Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Come Join in the Fun - Be a Teacher!

As our community just failed a school levy, I was puzzled as to how in the heck this happened. I contemplated the why's and the how's: Why would people not support education? How could they do this to children? Why do they feel this resentment towards teachers? How can we (the school system) recover from this?

As I was getting my morning iced tea from a local breakfast restaurant (Before you judge and say something asinine like "How can you afford that everyday but you can't afford whatever else it is that you need", I get them free), the lady behind the counter gave me a tongue lashing about how she was GLAD the school levy had failed. Her reasoning? "Those teachers make enough money. I make $16,000 a year and I support 5 people in my household - a fresh out of college kid can make $37,900 AND they get summers off!"

I was stunned. I was beyond shocked. First off, this lady knows I am a teacher and not once did I ever say "We teachers do not make enough money." The Westerville City School levy was not for teacher raises. It wasn't for teacher's retirement. It wasn't for teacher anything - it was for kids to play sports, for elementary students to keep art, music and physical education. It was to offset our glorious governor's state budget cuts. John Kasich claims he balanced the state budget without raising taxes when in reality, all he did was pass the buck to the city and local governments to fund their education systems. Yeah, I am not a fan of Governor Ka-sucks.

I was fuming at this point. Here was this lady, who I see every morning and get my chocolate chip muffie every now and then from, and she was telling ME that I had it easy! And that she was glad the school levy failed! I thought to myself, "Do you have a college education? Do you have a college loan that was used to obtain a Master's degree that you are currently paying off? No, you probably don't."

What I would have liked to say to that individual was, "Lady, you make bagels for a living. I make a difference."

I realized that the reason why our levy failed was because of the amount of uneducated individuals living in this community. And I don't just mean the people who do not have a college degree - you do not have to go to college to be intelligent. I mean the amount of misinformation that was portrayed throughout this levy campaign. And how the uneducated individuals believed it. Also, look at the population. The majority of the people living in this community are older, do not have kids or their children are grown, and do not feel the need to pay for a school system they do not benefit from. Here's the sad news folks: those kids that you didn't support, those are the people who will be filling your prescriptions at the pharmacy, who will be taking care of you when you are sick and who will protect you when you call 9-1-1. Way to go - those kids should feel abandoned and pissed. It was like the entire community said, "You're just not good enough. The $200 more a year on average that I would be paying for my property tax is just not a good investment. Who cares that the value of my home will now drop? I want my steak dinners!"

Now, after the smoke that was spouting from every pore in my body has settled after the breakfast restaurant run in, I want to say to her, "We are always looking for motivated people who love children to come join us." Please, come jump through the hoops, please pay the money it takes to go to college and get a degree, please pay the money to take the certification tests, please come buy things for your classroom out of your own pocket, please come and give kids lunch money all of the time because their own parents don't, please come and buy kids socks and shoes when their parents can't, please come deal with the clinically insane parents that have nothing better to do but plot out ways to try to have you fired, please come try to break up a fight without touching the kids because you might get sued, please come try to teach what feels like 100 standards to kids who do not want to learn.

Seriously. Please come join us.

You might understand how rewarding this profession is. And you might understand then why summers off is really a time for teachers to reflect on why they love their jobs.

The Problem(s) with No Child Left Behind

Back in January of 2002, then President George W. Bush signed a 670-page act into law that was supposed to raise the quality of American public education.

Problem #1 – One of the main authors, Margaret Spelling, who later was nominated to become Secretary of Education in 2004, never worked in a school system. Never. She holds a B.A. in political science and had never received formal training in education.

Problem #2 – The Bush Administration underfunded No Child Left Behind (NCLB) yet required states to comply with NCLB or they risked losing all of their federal education dollars. This resulted in states making budget cuts in field experiences, textbooks, and non-tested curriculum (because you know, those non-tested subjects don’t really matter and kids don’t need art/PE/music in elementary school).

Problem #3 – Many educators feel that NCLB encourages teaching to the test, so that students score well on the test and therefore earn rewards by doing so. Teachers feel that there are many valuable lessons involved with a variety of activities that cannot be measured by a standardized test, but those valuable lessons won’t matter and teachers will have less time to teach those lessons with the vast amount of information that “might” show up on the test. Last time I checked, a valid assessment for teachers to use is one that does not trick the student, and the students have a clear and concise set of targets (or objectives) that will be assessed on the test. It isn’t a point and shoot method or a hope and pray method. How are WE as educators supposed to implement this sort of strategy when even our own state standardized tests do not?

Problem #4 – Which brings me to my next problem – the standardized tests. Each state has their own set of standards, therefore they have their own standardized test. Comparing how students score in California cannot possibly be compared to how well students score in Mississippi. It literally is like comparing oranges to crawfish. I just do not understand how a school can be judged strictly based on test scores alone. States can compensate for inadequate student performance by setting the bar low and making the tests easier. Many times, the tests are flawed and are used to then identify schools as being successful or as failures. Instead of provide those failing schools with the support the students and staff need, they are “punished” with counterproductive sanctions. From my experience in the south, as schools were labeled as being unsuccessful, good teachers left because they can go work for an “A” or “B” school and be more likely to earn the bonus money the state provided from the FCAT. I know that teachers did not get into the profession to become millionaires, but if a teacher is working as hard as she possibly can, then why not be rewarded for her hard work and go somewhere else where the parents are involved? Because typically, when parents are involved in their child’s educational experience, the students are more successful and the parents support the school system because they themselves are college graduates. If the child has his basic needs met (breakfast in the morning, for example), he will perform better and make your job as a teacher that much easier.

In theory, NCLB should work. Teachers should be held accountable. Standards should be set for teacher qualifications. I do not oppose a merit based pay system (see previous posts), but I have yet to see one that will work across content areas and will include valid measurements of success. If states are hurting economically, I am not sure if a merit based system is also the answer – just ask North Carolina why they don’t adhere to that pay system any longer. From what I understand, it cost the state more money than what they were paying based on seniority and level of education.