Posted in teacher morale, Teaching Career

Who Will Staff Tomorrow’s Schools, Part 3

WHO WILL WANT TO TEACH?

Over the past few years I’ve written repeatedly asking where tomorrow’s teachers will come from. The current trend of public school teacher and teachers union bashing has reduced the number of teaching candidates in America’s colleges of education (see HERE and HERE. Need more? There’s also HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).

Diane Ravitch posted yet another comment from a teacher who has decided to leave the profession…

Teacher: Why I am Leaving Teaching

Seventy hour work weeks, failing technology, rotating cast of half my class load with various medical conditions that impede cognitive function. Adaptable, hard working, using differentiated learning and hands on learning/multimodal approaches does not mean jack now. Teachers are not able to control the tests, cannot develop multiple means for students to demonstrate mastery. So half my well meaning students will christmas tree their end of course test and my own family will suffer the consequences when I lose my job. Bleaker future than the past five with consistent pay cuts and benefits cut. Furloughs are a yearly experience now.

(to “christmas tree” a standardized test = marking bubbles on an answer sheet to create a visual pattern, rather than attempting to answer the questions)

Other times I’ve posted on this topic…

(There may be more I didn’t find…if you see any others, let me know and I’ll add them to this list. I’m not very good at tagging posts)

RANDOM QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHING

The vast majority of so-called “failing schools” are schools which have high numbers of students living in poverty. If “failing schools” = “poor teachers” how did it come about that all the bad teachers ended up in those schools and all the good teachers are employed in areas without high poverty?

“Reformers” will frequently harp on getting rid of all the bad teachers as the way to improve the nation’s schools. If all the teachers at “failing schools” are fired, where are the “good” teachers going to come from?

There’s a direct correlation between family income and achievement test scores. The lower the family income the lower the scores. This is true world-wide. The only solution that other nations have found has been to relieve the conditions of poverty. How will firing all or most the teachers in “failing schools” change the conditions of poverty for students? How will firing all or most the teachers in “failing schools” improve student test scores? If there’s a statistical correlation between test scores and family income, how is it statistically valid to blame teachers for low test scores?

“Bad teachers” are frequently being defined as teachers who have decided to dedicate their careers to teaching children with special learning problems or children from less advantaged homes (or no homes at all).

In the latest Federal funding bill compromise (10/16/2013) included a provision which allowed the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs, including Teach for America novices. How does that improve teacher quality? How is the definition of “highly qualified teachers” related to the debt ceiling, the Affordable Care Act, or anything else related to the latest government shut down? Why was the phrase “highly qualified teachers” included in the No Child Left Behind Act?

In what other profession is there an effort by administrators or boards of directors (school boards) to remove the most experienced workers and replace them with poorly trained novices?

LESSONS FROM A HIGH ACHIEVING NATION

Much has been made of the fact that Finland is a “high achieving” nation. Their students are recognized as among the best in the world on international tests. One of the things which Finland worked on and improved was the way their teachers approached teaching.

The Finns understand that good teaching doesn’t just take place within the classroom. Preparation, collaboration and professional development are all important if teachers are going to be expected to provide high quality lessons.

One of the most difficult problems facing American teachers is having enough time to do their jobs. Developing age-appropriate lessons, project based activities, lectures, in-class assessments, presentation materials, hands-on activities and other in-class activities for students takes time. Assessing student progress is also time consuming…grading tests, homework or in-class assignments, and projects.

Teachers in the US are traditionally allowed one class period a day as a preparation time. It’s easy to see how a normal secondary teacher’s student load of 150-200 students would generate a large volume of out of class work. It’s also similarly easy to see how an elementary teacher with 25 students, who has to teach Math, Reading and English, Science, Social Studies, and Health would also have a lot of work in researching, collaboration with colleagues, planning and assessment.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, teachers in Finland spend a little less that 700 hours with their students annually. The balance of their work time is spent on curriculum development, professional development, collaboration, research and all the other administrative chores required. American teachers, on the other hand, spend nearly 1100 hours a year with their students. American teachers don’t have the time during the school day to take care of all the things they need to do. That’s why teachers stay late, work on weekends and/or take tote-bags laden with paperwork home with them in the evenings.

It’s easy to see why a major complaint of American teachers is lack of time to do their jobs. The simple fact is that American teachers are not given time to do their jobs.

THE FUTURE OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION

Teachers in America’s public schools are being crushed under a mountain of paperwork and regulations resulting from the passage of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top — the administration’s current program — and now, the adoption by many states of the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers are being blamed for the nation’s economic crisis because many states have pension plans for public school teachers (in many states, Indiana included, these funds are paid for by the teachers themselves).

Teachers are being punished for the failure of students who have multiple learning problems caused by the physical, emotional and academic damage done by the massive levels of child poverty in the United States over which they have no control.

State legislatures around the nation are removing job benefits for teachers and teachers unions which, in Indiana, include, collective bargaining rights and local control over teacher evaluations.

The privatization of public education is leaving public schools with the more difficult and more expensive to teach students while state legislatures are redirecting public money to charter schools and vouchers for private schools. There is no proof that charter schools on the whole do better than public schools teaching similar students and no proof that either charters or vouchers improve student achievement through “competition.”

Experienced teachers are being forced out of their teaching jobs by evaluations based on test scores and school turnover — the closing of public schools which are being replaced by private or charter schools.

Merit pay plans — evaluations based on test scores and rewards for higher test scores — punish teachers who teach in poor communities or teachers who teach students with special needs and lead to school turnovers and “churn.”

America is systematically destroying it’s teaching profession.

You might also be interested in…
Pasi Sahlberg: What Can the US Learn from Educational Change in Finland?
Teacher Education in Finland

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.