Nothing I have ever done has brought me as much joy as I have received from teaching children how to write the past 14 years. Helping young writers grow and mature has been richly rewarding and I would not trade my experiences for anything.
That being said, if I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher.
Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.
They have to listen to a long list of politicians who belittle their ability, blame them for every student whose grades do not reach arbitrary standards, and want to take away every fringe benefit they have -- everything from the possibility of achieving tenure to receiving a decent pension.
Young teachers from across the United States have told me they no longer have the ability to properly manage classrooms, not because of lack of training, not because of lack of ability, not because of lack of desire, but because of upper administration decisions to reduce statistics on classroom referrals and in-school and out-of-school suspensions. As any classroom teacher can tell you, when the students know there will be no repercussions for their actions, there will be no change in their behavior. When there is no change in their behavior, other students will have a more difficult time learning.
Teachers are being told over and over again that their job is not to teach, but to guide students to learning on their own. While I am fully in favor of students taking control of their learning, I also remember a long list of teachers whose knowledge and experience helped me to become a better student and a better person. They encouraged me to learn on my own, and I did, but they also taught me many things. In these days when virtual learning is being force-fed to public schools by those who will financially benefit, the classroom teacher is being increasingly devalued. The concept being pushed upon us is not of a teacher teaching, but one of who babysits while the thoroughly engaged students magically learn on their own.
During the coming week in Missouri, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill which would eliminate teacher tenure, tie 33 percent of our pay to standardized test scores (and a lesser, unspecified percentage for those who teach untested subjects) and permit such innovations as "student surveys" to become a part of the evaluation process.
Each year, I allow my students to critique me and offer suggestions for my class. I learn a lot from those evaluations and have implemented some of the suggestions the students have made. But there is no way that eighth graders' opinions should be a part of deciding whether I continue to be employed.
The Missouri House recently passed a budget that included $2.5 million to put Teach for America instructors in our urban schools. The legislature also recently acted to extend the use of ABCTE (American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence), a program that allows people to switch careers and become teachers without having to go through required teaching courses.
It is hard to get past the message being sent that our teachers are not good enough so we have to go outside to find new ones.
And of course to go along with all of these slaps in the face to classroom teachers, the move toward merit pay continues. Merit pay and eliminating teacher tenure, while turning teachers into at-will employees are the biggest disservice our leaders can do to students. How many good classroom teachers will no longer be in the classroom because they question decisions by ham handed administrators looking to quickly make a name for themselves by implementing shortsighted procedures that might look good on resumes, but will have a negative impact on student learning.
If you don't believe this kind of thing will happen, take a look at what has occurred in our nation's public schools since the advent of No Child Left Behind. Everything that is not math or reading has been de-emphasized. The teaching of history, civics, geography, and the arts have shrunk to almost nothing in some schools, or are made to serve the tested areas. Elementary children have limited recess time so more time can be squeezed in for math and reading.
Even worse, in some schools weeks of valuable classroom time are wasted giving practice standardized tests (and tests to practice for the practice standardized tests) so obsessive administrators can track how the students are doing. In many school districts across the nation, teachers have told me, curriculum is being based on these practice standardized tests.
That devaluation and de-emphasis of classroom teachers will grow under Common Core Standards. Pearson, the company that has received the contract to create the tests, has a full series of practice tests, while other companies like McGraw-Hill with its Acuity division, are already changing gears from offering practice materials for state tests to providing comprehensive materials for Common Core.
Why would anyone willingly sign up for this madness?
As a reporter who covered education for more than two decades, and as a teacher who has been in the classroom for the past 14 years, I cannot remember a time when the classrooms have been filled with bad teachers. The poor teachers almost never lasted long enough to receive tenure. Whether it is was because they could not maintain control over their classrooms or because they did not have sufficient command over their subject matter, they soon found it wise to find another line of work.
Yes, there are exceptions -- people who slipped through the cracks, and gained tenure, but there is nothing to stop administrators from removing those teachers. All tenure does is to provide teachers with the right to a hearing. It does not guarantee their jobs.
Times have changed. I have watched over the past few years as wonderfully gifted young teachers have left the classroom, feeling they do not have support and that things are not going to get any better.
In the past, these are the teachers who stayed, earned tenure, and built the solid framework that has served their communities and our nation well.
That framework is being torn down, oftentimes by politicians who would never dream of sending their own children to the kind of schools they are mandating for others.
Despite all of the attacks on the teachers, I am continually amazed at the high quality of the young people who are entering the profession. It is hard to kill idealism, no matter how much our leaders (in both parties) try.
I suppose I am just kidding myself about encouraging young people to enter some other profession, any other profession, besides teaching.
After all, what other profession would allow me to make $37,000 a year after 14 years of experience and have people tell me how greedy I am?