26 years of teaching notched off and packed away like so many dusty boxes of memories. Of course they are more than that, and each year represents about 170 lives I got to be a part of–whether they like it or not, of course. But what I tried to do is give them a reason to like it, a reason to reflect on their own lives and their own character.

It’s nothing new to say that public education needs changes. Like any large organization, there is sclerosis and fecklessness, incompetence and degradation–and there is also sacrifice and change, growth and ardor and even a little love. Will the latter outweigh the former? One hopes.

As my daughter, now a high school junior, navigates these waters, I see it through her eyes and I’m reminded of the protean changes that have taken place since even I started. Some of those changes are surely for the better, but most are not. School administrators use “data driven” to describe their approach to education, which is absurd and George Orwell would be sadly shaking his head. The push toward standardized testing, seemingly stymied with the changes to Common Core curriculum, itself a lumbering, hackneyed political erector set, have come rearing back in the guise of more benchmarks, more kids in AP classes, more funneling individuals into the same paddock.

As large corporations swallow up other large corporations and hire people to do menial jobs to keep their Byzantine systems working, schools willingly partake in turning students into “product,” and ignoring the individuals. We teachers are either knowingly or unwittingly, helping to create a people subdued by “norms” and conformity–these are the opposite of what we should be doing.

So, at year 26, I will keep rolling the stone up the hill–pushing back and starting year 27 in my classes asking my students to reflect what they read onto themselves. In the end, it is their character we are building and if we continue down this path, they will only be able to say their character is just like anyone else’s. I hope to stem that tide.