Never Abandon Your Principles—Or Your Students

Wendy Bradshaw
Wendy Bradshaw, in a photo from her Facebook profile

It’s sad but true: In October, a veteran teacher in Florida resigned because the conditions under which she was required to work did not support best practice. Despite her love of teaching and her “highly effective” ratings in evaluations, Wendy Bradshaw was trapped in an untenable position because she was required to deploy practices that were developmentally inappropriate for her young students.

Based on her extensive training in human growth and development, this highly credentialed professional with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees would not persist in activities that she knew to be harmful to her students. “Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it,” she writes in her resignation letter. “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.”

Her resignation letter, shared in this Facebook post, struck a chord with me—as it did with thousands of others. In just a few weeks, the post has racked up more than 82,000 likes, 73,000 shares, and 11,000 comments, overwhelmingly supportive of Bradshaw’s professionally based and heartfelt message. “I am so tired of the changes that are occurring,” writes one teacher who says she is about to retire. “Students are required to learn too much too soon. It is not developmentally appropriate. The powers that be are setting up our children to fail.” Others fault the Common Core State Standards for the situation, although Bradshaw seems more concerned with overly regimented curricula and inappropriate testing requirements. Several comments suggest homeschooling as the answer to avoiding the “broken system.”

But while opting out and throwing up our hands in resignation may be wholly understandable moves, they hardly get at a solution that will actually help students. Bradshaw’s message, sent to her local school board, might attract enough attention to make some difference in her district. But on a larger scale, we need to seek solutions while staying engaged in the system we’re trying to change. As one Facebook commenter writes, “More teachers need to speak out about the injustices and blatantly harmful actions that they witness.” Another encourages Bradshaw to “run for public office and work for change in the school system as well as government.”

I might agree most with the comment that puts it this way: “If we all know what we don’t want for our children, well, for all children, then what are we doing to advocate for change? [. . .] How many of you are active on your PTA? On the school board? Attending school board meetings? Members of advocacy groups in your school or school community? For every disillusioned teacher who quits there should be 10 or more of us who speak up and take action. If you are, thank you. If you’re not, then what are you waiting for?”

Bradshaw’s statement of concern, if not her decision to resign, aligns with the Model Code of Ethics for Educators recently developed by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. The code, developed with broad professional consensus, says educators must act “in the best interest of all students by [. . .] protecting students from any practice that harms or has the potential to harm students.” It also calls on educators to advocate for policies that promote “the education and well-being of students and families.”

My fellow educators, we must stand up for what we know is right. And we must help our students by making changes in the flawed system that does not serve their interests and needs. Let’s support each other in realizing these changes at the grassroots in local communities, in every state capitol, and into the halls of national policy. And let’s prepare the next generation of educators to be the citizen-scholars who speak out against practices that conflict with their professional knowledge of what is appropriate for learners.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE