My Account

Why Standards Plus History Academy?

After 21 years, I finally had enough. Having taught in the public school system in Tennessee since 1997, I guess I now qualify as a cynical “old-hand.” I’ve seen too much change for change’s sake. I’ve attended countless professional development sessions, witnessing last year’s “new thing” give way to this year’s. I’ve learned the ins and outs of Google Classroom one year, Skyward the next, and Schoology the year after. Then I’ve entered grades and assignments in all three learning platforms, duplicating my work by a factor of three because some egghead at central office said I had to. This story-telling lecturer has been told more times than he can count that teacher-directed lectures are bad and student-led group work is good (it always amused me that the same administrators and PD presenters who preached that pablum relied on lectures when they had important information to communicate to us as teachers…but I digress). I’ve experienced the power and control of bureaucracies – state tests, district benchmarks, professional learning communities (PLC’s), co-teaching, and common assessments, etc. And to what end? If test scores are any indicator, education has not improved. To the contrary, it’s gotten worse. I’m nauseated by the thought of it all.

My last gig was the coup de’ grace for me and “the system.” My coping method had always been to shut my door, barricading the cubicled educrats outside, preventing them and their drivel from contaminating my classroom. Then I would do what I do best – teach my students. I was into routine. I lectured and my students took notes. Content was everything. It made me a Level 5 teacher in the eyes of the state (for whatever that’s worth). My principal laughingly used to call me the “sage on the stage.” She grudgingly complimented me, saying “not many people can lecture well. You are one of the few.” In the midst of all the negative energy, a positive emerged like a fledgling green shoot. I felt empowered and valued. It wasn’t much, but it was SOMETHING. Then she retired and we got a new principal. That’s when things changed.

The new principal herded all “his” teachers like sheep into PLC’s – in which we were expected to share resources, teach the same lesson at the same time and pace as everybody else, use identical (the word is “common”) formative and summative assessments, and generally become interdependent parts of a flock. I might add that as a content-first educator, my teaching style was not in sync with my fellow methods-first PLC “teammates.” Suddenly, I was the outlier. The outcast. The lone ranger who wasn’t a “team player.” Everything we did as teachers was tracked online by administrators who, like sheepdogs, were determined to keep their eyes on us. The state standards became the Bible and the state test was the final judgement. Nothing else mattered. This joyless enterprise made me want to go home and kick the cat every day. I was no longer a teacher. I was a presenter of somebody else’s material. I was no longer a trusted professional. I was a hired hand – a hireling.

My units on the JFK assassination and the Watergate Scandal (always student favorites) were no longer possible. Why? Because the state test barely touched on either one. My lessons on the origins of country, blues, and rock-n-roll music were phased out because my PLC teammates outvoted me. Evidently, they didn’t believe entire genres of music that had their roots in Nashville and Memphis had much relevance to students who live in Tennessee. My lesson on the Scopes Trial and its roots in the Malthusian depopulation movement were deemed too controversial. Thus, politics erased another significant Tennessee contribution to US history. I could go on. Before, the state standards had been a jumping-off point for me in my classes. I would cover them first after which I would go further, deeper. Now they were a red light – a STOP sign. I may be wrong but as far as I know, education is the only profession that punishes people for doing MORE than what’s required.

As I said at the start, I finally had enough. I did what I should have done five years ago and quit my teaching job. I don’t hate teaching. I hate the systemization of teaching – the bureaucratic power and control. I chafed under a system that treats teachers and students like automatons, hard-wiring them to perform like programmed robots – soulless, emotionless, mechanical robots. I started Standards Plus History Academy so I could teach another way. I happen to believe the old systems are dying anyway. Public education as we know it is changing. The internet is giving people options they never had before – more individual choice and control. The genie is out of the bottle. So, the golden handcuffs are now off and I am out of my cage.


Barry Jones



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