Posted in Public Ed, Teaching Career

Teaching in a Hostile World

Bad teachers have apparently taken over American education. At least that’s the natural conclusion one could make from the claims of politicians, pundits and policy makers. “We love good teachers, but the bad teachers are ruining America.” This is the standard reason used for the anti-union policies of governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Chris Christie and their friends in state legislatures around the country. Lest I appear partisan, I remind you that Arne Duncan and his boss, Barack Obama cheered when the entire staff of Central Falls HS in Central Falls RI were fired. The quote I have at the top of this blog by candidate Barack Obama (2008) should tell you where I stand. He turned his back on America’s public schools and teachers once he got our votes. I’m bipartisan in my disdain for politicians because…

Educators have no political party to support because no political party supports educators, public education, or teachers unions.

Is it any wonder that educators feel attacked in the America of 2013?

Why So Many More Teachers Hate Their Jobs Now

Many teachers are unhappy with their jobs right now. That shouldn’t come as a shock, but a recent nationwide survey from the MetLife Foundation just confirmed this sentiment.

What is surprising about the survey’s results, however, is how much teachers’ job satisfaction has plummeted in just the past three years.

And if you’re thinking the numbers are primarily a result of merit pay, increased accountability or teacher union-oriented laws, the survey’s authors suggest there’s much more to the story.

It’s been my contention for the last few years that politicians, pundits and policy makers have targeted teachers for a couple of reasons…one of which is to deflect the responsibility for the growing number of children living in poverty. The issues involving low achievement in American schools have a lot to do with the social conditions of the country. As the number of children living in poverty grows and the economic achievement gap grows, the failure of our leaders to reduce poverty becomes an issue. They blame teachers and public schools in order to deflect their own responsibility and failure. The small number of bad teachers out there didn’t create the conditions of poverty which afflicts nearly one-fourth of our children.

Putting Teachers Last

The only real failure here are those blinded by their own political agendas and unable to recognize how amazing many of our teachers are. I’ve witnessed teachers give their whole life, day and night, to their students. To call these heroes a failure is a disgrace.

The only education reform we need is a reform of the way we look at the classroom.

It’s also apparent that experience, training, and educational background don’t matter. Anyone who ever attended school can apparently be considered an expert in education. Take three (please!) for example…

Michelle Rhee taught for three years…an entire career compared to some “reformers.” This, after 5 weeks of training. That’s the extent of her experience, yet she continues to pontificate about what makes a good school…a good teacher…and good education policy. To paraphrase a famous basketball coach, “I have forgotten more about teaching, students and educational policy than Rhee ever knew.”

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, has no education qualifications. None. He never taught. He never attended public schools. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t think qualifications count.

Bill Gates…a very bright student who attended public schools for 6 years till his parents put him in a private school…whereupon he made his mark in technology skills…dropping out of college to become a billionaire. No education training there, either. Money talks. Just because you made a lot of money from your computer and marketing skills, Bill, doesn’t mean you know what it takes to educate children.

You don’t get legal advice from your doctor…or dental advice from your attorney…

Try this instead…from an actual teacher. Check out the top ten. I encourage experienced and trained teachers reading this to make your own list…

Experienced Teachers Are Worthless…

So what makes me the teacher I am today (and will become), in order, and which had the most positive impact on my abilities as a teacher:

  1. Experience
  2. Help/knowledge/wisdom of veteran teachers
  3. Retired teachers (Thanks Roger 🙂 )
  4. Content understanding (given both educationally and through experience)
  5. Fellowship with other teachers
  6. Fellowship with other new teachers
  7. Feedback from students
  8. Advisers/mentors (Thanks Lynn and Herb)
  9. Constructively critical administrators (thanks Bill & Jim)
  10. Educational background
  11. A decent lunch
  12. Petting my cat when I get home
  13. Coffee
  14. Other teachers
  15. Bad days (you can learn a lot when everything goes wrong)
  16. A good night’s sleep
  17. A drink with fellow teachers
  18. Finding an extra dollar bill in my coat pocket so I can buy a pop for lunch
  19. Sleeping on the couch in the lounge (if you have a couch….or a lounge)
  20. Opening a can of tuna
  21. Controlling/Policy-minded administrators
  22. Watching anti-education documentaries
  23. Listening to political speeches about education
  24. Paying taxes
  25. Spending my own money on classroom supplies that will be reimbursed
  26. Spending my own money on basic classroom supplies that won’t be reimbursed
  27. BS portfolio making
  28. Educational Standards (state, district or “common” core)
  29. District overlords/Political-bureaucratic stooges
  30. Thinking about my retirement plan

Teachers often feel afraid to speak out. This is because retaliation is real. I have seen principals and superintendents go after teachers for no educational reason whatsoever. I have sat in meetings with teachers who were being belittled and badgered by their principals. I have watched as central office staff had to rein in principals who were so obviously destructive to teachers that parents were beginning to see it. I have seen superintendents, and central office administrators make life so difficult for teachers — good teachers, award winning teachers — that they left the system or quit teaching altogether. This is the reason that unions are important.

It’s important for teachers to stand up to those bullies…as well as the bullies in the media, legislative houses and executive offices. Not many teachers do…it’s not smart in terms of job security. However…it is becoming more and more necessary.

Why I Am Not Anonymous

Teachers need to stand up and speak out about the realities of education. If they don’t, then who will? Our current system is being run by people with no educational background (Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and others).

It’s time to get these amateurs out of the education business. Parents, students and teachers shouldn’t have untrained pontificators telling them what to do.

Proof: Kindergarten Teachers Know How to Fix the Schools

Be careful what you assess because it will drive your instruction. When we place such high pressure on standardized test scores – we are going to force everyone to teach to the test.

What if the test will not get students ready for life or academic success? A, B, C, D multiple choice questions are not measuring authentic life skills. We all know people who test well who lack skills in other areas.

Currently, I spend 75% of my instructional time testing or preparing for testing. My students are 5 years old and I only see them 2 hours a day. It’s too much. I’m not even teaching anymore.

I love the following article. I love the fact that some of the signatories on the letter to Arne Duncan teach at the University of Chicago Lab School, his elementary and high school alma mater.

Open letter to Arne Duncan from Chicago teachers

Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.

We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education. (For a review of the literature see http://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf).

This is from The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations referred to above.

The achievement gap between children from high and low income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years,

Last weekend teachers, parents, and concerned citizens from four states gathered in Fort Wayne, Indiana to talk about ideas and strategies for improving and supporting public schools. Join us. Speak out. Redirect public education away from privatization and the “business model” promoted by self-serving “reformers” and return it to the public.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.