On Teachers and Teaching
NOTHING TO IT
Anyone can teach, right? We all went to school, after all, and watched it being done. There’s nothing to it.
Years ago I had a first grade student whose father epitomized this attitude in two separate instances.
First, I was told by this man that if his child didn’t understand something I should just tell her what I wanted her to know. Just tell her and then she’ll know it.
Second, I was explaining why his daughter, as a first grader, was not expected to spell every word she wrote correctly. I talked about “invented spelling” and explained why it was an important step in the development of reading and spelling. This was unacceptable. His child was going to spell correctly from day one. Apparently all my years of experienve in the classroom, a Masters degree in elementary education, and a specialization in Reading didn’t really mean I knew what I was talking about.
Why is it that the profession of “teacher” is something people assume is easy? Most people don’t assume they know how to build a building just because they might live or work in one. Police officers don’t assume that they can build bridges. Attorneys don’t assume they know how to do surgery. Doctors don’t practice law. Electricians don’t design skyscrapers.
Yet, politicians, TFA recruiters, other “reformers,” and many general citizens assume that they know all about teaching just because. Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, once…
compared the process a new teacher would follow under the career specialist license to the work of young law students, who often deal with clients and complete legal work before passing the state bar exam under supervision from experienced lawyers.
Hendry wanted to allow anyone with content knowledge into Indiana’s classrooms. His comparison of teaching to law showed his ignorance about teaching internships and student teaching.
Now, in Indiana, REPA III allows anyone with a college degree to teach high school in their major area with certain restrictions such as grade point average and years of experience in their field. They need no pedagogical training to walk into a classroom on the first day of a school year and start teaching. Just as our obsession with testing assumes that knowing facts is everything, in teaching all that matters to these folks is the content.
That’s wrong and it shows the ignorance and inexperience of those who are making education policy for our public schools.
The Dangers of Eliminating Teacher Preparation
Nancy Bailey provides a “reality check” for those who are interested in education. Don’t just assume that, because you spent your childhood and youth in a classroom that you know how to teach. You don’t learn a skill just by watching – real teachers understand that. That’s why good teacher preparation programs insist that their students spend hours and hours with real children in real classroom settings.
In the excerpt below, Bailey explains a little about child development. That’s just one area where teachers know more than “reformers.”
Unless teachers understand appropriate milestones, or steps for each age and developmental level including middle and high school, children will become frustrated. We already see problems with school reform that places an unreasonable burden on children in the early years.
Increasingly, despite pleas for restraint by child specialists, very young children are being pushed to learn more before they are developmentally ready.
Good teacher education includes serious study about timing for appropriate instruction according to where the child is developmentally.
UNIONS AND “BAD” TEACHERS
“Reformers” might claim that there are too many “bad” teachers…and the teachers unions are only there to protect them. The “reformers” are only trying to help the children by busting the union and getting rid of teachers who cost too much money the “bad” ones.
Turns out that this is also something that the “reformers” and the general public think they know, but is actually untrue. In fact, the presence of teachers unions increases the quality of the teachers. Who would have thought that good teachers want to work in places where they have job protections and higher salaries – go figure.
The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers: Evidence from the District-Teacher Matched Panel Data on Teacher Turnover
The data confirms that, compared to districts with weak unionism, districts with strong unionism dismiss more low-quality teachers and retain more high-quality teachers. The empirical analysis shows that this dynamic of teacher turnover in highly unionized districts raises average teacher quality and improves student achievement.
WHY TEACHERS QUIT
Education “reform,” led by people who know nothing about teaching, and funded by the “billionaire boys club” who think that money equals knowledge, has driven good teachers away from public education.
Why do teachers end their careers early? People change or leave careers for myriad reasons, but when it comes to education “reform,” teachers leave because…
Commentary: Why One First Grade Teacher Is Saying Goodbye
I guess the big-picture problem is that all this stuff we’re talking about here is coming from on top, from above, be it the federal government, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the school administration. But the voices of teachers are lost. I mean, nobody talks to teachers. Or, if they do talk to teachers, they’re not listening to teachers.
And that’s, I think, the frustration — that this stuff just comes down, and we sit with each other: “Well, who thought of this?” or “Why do they think this is a good idea?” It’s kind of like “Why not come and talk with us first?” We actually are professionals who work with kids. We want what’s best for kids. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work.
When you make a profession unattractive people won’t want to do it. They’ll leave when they realize what it’s like, or they’ll just never go into teaching to begin with.
Without the slightest hint of irony, legislators in Indiana claimed not to understand why there’s a teacher shortage. So the legislature established a panel to examine the causes of the shortage and come up with some solutions.
Last October the legislature had an “open meeting” in which citizens and experts were allowed to voice their opinions about the teacher shortage. “Experts” (from the Friedman Foundation and other privatizer organizations) testified that there was no shortage. Supporters of public education reminded the legislators that the shortage, which did exist, was of their own creation (See the reports from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education – Monroe County, HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Educators devise eight solutions for Indiana’s teacher shortage
The panel charged with creating solutions to the teacher shortage returned the following ideas…some of which are in direct opposition to “reform” [emphasis added].
- Establish ongoing state funding for a flexible, locally designed mentoring program for new teachers and teachers new to a particular school corporation.
- Create and implement a multimedia marketing campaign promoting the teaching profession.
- Allow for locally developed teacher pay models that provide for regular salary increases and reward advanced degrees.
- Reduce the number of standardized tests by promoting teacher-constructed student assessment models.
- Provide more scholarships and financial aid to college students considering a teaching career.
- Improve collaboration between schools and teacher preparation programs so potential educators have as much classroom experience as possible before they begin working.
- Enhance on-the-job professional development opportunities for current teachers.
- Re-imagine teacher career pathways and pay to enable teachers to take on school leadership roles and still remain in the classroom.
THE PROBLEM IS POVERTY, INEQUITY, RACISM
The real problem isn’t teachers
Teachers and public schools can’t solve the problems of poverty, inequity, and racism alone. Starving the public schools by diverting tax dollars to charter schools or to private schools through vouchers won’t change anything. Policy makers have to stand up and accept their responsibility for the economic conditions in which children grow up and in which the nation’s public schools are required to operate.
One, how much responsibility for unequal education can be reasonably laid at the feet of public schools and teachers — and how much belongs to the broader community for failing to dismantle persistent and durable barriers to equal opportunity such as poverty, systemic racism and income inequality?
Two, is the way we currently measure teacher quality helpful, or even accurate?
…For example, access to a good education is not going to make up for the fact that mom and dad lack jobs or that their full-time jobs do not pay enough to keep the family clothed, housed, healthy, and fed. The highest-quality teachers in the world do not have the power to lift an individual student out of poverty if the country’s system of wealth distribution is rigged against her. Teachers and public schools are not equipped to end the systemic racism that underlies the fact that five times more young black men are shot dead by U.S. police than young white men and that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. There are some problems in the community that cannot be surmounted by education alone, yet education and teachers are persistently portrayed as a panacea for all of society’s ills.