Archive for the ‘Teacher prep’ Category

An Open Letter to Education Reformers

Dear “Education Reformers”:

You know what? I’m convinced. I’ve decided to believe you when you say that you want what’s best for kids, and that you are concerned about the future of the children of this country as well as the future economic prosperity of the country itself. I, and every other educator and parent I’ve ever met, share your concern and your desire to improve education in this country. It is, after all, important.

But let’s talk about the methods you’ve chosen to achieve this goal, shall we?

Do you have children yourself, Mr/s. Ed reformer? Have you ever tried to convince one of your children to do something they didn’t want to do? And, in this attempt, did you threaten your child with consequences if they didn’t do what you wanted them to do? How did that work out for you?

“Eat your peas, or no dessert!”
“Clean your room, or you’re grounded!”
“Mow the lawn, or you can’t use the car this weekend!”
“Stop crying before I give you something to cry about!”

Odds are, you got the behavior you wanted, be it eating peas or a mown lawn. But did your threat of punishment make your child enjoy eating their peas? Was the lawn mowed better than it ever had been before? What was the quality of the work the child produced? Was it the last time you ever had to threaten punishment to get the same behavior? Did the quality of the mowing, or the enthusiasm of eating peas maintain the same high level? Or did you get a half-hearted, bare-minimum attempt to fulfill the request you’d made, along with a bitter, surly child who said they hated you? Or was it that you simply wanted compliance, not a real change in behavior, not real quality work?

Have you ever tried to get an adult to do something for you? A co-worker, subordinate, spouse, or stranger? What approaches have worked best for you? Threatening discipline or termination, divorce, or physical violence? Or appealing to their sense of professionalism, responsibility, or community? Asking them to change, or telling them to change? Have you seen significant drops in crime that you can attribute to the threat of severe consequences alone, or do such drops come with an accompanying increase in police presence and community improvement initiatives?

I think you’ll agree: you can’t threaten or punish people into doing what you want them to do; at least, not if you want them to continue doing it after you let up on the punishment. You get them to do what you want when you work with them, treat them with the respect they are due, and value their contributions.

So, being the smart, dedicated people you are, I ask you: why do you think taking away teachers’ unions, due process rights, salaries, and professional standing will make them teach better?

“Care more about students, or we’ll cut your salaries!”
“Teach better, or we’ll cancel the collective bargaining agreement!”
“Work harder, and longer, for less money, or we’ll replace you with long-term subs who work cheaper!”

Look, we get it; the economy is bad, and everyone has had to tighten their belts (well, at least everyone who isn’t a CEO, but we’ll ignore that point for now.) Teachers and other school employees around the country have done exactly that, accepting pay freezes and cuts, furlough days, and abbreviated school years along with reductions in support staff, cuts in classroom supplies, fewer visits from the custodian, and larger class sizes, all accompanied by the ever-present threat of the RIF notice, and have accepted them largely without complaint and while minimizing the impact on kids in their classrooms. And in exchange for these sacrifices, we’ve been told that we’re overpaid, lazy, and concerned more about our big, fat pensions than we are our students’ achievement. We’re told we can’t be trusted to do our jobs without frequent visits from “experts” who have never actually worked with kids to make sure we’re doing it right. We’re told that years of experience and advanced degrees are meaningless in comparison to the “enthusiasm” of a Teach For America teacher with 5 weeks training and an Ivy League college loan debt they’re hoping to have forgiven after 2 years. We’re told that insisting on the right to bargain collectively for salary, benefits, and working conditions makes us “defenders of the status quo” who don’t care about kids.

So, we comply, but our heart isn’t in it. We’ll administer the standardized tests that don’t really tell us what you say they do, and in the process we’ll kill our kids’ natural curiosity and joy of learning, because “you measure what your treasure,” and if it’s not on the test, we don’t care. We’ll read scripted lessons to our classes of 35+ kids, and refuse to answer questions that aren’t in the teachers’ guide because we can’t be trusted to do so. We’ll skip art, music, and PE because they aren’t tested. And we’ll burn out and leave the profession in droves, because that’s what you want, and you’ll find (probably too late) that our kids are worse off than they were before.

Well, here’s another option: include us in the process. Let’s work together to make schools better for kids. For kids, not for CEOs, not for politicians, but for kids. We want to do what’s best for kids; not what’s cheapest, or most popular amongst the Tea Party set, but what is best for kids. Treat us with respect, and we will be willing to listen. We want to make our profession better, just as you claim; work with us to make it so. Please.




Required Reading

Planning on being a teacher? Especially a secondary school teacher? Here’s a brief reading list:

When Young Teacher Go Wild on the Web

Washington Post article about the impact of social networking sites on the careers of teachers. This poses an interesting question: do teachers (and by extension, other school employees) have to adhere to a higher standard of behavior in their private lives because of the public nature of their jobs? Considering the technological skills of our students, I’d say yes, at least in regards to what is posted on the Internet. Let’s face it: 12-18 year-olds will Google their teachers, and share on campus anything “juicy” they find out!

Teacher Under Construction: Things I Wish I’d Known!: A Survival Handbook for New Middle School Teachers
This is an AWESOME overview of teaching in a junior high! Spend 2 days reading this, and you’ll save yourself 5 years worth of trial-and-(lots of) error.
If you live in California, or want to work in California, this is the first stop: a listing of jobs, by county and school district. You can even apply on-line for many of them. Unfortunately, this is not exactly a great time to be entering the profession here in Sunny CA, unless you are a special education teacher or a speech and language pathologist… those folks are in huge demand!

California Education Code
Particularly section 48900. Here in Cali, this deals with the suspension/expulsion of students. Teachers should be familiar with it, so their expectations of student discipline are reasonable.

Obviously this list could go on and on, but this is all I have for right now. I’ll add to it as I come up with more material.