a shift in the way we talk about it.  A shift in the way we talk about it with our students, their parents, our administrators, the public in general, and especially those wielding the weapons of “reform.”

For too long, we have been quiet, content to hole up in our rooms, and attempt to wait out the continued onslaught, hoping that the pendulum will magically swing back to the days when we were considered the experts in our field.

This day is not coming soon, if ever, and our willingness to stay quiet, to concern ourselves with own rooms and the students in front of us, has allowed the outside influences we so often bemoan to further entrench themselves into our teaching lives.

For too long we have been involved in a polite war, a quiet war, that we are losing day by day, year by excruciating year. We look around, desperate to hold on to the few things that are still keeping us in the profession, as they are systematically taken from us under the guise of “increasing standards” and “diagnostic analysis”.

This will not be a polite book, a quiet book.  If teaching, and democracy for that matter, are to survive, decisive action must be taken. We cannot rebuff the encroaching, glacial attacks on our profession without the potential of offending.  We cannot be cowed into submission by those we know are misguided, and doing real damage to our students. Most importantly, we need to be the loudest advocates for the changes that need to be made.

We have to bring an end to the quiet war.

Beginnings

I’m from a teaching family.  My father has only recently completed a 40 year career in education.  He taught Industrial Arts and specifically, Automotive, in my hometown for his entire career.  My siblings and I were lucky enough to have him at our high school everyday.

My mother was beginning a career as a Special Education teacher when she made the decision to stay at home and raise us.  She continued to work nights with the local Community Center, organizing group trips for adults with special needs.  Many nights my brother and I would go with her to these events, whether it was local AA baseball games, or duckpin bowling.

I witnessed the life that was available to educators.  I learned quickly that there was a trade-off, and I understood it.  My father worked hard, and spent his summers running a house-washing and gutter cleaning service. We always had someone at our house when we came home from school.  I never worried about the stability of my family, or that money was tight.  At the same time, I was very aware that my parents, and my family, were not rich.

This was the tradeoff, stability for increased freedom.  My parents raised five children, and it was not just possible, but comfortable.

I also had the benefit of watching my father in town, stopping during errands as former students came up to him, and shared their successes and gratitude.  It was a great feeling.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I made the decision that I would be a teacher too.

In addition to my parents, I had the benefit of taking a class with a teacher that changed my life.  Her name was Linda Helfand, and she was my English 10 Honors teacher. She had a policy in her classroom, that failure to hand a final draft in on time would result in a zero.  No exceptions were granted unless you were at the funeral of a family member, or your own.

I tested this once. Only once.

Up until that point, I had always been able to procrastinate and finish my work at the last minute.  I was lazy, and I knew that I could collect my “B” with fairly minimal effort.  The effort it required to get those extra five-to-ten points and make it an “A” never seemed worth it.

It was the first or second paper of the year, and I had some other classes that required my attention the night before, too many deadlines converging at once, and I figured since I hadn’t screwed up yet in Mrs. Helfand’s class, and that since she was a colleague of my father, that I could get an extension through my charm and connections.

I remember walking up to the desk after class, to let her know I hadn’t handed my paper in, but that I would get it to her soon.

“You understand that it’s a zero,” was the firm reply. It quite clearly wasn’t a question. I gulped and nodded, and although she never changed her expression as she sat there stone-faced, I could tell she was sizing me up in some way, and leaning toward the side of unimpressed.  She wasn’t angry, she just looked at me in a casual way that let me know this was squarely my fault, that I had been warned, and that anything less than my best would be unacceptable to her.

I walked straight home, worked on the paper for a few hours, and handed it in the next morning, fully aware that it would be a zero, but quite confident in my ability to show her that I would do better.

That year, and that class was when I understood the power of a teacher, the way that she could set a life on a trajectory with the simplicity of her countenance and consistency of application.

I took whatever course Mrs. Helfand was teaching for the next 3 years of high school, British Literature my junior year, and her Expository Writing course as a senior.

I am forever indebted to her for the English teacher I have become, for my interest in poetry, and for my belief in the power of a great educator.

About seven or eight years ago, I was asking my father about her, whether she was still teaching, or if there was a way to get in touch with her.  He replied that she had retired a few years earlier, and that he heard she had passed away.

Of my many regrets, one of the greatest is that I never had the chance to personally thank her for the effect she has had on my life.  I understand the way that former students can transform my day, especially if I’m feeling the true stress of the job.  I would have loved to show her some of my poetry, my published short stories, and my writings on education.  I hope that in some way, I can do her some justice in this book, impart the dire consequences we face as a profession if we too fail to hold the line.

What do you think?

We would love to hear your stories. As new chapters are released, we hope you can offer some connections to your own experiences.

About Matt

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO

Matt Daly has been teaching and coaching for over 15 years. He is an Instructional Leader, Educational Consultant, Writer, and Speaker. He holds degrees in English and Secondary Education from Providence College, an MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry, and has Supervisory Certification in Instruction. Matt lives in New Jersey with his wife, also a teacher, and his three daughters.

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