The first time I realized how little control I had over my own classroom was at my first teaching job. Part of the English curriculum at this district was to assign “at home” reading books. There were six books students were instructed to read at home. We were to quiz the students on these books and they were to write one essay about each one. They were not the primary part of our curriculum, but rather a supplementary piece. About halfway through the year, students were assigned a book they actually really liked. It was the first one they made an honest attempt to read, and so I ran with it. During a discussion on one of these books, my supervisor dropped into the class for a surprise observation. I felt relieved. Yes, she came on a great day. The kids love this book. The discussion will be heartfelt and real.
Oh, how wrong I was.
My supervisor told me my skills were great. I had an awesome rapport with the kids and knew how to lead a discussion, but she had to dock me a point for what we were discussing.
“This is an at-home reading book. They take the quizzes, write the essay, and move on. Class time is for the curriculum. You shouldn’t be diving this deep into these at-home books.”
Um, what? I was dumbfounded. Although I was only four months into my teaching career, I was no idiot. I knew my lesson was awesome. Kids were paying attention, they were listening to each other, there was flow in the conversation, and the book was referenced often. It was GOOD. I cried and cried and failed to understand why that wasn’t considered “exemplary.” In retrospect, I understand I wasn’t being “compliant.” The same stupid standards we put onto our students are also put on educators. It did not matter that what I did was better than the norm. It did not matter that the students had a fun and engaging day in English class. What mattered was my compliance. I failed to comply. Districts don’t want teachers who don’t comply. They don’t want teachers who question why something is the way it is. Don’t rock the boat. That was my first real lesson as an educator.