I suspect teachers all over the country will agree with his comments about the lack of respect for the profession. (At his request, I am not using his name because of his concerns for his job.)
This teacher is responding to a recent DeKalb commentary on the blog by Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall, but his essay speaks to the conditions facing teachers in many places:
I’ve seen so many commentaries over the weeks about the plight of the DeKalb School Systems – from interim superintendents to possible ex-board members to concerned politicians. The blaring omission of a teacher voice rings louder about our current state of affairs. I’ve shrugged all of them off and kept-calm-and-carried-on as has been the trickle-down mantra for years in DeKalb County.
Then, l read I read Lawrence M. Schall’s “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” commentary.
His manifesto of conservatism and privatizing the public school arena is, I think, a huge portion of what’s wrong with education today – it comes under the guise of common-sense solutions from informed think-tanks, but it’s really just the Trojan Horse that will finally do away with public education in this country. And, as I’ve said before, democracy in America won’t be far behind.
It’s a simple fact – public education is not and should never be seen as a business.
To suggest it is or could be run like one is itself the problem with education.
The agenda that Schall suggests is double-speak for fixing a broken educational system by doing away with it in piecemeal. “Creating paths for the recognition and reward of effective teachers” is pay for performance – pitting teacher against teacher to receive pay based on student performance is ludicrous and quickly becoming a reality.
I know virtually no teachers who think this would ever turn out well. If you think there was cheating on the high-stakes tests before (which includes the suggested model StudentsFirst organization by Ms. Rhee), wait until you tie a paycheck to some ridiculous exam written by a for-profit organization.
As far as “empower[ing] parents with real choice by providing them with easily accessible and understandable data and through equitable funding of effective charter school” – this is truly one of the biggest farces within school systems today.
If I can break down what I’m reading: we’re talking about vouchers for private schools that can produce the results that the businesses are telling the parents that students need. If a student in my class misses a question on a high-stakes assessment that asks the child to find the mistake in a sentence that’s missing the Oxford comma (an example one of the many hotly debated usage rules upon which we English teachers can’t even agree that test-writers love to target), then that student hasn’t met the standard for “Conventions” and must be remediated.
Or withdrawn and taken to a school where the child will suddenly master the elusive comma – a school that works. Frankly, there are some usage rules I have to look up every time I come across the issue, or I simply revise the sentence to fix what I don’t know.
That’s what I learned as a student before we traded learning for testing – to think critically and creatively. To use my strengths in my favor. These skills have fallen by the wayside in an era of manipulated numbers telling us what’s going on instead of visiting schools to see for ourselves.
Instead of working with teachers to help the students, parents have been empowered to believe that they know education better than the educator. And why wouldn’t they think that? It’s obvious that everyone thinks they can do a better job than teachers. Organizations like Teach for America are churning them out as people leave unfulfilling careers to enter the classroom and find purpose.
All you need to be a good teacher, apparently, is a dedicated heart – the thing that’s missing from those of us who went into education from the get-go.
The-Teachers-As-a-Second-Career-Crew will save education from the current teachers who just aren’t cutting it. Check out any news story that has anything to do with education and you’ll find the teacher featured at the center of the problem.
Even Schall suggests that the teachers are more to blame than the governance when he points out “performance of the school board, and more importantly, the school district have been abysmal for far too long.”
Dr. Schall, I’m a part of that district and you’re absolutely right – it’s broken, broken, broken. But, with all due respect to you sir, it’s not because of teachers not doing their jobs. It’s because the powers-that-be have not been focusing on student success and teacher protection – they’ve been running this district like a business complete with golden parachutes, missing monies and top-heavy management.
They, like so many in education, have forgotten that it’s about the students. And I don’t mean in a “Victory in every classroom” political slogans or the “We do it for the children” false-selfless statement that six-figure administrators make. I mean the hard-fought and sometimes ugly battles that it takes when it really is about the students.
All the teachers I know accept that and are willing to fight for their students. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do what we do.
Here’s where I agree with you – we have to “spend tax dollars more efficiently by promoting better governance structures.” Those structures must involve the teachers and their protection along with students. If you want me to do right by your kids, ask for my input on their education. Protect me when I do speak out.
Don’t cut my pay or the number of days I have with your kids while adding more tests and then act shocked when the learning seems to have stalled – of course it has. The students were so busy pre-testing to show management that they didn’t know something that the teacher ran out of time to teach them something.
But it made for cool charts for the “data chats” and “war rooms.”
Instead of villainizing teacher unions, encourage them. Work with them. Teachers will be a lot more likely to fight for your kids if they know somebody’s got their back. As it stands, I can’t even sign my name to this commentary without possibly losing my job.
Now, I don’t have my own blog to fall back on or a doctoral degree in education, but even I can see that our system is patently wrong.
And I’m trying to do something about it. What I am doing is working from the inside to make things better. It’s a little more thankless than sitting on a higher perch and pointing out the mistakes that others are making, but those kinds of gigs are hard to get.
Still, in spite of my broken district, just like Dr. Schall’s two adult children, I’m also teaching at a public school that works. And it’s not because of the tests; it’s in spite of them.
Schall and I can agree on one more thing – we are focusing on the symptoms rather than the problem. The more we treat education like a business, the further away from ever fixing it we get. I’ve heard it said a million different ways (as have most of us actually in the classroom), but I’m not building the latest piece of technology or working on an assembly line of the latest mode of transportation – I’m teaching your child.
I want him or her to have imagination and creativity enough to make the future better for all of us. The more roadblocks and assessments of arbitrary questions put forth in the spirit of measuring my worth as an educator, the less likely your child is of actually being successful.
Because I have looked at them as only data and stamped the “product” with a big red label as defective.
Because my days are spent producing worthless charts and graphs for my “data notebook” so that my countless supervisors can justify their own jobs by showing that I’m not doing mine right yet.
Because there are so many corporate people whose job it is to tell what I’m doing wrong according to their business model that even I sometimes forget that teaching is my life, not just my job, and I didn’t go into it for the money.
The education system in our country is broken and we’re breaking it further with all of our uninspired solutions.
I guess if that’s our goal, then we’re “racing to the top” right on schedule.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog