Thursday, June 26, 2014

Is the Teaching Profession at Risk?

It’s not quite right to say a recent link on the Facebook page of Waiting for Superman surprised me.

My reaction was more like: “Holy crap!”

If you’ve seen the movie you know it gives public school teachers, as a group, a black eye, a bloody nose, and maybe knocks out a few molars as a bonus. So I was stunned to see the site express a sudden need to support teachers. The link was titled: “The Teaching Profession is at Risk. Here’s How You Can Help!”

It turns out the profession is endangered because half of all teachers quit within five years. That’s not a recent development, but the link offered a chance to pledge support. I think I was supposed to donate money.

Then I noticed one organization I would pledge to support was The New Teacher Project. TNTP, if you don’t know, was founded by Michelle Rhee.

If you don’t know Rhee—and you really teach—you should. Rhee actually taught three years, herself. (It seems required—if you want to become a famous school reformer—that you teach only briefly, or not at all.) Then she moved up through bureaucratic circles and found herself running the Washington, D. C. schools. In that role and in all kinds of ways since, Rhee has made it clear that she believes public school teachers are the real problem in U. S. education.

Thus the need for The New Teacher Project!

In typical tone-deaf fashion, Rhee once explained why she had no choice but to let 266 of her own Washington, D. C. teachers go. Most had been removed because of poor standardized test results. But Rhee told an audience of entrepreneurs interested in school reform:
“I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”

Why wouldn’t we! Who wouldn’t want to get rid of teachers hitting and/or having sex with children? Of course, almost none of the 266 men and women Rhee axed were hitting anyone or having sex with any children (which would be roughly 260 members of this group). It was a terrible way to justify terminations.

Setting that aside, with a warning to all public school teachers not to trust Rhee, the fundamental question remains. Why do so many new teachers quit? Even worse, why are so many veteran teachers disheartened? 

Is the profession at risk?

The reaction of teachers to the original post only increases my concern. I loved teaching. I’m not sure it’s easy to love teaching today. Here’s what other educators said:

Renee Blanc: I’m going into my 9th year of teaching & Common Core will be the 3rd set of standards that have come down from the powers to be that I’m required to teach. Movies like this [Waiting for Superman] don’t address the issues, like non-teachers writing these standards.

NEWSFLASH—Teachers are told EXACTLY what to teach. How are teachers failing students when we are NOT the ones writing the standards?

Ann Grissom-Wilkins: I don’t need “Superman” or any other super hero. I want a teacher who is allowed to educate the children in order for them to become successful, productive citizens. I want them to be able to think past the answers of these high stakes test. Get rid of all the political mess and educate our children.
Mr. Viall notes: My last year in the classroom was 2008. Members of the social studies department were told we absolutely must prepare kids for the social studies section of the Ohio Achievement Test. The test seemed badly flawed—and I told my principal it seemed like malpractice to teach to such a poorly designed test. 
The following year the State of Ohio came to the same conclusion and killed the social studies test.

I fondly remember state standardized tests in the early 90s, too. Those tests didn’t work either, in part because the “standards” set were so incredibly low. See an example of a “difficult” map proficiency question below:

Not exactly the most challenging question to ask.

Libby Garrett: If society really wants teachers as this post implies, then stop attacking us AND our pensions and pay! Stop making it harder and more costly to retain our licenses. Stop blaming schools and teachers for the ills of society! START taking responsibility for student attendance! START taking responsibility for assignments and studying! START taking responsibility for bringing supplies to class! I was once chewed out over a student who was disrupting my class. The assertion was it was MY fault because I didn’t supply the student with a pencil! And in truth I had a bucket FULL of pencils to loan out but why is it MY responsibility to pay for the basic supplies of my 150 students!?
Viall: The Washington Post recently noted that in Ms. Rhee’s old district 1 of every 5 students had at least twenty days of unexcused absences—and that would not include excused absences in the mix.

Jackie Burns agreed with Libby. Then she added a few other problems to the list:

Also burnout from being harassed, cursed out / threatened by kids, unsupportive admin. Test score focus when most kids only want to make the required grade 70 to pass and don’t want / plan to go to college and lack of parent involvement.
Viall: According to the U. S. Department of Justice more than 145,000 teachers were assaulted at work in one year.

Robin Sechrist: After teaching for 35 years, I cannot in good conscience encourage young people to become teachers. The bureaucracy is just too ridiculous! The system SUCKS! It needs serious reform!

Kathy Booth: Robin I just walked away myself! Common Core is turning public education into prisons!

Tamisa Alexandria: Robin, I feel the same way!

Teresa DiStefano Parasole: Teaching is not what it was when I began my career over 30 years ago. Between pressure of standardized testing, micro managing & teacher bashing & blame for everything; it is not a profession I would recommend for anyone anymore. The creativity & joy has died since the politicians ruined education.

Maryruth Williamson: What a shame—my years of teaching were 32 of the best years of my life. I do, however also enjoy being retired.

Brian JC Kneeland: Been there—done that—the paper work killed me!
Viall: Is it possible we’re headed for a future where schools look like they’re run by I.R.S.? Become a teacher! Fill out more forms!

Dennis Clayton Frymoyer: It’s not surprising that teachers are leaving the profession. They are blamed for most of the ills of society.

Rayna Rogerson: I’m in year 26, and am dismayed by the changes that I’ve seen, especially since NCLB…My administration is great, but they’re stuck in between what they know is best for kids and what they’re being told they have to do by school districts, legislature, etc.

Day Cross: I am blessed. I have a principal I greatly respect, many great colleagues, and only a small number who put race, politics, and personal agendas above KIDS. I really am blessed!

Jessica Terese Torres: To my fellow educators... No one knows how much we love our jobs and kids

Notice that the stress above is on the word “KIDS.”

I posted a few comments and asked if anyone could tell me: Were all the recent changes enhancing learning? Were they harming learning? Or were the changes kind of a wash? I’ve asked dozens of teachers this same question. I keep getting the same kinds of answers—and these answers make me sad.

Robin Sechrist responded as most teachers do. She didn’t say she hated doing more work. She didn’t complain about not getting more pay. She didn’t bitch about students. She focused on what absolutely matters:

Sechrist: It has hog tied my ability to teach my Special Needs students. They do not fit the cookie cutters and pacing guides we are forced to use! Administration does not understand their unique needs! Hence the title Special Needs??? Go figure!

And John, the amount of paperwork is obscene!
Viall: Hey, all this testing has been great: it only cost $1.7 billion annually to try to create tests tied to No Child Left Behind. Now that law is dead and so are all the tests tied to it.

Meanwhile, AD W insisted that unions were not the main problem in education. In Waiting for Superman they certainly are. A gentleman named Jeff (who I think loved the film) claimed in no uncertain terms they are.

For the sake of brevity, I will ignore the matter of unions. My focus—and the focus of AD W and almost every teacher who responded was on what worked best for kids. 


I’m not surprised by that at all.

I know there are bad teachers out there, collecting pay every day, and would be happy to see more effort devoted to removing them from classrooms. What troubles me is the growing trend to treat teachers like criminal scum. Make us all prove we’re doing what we say we’re doing—which is our level best to help the kids. And in the process take time away from good teachers who devote themselves to that all-consuming process every hour of every day.

Someone once said that this approach to fixing problems in U. S. education was like “using a shotgun to fix the kitchen sink.”

You don’t have to be a plumber (or a teacher) to know that this approach is nuts. 

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