The credential program was not preparation for inside the classroom; most trial lawyers will tell you the same thing about law school and the courtroom. Rather, it was a requirement. Perhaps because I was older than most in the program, and had taken graduate level courses in developmental psychology (I have an M.A.), the coursework seemed almost juvenile. There were the mandatory mentions of Dewey and Taylor, BICS and CALP, ZPDs and scaffolding; lots of theory and academic language, not much substance. It was not a challenge, to say the least. So, I understand some of the griping about credential programs and schools of education. I think smart people who can relate to children can teach because teaching is more art than science, but that is a whole post on its own.
Most of my fellow students seemed as disappointed in the program as I was. Among the older folks like me, all of us agreed-it was next to useless. Nevertheless, we stuck it out, were credentialed, and most of us got jobs. In the beginning of my career, I was quiet and listened to all the veterans. As my career went on, and I became a veteran, I began to listen to the principals, the board, and the superintendent, and they scared me. The administration and managers of my district scared me because I began to see them as the political animals they are. They are not free to do what is right; they must do what will keep them employed and in positions of power. It happens to all politicians, apparently. This became more and more obvious as NCLB sanctions began.
As a result, I started The Frustrated Teacher in 2006 with this post as a way to express my dissatisfaction with the bashing of teachers, and as a way to expose, anonymously, the nonsense happening in my own school/district. I planned to write many, many posts. I guess I got sidetracked and went a year without posting in 2007! I then began blogging nearly daily, especially as the presidential election got going.
NCLB includes sanctions for not making the grade. One sanction for not making AYP (Average Yearly Progress in NCLB-speak) is the district's adoption of new curricular materials. I wrote a post on one of our curriculum adoptions (called Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop) here. The point is that NCLB required that we change our curriculum, and not necessarily for the better. Changing curricular materials is expensive, there is a learning curve to become familiar enough with the materials to put them to any use, and often they simply suck (Everyday Math is another example). Adoptions are great for publishers!
With the adoption of Lucy Calkins and Everyday Math began the scripting of teachers. No longer could I create my own lessons, using my own voice, my own passion, my own style. Even how my room looked was under scrutiny; did I have student work on the walls; did I have a schedule up on the board; were standards posted (this was the most ridiculous bit-second graders are not interested in seeing the standard, written as it is in cryptic eduspeak--they want to learn it)? I had to follow what most teachers considered sub-par curricular materials and design my room according to my principal's desire (she has never taught elementary school). The demise of my autonomy and passion had begun. I was not happy. I was not happy with the scripting, but I was also not happy about the staff development that began at the same time.
Because we adopted new materials, we clearly needed to get training in how to use them. I know this costs lots of money, and the money cannot be better wasted. The adoption and subsequent "staff development" are the epitome of top-down management based on the business model. This also began the "data-study" and reliance on student score data to "inform instruction." This is in an elementary school. The kind of data we drill down is: does the student identify words requiring silent "e" and the like. Any elementary teacher knows this kind of data off the top of their heads because they see their students' work all day every day-it is known by osmosis. Moreover, the work of a young student is just not very hard to diagnose; they write only a few sentences for any assignment, allowing teachers to see, in real time, where the students are. We do not need ANOVAs and Chi Squares to see where Johnny needs extra instruction or remediation. Of course, with our new curricular materials, Johnny will not get what he needs. With all the time spent in meetings, I will never be able to meet with Johnny and/or his parents after school.
The effects of NCLB have been disastrous. Veteran teachers are leaving in droves. TFA and the charter schools bash traditional schools and teachers only to be exposed as liars and cheats, and short-termers. Even Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor (could they have picked a worse name --Fuehrer maybe?) of Washington D.C.'s school district and the reformers' pet, has been silent since her district's scores have shown no improvement-and she fired one quarter of the teachers and replaced them with young ones! We are not going to fire and shutdown our way to a better education system.
Teachers work hard. I see it and do it. We are paid less than other professionals are, and we have less autonomy than many professionals do. Reformers and bashers of education like to claim that we are lazy, and get 3 months off, justifying the low pay. I know many teachers who use summer to make extra money, money that will inevitably end up in the classroom as materials because school districts cannot afford anything anymore. Most of us spend between $400-$1000 a year on materials.
Because SES (socio-economic status) is the only consistent correlate of educational attainment, we need to find ways to ameliorate the effects of poverty, the only variable that affects the achievement gap. Poverty affects a child's ability to succeed in school, and subsequently, life. The tying of teachers' hands just makes things worse for those kids, and by extension, everyone.
Impoverished kids have smaller vocabularies. They sleep less. They are less well fed. They are sicker. They may be homeless, and/or abused. Few adults talk with them. They have virtually no books in their homes. Nobody reads to them. They go to school with your kids. They live not too far from you. They need us to do something.
Here are my prescriptions for a better education system:
- 1. Provide early childhood education for every child starting at 3 years old. If we are going to try to deal with poverty via education, this is the first step to make sure all kids are ready to start school.
- 2. Provide single-payer health insurance for all Americans. An impoverished child comes from an impoverished family. They need decent health care too.
- 3. Make teachers take turns being principals and simply do away with principals (in elementary schools). Many principals have been out of the classroom for years. We need folks who work in the trenches to run things. If teachers were "trained" and credentialed to be a principal (it is not very complicated) they could take turns being the principal. This would make for more attention paid to nuts and bolts, which is what schools deal with, especially when things are shoved down our throats.
- 4. Have parents and students rate teachers. The parents and the kids know which teachers work and which ones do not. Principals have very little idea what goes on in a classroom in their school, often through no fault of their own--they are too busy saving money and refusing services to kids who need them, at the behest of the administration of the district.
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