WHO WILL STAFF TOMORROW’S CLASSROOMS?
Earlier this month blogger Peter Greene struck back against the increasingly frequent “teacher quits via internet post” genre. He wrote a “not quitting” letter to an imaginary school board.
So I will stay here, and I will do what I consider– in my professional opinion– to do what is best for my students and my community. When I am told to implement a bad policy, I will circumvent it by any means at my disposal. I will disregard directives to commit malpractice. I will question, I will challenge, and I will push back. I will speak at every board meeting. I will talk to every parent.
Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. To his credit, he did acknowledge that not everyone is in position to do what he suggested. In the school I volunteer at, for example, anyone who did what he said would get fired due to insubordination.
Yes, I know. Not everyone is in the position to be this feisty and confrontational, and not every situation lends itself to this approach. I’m not advocating this for every single teacher up against it. And yes– lots of teachers have adopted this “stay and fight” stance– they just haven’t written a letter announcing it.
As I said, I am not unsympathetic to those who quit. You can only take as much as you can take.
I get it. Teachers who are strong will stay in the classroom…until they can’t. Some teachers will leave because they can’t handle the cognitive dissonance of the education malpractice they are forced to dump on their students…and would rather quit than be fired (because, while it’s always been possible to fire teachers, it’s even easier now).
Some teachers will do what Greene has said…they’ll fight back, subvert the malpractice process, and stand up to the “reformers.” Some might even be able to do that without getting fired.
Some teachers will stay and do what they’re told because they believe they can overcome the educational malpractice forced upon them by “excellent teaching.” Those are also the teachers who Greene is speaking of…those teachers who can deal with all the paperwork and all the wasted time in test prep and testing, and still make sure that their students are active learners…and still make sure that their students are evaluated in ways which reflect their real learning, rather than on the basis of an annual BS test (Greene’s way of referring to the “Big Standardized test”).
Some teachers will stay in the classroom, do what they’re told, and participate in the educational malpractice because they don’t know what else to do. They’ll do what they’re told when it’s time to beat test prep into their students’ heads. They’ll do what they’re told when they’re told to limit the curriculum to “tested content.” They’ll ignore or repress the feelings of cognitive dissonance because they don’t know how to combat them.
Some teachers – as witnessed by the numbers of people leaving the profession (and the lack of numbers entering it) – will leave.
How can you defend what you’re doing to your students if you don’t believe it’s in their best interest? How can you subject them to the educational malpractice of ‘reform’ and tell them that you know it’s not good for them, but you have to do it anyway? Someone else will do the same thing to them if you quit…someone who might not understand them as well as you do. When do you tell them that enough if enough and you can’t be the one to do this to them any more?
You do it when you decide that you have to take care of yourself, too.
If you think it’s easy to quit when you care about your students, read this. Staying, fighting, and risking getting fired takes courage…but sometimes so does walking away.
So, I quit. I’m not going to be the messenger that tells my students that they have to take another test. I am not going to spend another class period telling them I cannot help them get through a test they don’t understand.
All but the most partisan (pro-“reform”) among us recognize that there is a looming, if not current, teacher shortage in Indiana and the U.S. Why are today’s college students choosing other ways to “give back” to the community?
The word is out. Not only do teachers have a difficult job, but they are disrespected, scolded, insulted, and derided.
Calling today’s undergraduates privileged or spoiled is similarly reductionistic. Certainly, economic diversity remains a persistent problem in American higher education. But one can find numerous examples of students who, despite growing up in poverty and navigating tragically under-resourced schools, persevere to become the first in their family to attend college. These remarkable individuals are among the most likely to pursue careers in social work, community organizing, or public health with plans to return home and give back to their communities.
But they do not want to become teachers.
This is more than just an unfortunate trend. When our brightest young college graduates, especially those who reflect the increasing diversity found in our public schools, eschew teaching we need to ask why.
The atmosphere surrounding teachers and public education has been toxic…and no amount of denial by politicians saying, “We love our teachers” will change that.
University of California-Davis Education Dean Harold Levine went further, urging leaders to do more “by creating an environment free of teacher bashing and the politicization of our jobs.”
Teachers are losing the freedom to actually impact students’ lives due to restrictions and high-stakes tests. Teachers are also losing job benefits and rights such as collective bargaining, seniority, and economic stability. This is enough to direct college students’ attention to other careers.
But finding candidates to fill this role, especially good candidates, may be more difficult than policymakers are willing to admit. Despite their clear interest in public service, the students I meet betray little enthusiasm for teaching as it now exists. And I see even less indication that major trends in public education—standardization, the proliferation of testing, the elimination of tenure and seniority, and expansion of school choice—have made teaching any more attractive as a career option. Prospective teachers, much like the young educators already working in schools, are especially skeptical of accountability measures that tie a teacher’s job security or pay grade to student test scores. And many are bothered by the way teachers are blamed for much broader social problems.
The demonizing of teachers and teachers unions is a bipartisan effort (until, of course, one needs a political endorsement). Democrats and Republicans alike have fallen into the trap of accountability – as if teachers and schools should be held accountable for the failure of America to deal with its deplorable child poverty rate.
Instead of fixing social problems, improving schools, and providing support services, politicians take no responsibility for the problems in high poverty areas. Like the irresponsible parent who doesn’t think they have to do anything to support their child’s learning, politicians, pundits, and policy makers call out the schools when hungry or traumatized children have difficulty learning. They incorrectly label schools as “failing” when they, themselves, fail to do their jobs. They blame teachers and schools for not solving the problems of poverty and violence in our cities, towns, and rural areas. Accountability isn’t for legislators, governors, or mayors.
Democrats and Republicans alike have sold out the public schools to “choice” and allowed the “choosers” to suck up tax money previously reserved for neighborhood schools. Parents don’t get to choose. Charter schools get to choose. Private schools – using tax money to repair church steeples or add on extra classrooms for religious instruction – get to choose. If you have a high needs child you get to “choose” the now underfunded public schools because there are no other options.
Democrats and Republicans alike have allowed themselves to be bought by lobbyists working for for-profit or religious schools. The constituency is not longer the voting public, but the hedge fund managers, the “reform” think tank, or the CMO.
The attack on public education continues. Why are we surprised when fewer young people want to opt for a career in the classroom?
Obviously the main culprit of this tremendous and damaging shortfall in student learning is austerity budgeting around the country. Most funding for public schools comes from the states, and they have not rebounded to pre-recession funding levels, nor have they made education enough of a priority to keep up. Though teaching children is routinely stated as our nation’s most important priority in political campaigns, we treat it in the exact opposite manner in budget documents.
But there’s a bigger point to be made here, first brought up by blogger Duncan Black, aka Atrios. Speaking of teachers, Atrios wrote, “who could have predicted that demonizing them, cutting salaries and benefits, and reducing job security might make it a slightly less attractive option for people.”
The amazing thing is just how bipartisan this campaign to denigrate the American teacher has been… [emphasis added]
And yet there’s still hope. A young teacher, still untouched by cynicism, writes about her fellow teachers. Can people like this writer hold on long enough to give us a chance to turn things around? Can she and her colleagues overburdened with ever larger class sizes and ever more tests remain in the classroom long enough to see a return to America’s promise of good public schools for every child in every neighborhood?
My first-year teaching experience boils down to this: No matter how rough my day is, nothing has made me regret the decision to teach. Every day I watch my students grow – not just as learners, but as people. Teaching can easily become all-consuming. While I may not have the free time I did when I worked 9 to 5, I still meet up with friends, I still run road races, I still read for pleasure. I haven’t lost myself completely. I feel free and fulfilled.
There are plenty of challenges in the field of education. Have those challenges caused a teacher shortage? It seems so. These challenges, however, aren’t a death toll; they are a call to action.
Teaching is for the brave, the caring, the quick-witted and the thick-skinned. If that doesn’t sound like you, then stay away. As for the rest of you, we have some openings.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
Click here to sign the petition.
For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.