I wrote my education column for the AJC Opinion page Monday on the issue of merit pay. I heard from many teachers, including this ESOL teacher. I am sharing this response as the teacher makes excellent points.
As a 22 year veteran teacher in Georgia public schools, I am compelled to let you know what I’m thinking of the merit pay proposals — probably because my legislators don’t seem to give a flying flip about what I think.
I am annoyed, first of all, that legislators take it upon themselves to rewrite the compensatory rules for my profession when so many haven’t set foot in a public high school classroom in decades. I think your comparison of my profession to that of the cardiologist is fitting as it is true that I only see some students for an hour or less a day. My students are English language learners and I wonder how many legislators know what kind of skills are required to teach this population. Many can not read or write in their home language, and have no computer literacy.
I think Bill Gates’ ‘’survey” showing that graduate degrees had minimal impact on a teacher’s efficacy was biased, uninformed, or just plain inaccurate. Teaching high school-aged special populations in a school with an enrollment greater than 2,400 students, aging technology, and rapidly shrinking face-to-face instructional time presents even the most experienced and prepared teacher challenges every day.
I have seen my instructional time dwindle steadily since I began teaching high school in 1989; back then we tested for 3 to 4 days each year and now we test for over 15 days each year: 3 solid weeks of testing students. I used to be discouraged and actually composed several letters to the Georgia Department of Education to let them know what a waste of time this excessive testing is for my students.
Lately, I have begun to realize that all of this testing has, in a sense, made my job easier. I don’t have to teach critical reading and critical thinking anymore; all I have to do is teach my students how to select the one BEST answer on a multiple choice test. Performance-based compensation for me is a dead end because my students don’t ”perform” on a standardized test — unless it is one that measures their own personal progress in English language acquisition year over year. For I am an ESOL teacher, and my job is to teach these foreign-born students about the United States culture, the English language, and mastery of the cognitive academic language.
If U.S. students are only learning how to select the one BEST answer on multiple choice tests, then as a nation we are sure to continue our slip to the bottom as our students’ abilities are compared to those of other students from places like Korea, Scandinavia, and Japan. The United States needn’t require teachers to have masters’ degrees since teachers won’t even be necessary to teach anymore.
We can be simply replaced with videos and online tutoring. States will save lots of money on teacher compensation. I spend an inordinate amount of classroom time teaching the test these days, and my skills and talents are being wasted. I believe an unskilled, brand new teacher fresh out of training could do this kind of work better than I can and for far less money.
Lately I’ve decided that perhaps I should be teaching in a college classroom, where standardized testing is not allowed, and teachers work with students to learn to think critically and independently. My lessons won’t be interrupted with fire drills, morning announcements, prom court voting, standardized testing, or pep rallies.
When will Georgia legislators show us teachers some professional respect? Do they have any idea how best to deal with a balky LCD overhead projector while 18 squirming ninth graders wait to show their projects on it — half of whom never worked on a computer before last week? Do they know how to teach students to select the one BEST answer after reading two pages of literary reviews printed side by side asking them to compare the two writers, neither of whom students have ever heard about?
Do they know how to make a student understand an allusion based on a Western literary work or work of art when that student is Mexican, Asian, or African? Can they handle these kinds of issues on a class schedule that shortens class time to just 30 minutes? Do these legislators know how to tell a student who has a 3.5 GPA that she won’t be able to participate in the graduation ceremony next month with her classmates because she hasn’t yet passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test in social studies?
Most importantly, do they know how to prevent a promising student from dropping out because even if he can pass the tests in all 5 areas, he still won’t be able to get a job because he will remain an undocumented immigrant, albeit a bilingual one who is fully versed in our education system, having satisfied enrollment and attendance expectations? Surely, none of this requires any sort of extraordinary talent or skill. Surely, teachers are overpaid, but not bankers.
Many of our best and brightest students are discouraged by these strict rules that prevent them from reaching their full potential. These redundant and superfluous standardized tests are wasting my valuable time and skills. I say let the inexperienced and un-degreed take this profession and do with it what they can, and I’ll take my time and talent elsewhere.