Why Teachers Should Object

There’s a good chance that if you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you’ve been asked to do something that you knew to be educational malpractice. Either through your experience with kids or because of research you read, you knew that a decision was a bad one. How you responded to such a decision probably has a lot to do with how you feel about your current place of employment. If you’re resentful and unmotivated, there’s a good chance you went along with it. And there’s a better chance it wasn’t the only time.

When you agree to something you know to be bad for your students (or for yourself), you run into three problems:

First, you set a precedent. Agree once and you’ll likely agree again. People are remarkably consistent in their behavior. Once you see yourself as someone who “goes along to get along” or “flies under the radar,” then you’ll be unlikely to depart from that self-image and start objecting later, making it more likely that you’ll agree to increasingly noxious policies and practices in the future.

Second, you will start to lose your motivation. Follow enough bad orders and you’ll begin to wonder why you’re busting your hump for blithering idiots who don’t even read educational research. Why should you work hard when they’re obviously not working in the best interests of students? If the district is led by morons like yours, why should you strive for excellence?

Third, you’ll resent your boss, her bosses, the school board, and maybe even the community. You’ll think:

The feckless school board hired these administrators and then won’t do anything to stop them from making awful decisions. The voters, who happen to be the parents of the kids in my classroom, elected the hapless school board members and they won’t even show up to the meetings to ask what’s going on in the schools.

You’ll resent them all and end up miserable, having violated your core beliefs and sacrificed the idealism of your youth on the altar of servility, all under the mistaken belief that it’s more professional to hold your tongue.

If something makes you resentful, there are only two possibilities: you’re a whiner or you’re being pushed around. Either what you’re being asked to do is reasonable and you’re the problem, or you must act.

So assuming you’re not just a crybaby and you’re actually being told to do things that are bad for kids (or for yourself), what do you do?

You object, and you do so early. When you’re told to do something that you know is wrong, you should object at the earliest possible moment. Here’s why:

1. You might actually win.

Most people avoid conflict and back down when confronted. People are generally not courageous and will back off when challenged, especially if you present your side calmly and with facts. Win, and you won’t have to put up with the awful decision until someone better (you hope) comes along and reverses the policy (probably by asking, “Why the hell were you doing this?”).

2. By objecting, you will start to see yourself as someone who is willing to object.

Objecting will make it more likely that you’ll do so again. It will also put your bosses on notice that you will not be a teacher who agrees just because it’s easier.

3. The cost of not objecting is too high.


Yes, there is risk. You might be inviting retribution, especially if you’re dealing with one of the petty tyrants who inhabit too many district offices and has grown accustomed to having their orders obsequiously followed.

So you may be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But it’s better to stand tall with your shoulders back and do the right thing and risk being asked to leave then it is to choke down your core beliefs and spend the next however-many-years doing things you hate for people you don’t respect, all while wallowing in self-loathing for not having the intestinal fortitude to say something when it might have made a difference.

Stand up and say, “No, I’m not doing it.” You’re not doing it because it’s a bad idea. You’re not doing it because if you do, you’ll be more likely to do more of it. You’re not doing it because you’ll be constantly annoyed and eventually lose the motivation to do your job well. You’re not doing it because you’ll end up resentful, which is a terrible way to live.

And if your objections don’t stop the lunacy, then it’s time to leave.

And you should always be willing to leave. Because if you can’t get out, then you can never say no. And if you can’t say no, then you cannot bargain. And if you cannot bargain, then you’ll do whatever you’re told to do every single time, no matter how egregious the request. That is a dangerous place to be.

Just ask the teachers in Atlanta who were sent to jail for following orders to cheat on state tests. Do you think they ever objected? Or do you think they agreed and agreed and agreed as the policies and practices got more odious, all while telling themselves that they were being good team players. Fat lot of good that did them.

Stand up for yourself and your students. Set clear boundaries, grow a spine, bare your teeth. When people realize you’re not a pushover, that makes you powerful. Showing someone that you’re willing to inflict pain makes it less likely you’ll ever need to. Stop worrying so much about being liked. Object, and object early. Your future self will thank you for it.


Note: The above was inspired by (okay, stolen from) this video by professor Jordan B. Peterson, which you should watch. It’s not specifically for teachers, but it should be.

4 Replies to “Why Teachers Should Object”

  1. I really enjoyed this post and video. I have often been the person to object to things when it comes to the inane activities that teachers are voluntold to do. I am now looking at ways to bring to light to how abusive the Georgia standardized test is not only to students, but to teachers as well. I love the act of being able to say “no.” It’s very powerful and useful!

    1. ESOL, the Georgia Milestones is indeed cruel to all involved except the people who mandate them. Here’s an example. The cut score for being on reading level is a 1010 Lexile in 8th grade. If that score is not reached, remediation, retests, and possible retention are on the table. I had numerous students crawl their way up from abysmal Lexile scores in 7th grade to score a 1005. Yes, you saw that correctly. Just five points away from the cut Lexile score. Is there any perceptible difference in a text that is a Lexile of 1005 and 1010? I think not. This is cruel to these children. Never before has a score been allowed to be this close but yet so far. I checked all score reports for my previous students since the Milestones debuted. Whatever the force behind this, it doesn’t pass the smell test to me.

  2. This article will popular with angry teachers, but not good ones. It assumes there are only 2 choices- obey or rebel. The truth is that most of the time, a diplomatic compromise can be found. Admins have multiple groups with competing interests demanding things of them constantly. They aren’t the enemy. A good teacher speaks up when kids will be harmed, but does so with the attitude of problem solving and with humility. The martyr mindset in this article does no one any good.

  3. I think by speaking up, you empower other teachers that might not be brave enough to say anything. This does not mean I am an angry teacher or a terrible teacher. I am actually at the top of my game, but I say “no” on a regular basis. I am 5 years away from retirement and I sleep like a baby. Whether or not things change because I spoke up, administrators (and other teachers) know I am not a pushover and if you want me to make a change in how I do things, there had better be research to prove it is worthwhile.

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