I’ve noticed a term being bandied about quite a bit lately in the world of education: playing the game.

 I’ve heard the phrase a plethora of times over the past months. Much more than ever before. Administrators have used it in encouraging me to take on more responsibilities. Evaluators have used it in critiquing my submissions for annual review. Colleagues have used it in encouraging me to learn the tricks and jump the hoops presented by ever-increasing state and government mandates. “It’s all about playing the game,” they say. “Once you learn the rules, you will be fine.”

But, what if I don’t want to play?

Over my past two decades as a classroom teacher, I have seen a dramatic shift in education. We have gone from teaching to illicit a joy for learning in our students to teaching to illicit test scores and data. We have whittled down our curriculum so that it is teaching to the test. We have alleviated the ‘fluff’ and honed our focus. It’s the game we are playing.

But, in the fluff is the fun. And we have lost it. Look at any school building and you will see a host of stressed out and anxious teachers. Instead of putting all of their energy into setting up their classrooms to encourage exploration, creativity and genuine excitement, they are mired in new requirements. There are evaluation programs to learn, artifact due dates looming and committees to join. The focus is on numbers. The numbers you score on an evaluation rubric, the numbers your students’ score on mandated tests, the numbers of students from each demographic in your classroom. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

But I am not a number. My students are not numbers.

In trying to improve, and prove our merit as school districts, we have lost ourselves. We have lost the passion and joy so necessary for good teaching. Last year, my twentieth year, was the hardest year of my teaching career. I was sad, depressed and angry. I was not there for my students; I was overwhelmed. And they sensed it and suffered for it.

This year, I go in with a renewed spirit. The data isn’t going anywhere. The evaluation is here to stay. The game-players will keep playing. But, as for me and my classroom, we will be getting back to the joy of learning. Don’t get me wrong, all of the requirements will be reached, the tests given, the hoops jumped. But, this year, my students will not see the effects. I will no longer put a due date or an evaluation or an artifact above the most important thing: them.

This writing will become my first evaluation-artifact of the school year. The most important one. The one that reminds me why I started teaching twenty years ago. That reminds me that teaching is in my blood. That reminds me that the most important thing is those kids and the passion for learning I will try to instill, encourage or cultivate in them.

The game goes on, but I will be on the bench. You can find me there.