Sunday, October 09, 2005

Teacher's Fault

Over at dKos, there was a diary by Gov. Vilsack noting the discussion on "improving" education. As usual there were the typical comments about needing to improve the quality of our teachers. Georgia10, who I enjoy reading greatly, had a comment that this part set me off:
Finally, it is about having these teachers take pride in their work.  Don't make the teachers work longer hours, or longer school years. Just make them work, and make them feel proud that what they are doing is making a difference in our world, rather than just babysitting.

I probably took it the wrong way, but the following rant ensued:

Take pride in their work you say, followed by "just make them work." Come on Georgia! I'm so tired of hearing that teachers don't take pride in their work and/or don't really work. It's what makes me feel like no matter how great I am in the classroom that it doesn't matter. I'm tired of hearing teachers make too much money, get too much time off, and don't really work. Yet this is the conventional wisdom out there. Teaching is easy, and teachers are lazy.

Why do we have so many days that are not "full" school days? Field trips are mentioned, so let's do away with those. Let's keep teenagers bottled up in a sterile classroom for all 180 days and never expose them to the arts, a museum, or a trip to a working business.

Late starts are mentioned along with teacher training. Let's do away with all the late starts - which would do away with collegial teaming, in-services, and specialized training for teachers. Let's do away with institute days as well. As a teacher don't need training in sexual harassment, gang activity, blood borne pathogens, or inclusion techniques. I can get all this training on my time off just like they do in business when they train their employees on their vacation time.

If we want "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom, let's look at why teachers wind up teaching overloads or filling in outside their subject area. It could be the difference between offering a class, retaining an experienced teacher, or keeping staff full time vs. part time and losing them to another district.

Let's stop expecting our teachers to be perfect. Teachers have bad days. They don't know everything. They have their own children. They get tired and sick. What profession has so much asked of it yet has its professionals treated so poorly. Teachers are suppose to be perfect, yet teaching is treated as a cushy job with "summer off." If teaching is so important and so easy, why don't the best and brightest go into teaching in droves? What business do you know that requires it's professionals to share a computer with 4 other staff members, buy their own copy paper, and has one copier for 100 people?

And since when does it mean a teacher is better if he/she had a higher GPA in college? What if Teacher A gets a 4.5 GPA and had his college paid for by his parents while Teacher B gets a 3.5 GPA because he was working full time on top of school to pay for his tuition? Last I checked both Bush and Kerry were "C" students and they were just looking to run the USA. I guess they be terrible teachers, right?

I'm tired of initiatives by politicians and those who haven't ever been in charge of 30 teenagers on a daily basis. Initiatives are a fad, a sales tool, a political rallying cry. They come and go like fashion. And at their base is the common assumption that there is something wrong with our teachers.

I've noted this before, but what percentage of teachers are "average?" What percentage of teachers are "poor?" I have students who think I'm terrible as well as those who think I'm the best ever. Is this percentage lower in engineers? Doctors? Lawyers? Architects? Plumbers? I've had my share of poor practitioners in all these professions. Yet all these professions are not viewed as "broken" or full of substandard professionals. And all of these professions earn more than teachers.

I've been in the classroom for 10 years now. In just that short time I've seen a CLEAR deterioration of students ability to think on their own. I've seen a CLEAR deterioration in students ability to concentrate. I've seen a CLEAR deterioration in student's work ethic and pride in what they do. "Is this good enough" is a common question I am asked daily now. It is a standard I will not let my students adhere to. But it is a standard student increasing settle for. So let's get something straight: I am a child's teacher for 55 minutes for 180 days. The parent is the child's teacher for life.

As a teacher I find great joy in my classroom. It's the "initiatives" that claim to "fix" teaching that make me question continuing with my career as a teacher. One takes pride in one's work when their work is valued by society. Teaching and learning are not valued in our society. The lip service paid to teachers is quickly shown to only be a veneer when teachers are demonized for wanting a cost of living adjustment in their contact, or every time there is a budget shortfall and teachers salaries are cut, or every time a parent calls to tell me that it's my fault their kid is failing (even though he hasn't handed in any assignments), and countless other examples.