One of the things that has bothered me the most in my experience in both public and private education is the lack of support and respect for teachers.
This lack of respect and support, coupled with unqualified and out of touch administrators making ridiculous demands, and standardized testing designed to put students into boxes rather than measure learning, too often leads to a sad result: good teachers give up and/or quit.
Although these two articles aren't new, they sadly remain relevant and there are many more like them: NC Teacher: “I Quit” on Diane Ravitch's blog, and ‘I would love to teach but…’ on The Washington Post.
Both are about teachers quitting their jobs and, although both are in North America, I imagine the same scenario is being played out the world over. In explaining why they make me both sad and angry, I'd like to share a few quotes that stood out from both articles.
"I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible."
"Decisions about classrooms should be made in classrooms. Teachers are the most qualified individuals to determine what is needed for their own students. Each classroom is different. It has a different chemistry, different dynamic, different demographic, and the teacher is the one who keeps the balance. He or she knows each student, knows what they need, and they should be the ones making the decisions about how to best reach them."
I couldn't agree with these statements more. An administrator can't tell a surgeon how to perform a heart bypass or instruct an engineer on how to construct a complex machine, so what makes anybody think they know how students should be learning?
They make such ridiculous demands and suggest teaching methods that are so out of touch with the realities of the classroom, it would be laughable if it weren't so serious.
Teachers need to be consulted and listened to.
They're the ones who meet the students, who care about the students, and who face the problems, the challenges, the complaints and the hard work. Somebody who hasn't taught or doesn't teach cannot share these concerns and has no right setting the rules for things they know nothing about.
This makes me angry because the people who stand to lose the most are the students. They lose great teachers and with them opportunities for a better standard of learning. It makes me sad for the same reasons.
"It is with a heavy, frustrated heart that I announce the end of my personal career in education, disappointed and resigned because I believe in learning."
"I quit because I’m tired being part of the problem. It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good."
It's very sad to read things like this. How sad that good teachers feel that they have no choices other than acquiesce or quit. How sad that students are constantly being treated as guinea pigs for the whims and fancies of administrators who haven't got a clue what they're on about.
But it makes me equally angry. These teachers seem to care deeply about their students, so I'd expect them to have a little more fight in them. Perhaps the fight has been knocked out of them, but I'd like to hear that they're challenging things, pushing for change, demanding that students be allowed to learn quality material from quality teachers. Perhaps they are fighting - the articles don't say.
I'm not just spouting hot air. I also feel strongly about these same issues and I also face many of the same frustrations, particularly the hierarchy, and that's why I'm challenging it. It's why I'm pushing for change, why I'm trying to get people to communicate and cooperate, and why I'm putting together recommendations and proposals that I intend to take to the national government. It's why, to the best of my knowledge, I was the first foreign person (with my partner at the time) in Japan to create a complete English language curriculum for elementary schools from scratch.
This hasn't exactly endeared me to people in certain circles, and no doubt some people see me as a trouble maker, but I'm not going to stop because education is more important than pride or being popular. I might get ignored or rejected, but I'm willing to keep fighting.
On working conditions:
"I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation. I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders."
"I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them."
"Teacher planning time has been so swallowed by the constant demand to prove our worth to the domination of oppressive teacher evaluation methods that there is little time for us to carefully analyze student work, conduct our own research, genuinely better ourselves through independent study instead of the generic mandated developments, or talk informally with our co-workers about intellectual pursuits."
The financial struggle is all to familiar, and something I continue to struggle with. I'll talk about this more in future posts but it angers me that teachers are so poorly paid yet looked down upon as slackers who don't want a "real job".
There needs to be a change in the way society views teachers, and it needs to be led by teachers who care deeply about their profession. As in Finland, teachers should be held in higher regard and rewarded for their successes: not in getting students to pass standardized tests, but in being passionate and creative educators.
Teachers need to be supported, not subjected to restrictive and constantly changing rules and regulations. Again, this needs to be teacher led and driven, with needs of students at the forefront.
On student assessment:
"For a field that touts individuality and differentiation, we are forced to lump students together as we prepare all of these individuals for identical, common assessments. As a profession, we have become increasingly driven by meaningless data points and constant evaluation as opposed to discovery and knowledge."
"I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college."
Some form of assessment is needed, I understand that. But tests that simply measure a student's ability to recall facts from short-term memory aren't the best way to measure aptitude, effort, understanding, application and involvement. Again, this needs to come from the people who know about these things more than anybody else: the teachers.
Students aren't data points, they're people with talents, dreams, problems, concerns and differing needs. Assessment needs to recognize this.
Hearing about good teachers quitting is horrible. But we can't limit our sadness and anger to blog posts or complaining to family, friends and peers.
At some point, if we really care about this, we need to do something about it. We need to make waves, challenge the hierarchies, question everything, and stick our necks out for the sake of students.
Not everybody is going to agree, and that's great. It allows us to discuss things, question our own beliefs, and hopefully cooperate in order to work in the best interests of current and future students and teachers.
But the choice should never be accept it or quit.
There have to be other ways.