KRIS NIELSEN: First, Do No Harm

Hi! It’s me! Yeah, that teacher who got way too much press just for quitting his job.  What kind of world do we live in where a teacher leaves and is celebrated by his colleagues and several dozen parents for just up and leaving?  Sheesh.

Well, we live in a world where teachers don’t really fit in anymore.  You see, there’s a cohort of three groups of wolves dressed in sheep’s’ clothing (and school-bus-yellow superhero capes) that have decided that they know better than teachers how kids learn.  In fact, they’re very good at spreading the idea that teachers are to blame for failing schools, teachers get paid too much, teachers have pensions that are crashing the economy, and teachers like to get a little too friendly with their students.  Oh, and they tend to just up and leave when the heat of standardized test pressure gets too high (I was actually accused of that).

But let me tell you the truth.  Teachers, by and large, do what we do because we love watching children grow mentally, intellectually, and emotionally.  (Watching them grow physically is mostly kind of comical, especially in the preadolescent, clumsy years.)  We are in the game to change lives and we care very deeply about our work and our students.  So, when a regime takes over that refuses to let us be those people, it bothers us–sometimes to the point of physical illness and pain.  You don’t need to hear my whole sob story, but I will tell you that my frustrations with the ways my students and colleagues were being treated made me physically sick, to the point of dysfunction.

I left because I believe that teachers live by that one magical line in the Hippocratic oath, just as much as doctors do.  We refuse to take part in practices that might cause harm to our kids.  I found myself to the point of tears a few times as I watched my students struggle and suffer under the weight of the new “ed reform” movement.  It’s worse than we think.

So, I’m taking my action several steps further.  I am now a full-blown anti-Common Core, anti-Race to the Top, anti-privatization activist.  As a parent and a teacher, I refuse to do harm.  Unless, of course, you’re a corporate stooge and your last name rhymes with “funkin’” or “pee.”

I’ll see you on the front lines.

Follow me on Twitter: @klnielsen74


  1. It brings a pain to my heart to see how well the Forces of Darkness are succeeding at turning us against one another (I’m a little fuzzy on who is playing the role of Screwtape in the unfolding drama of K-12 education “reform,” but it seems to me that I can’t turn around these days without bumping into a Wormwood trying to convince me of the righteousness of CCSS, NCLB, etc.). A teacher who “walks away” (as I did, reluctantly, after 29 years in the classroom) in order to work on behalf of kids’ futures in some other ways is not a fool, or a knave, or a weakling, any more than the teachers who stay are dupes, or pawns, or Quislings. We mustn’t judge one another in this way. We can only fight for what is best for kids with what we have in us to fight *with.* I celebrate all those who have the strength to keep at the daily battles while still in the classroom, but I also celebrate those who felt the psychic (and physical!) demands of that approach were a bridge too far for them, and chose to seek a different path. We need to see each other with better eyes, or the war will be lost. How would we explain THAT to the kids we all care about?

  2. Kris Nielsen says:

    My focus now is on the parents, because there are many, many frustrated teachers out there in the trenches that can’t imagine leaving and know what they’re doing is right (I’m speak to them every day). Parents are the key here, since teachers have a job to do, and they can’t risk that. I wrote this a while ago, where I invite teachers to do what they know is right, for no other reason than they know it’s right!

  3. I know Kris, I know.But there are those of us who choose to stay in the trenches. Those who know that, regardless of all of the issues we may believe in and regardless of those things that we rail against, what we know is best…standing up for our kids. This is not validated, of course. But we cannot abandon the kids. I cannot see fit to leave a profession I have invested I have invested my life in, for many reasons, but first and foremost because I believe that we have been able to fight off the ebb and flow of political roller-coastering, and have found a way to teach what we truly believe in and that we know is important, and we need to stay and fight the fight. We are rebels, too. I hope against hope that we are, still and all, the ones who make a difference. We don’t want to be abandoned. We don’t want to be treated like we don’t care because we don’t risk all to opt out. I have hesitated to pose these questions to you because of our relationship, But I think it is time for you to answer them.


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