"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reflections on Anger and Frustration

I'm still teaching

Two and a half years ago I decided to retire. I wrote in this blog that I was ready,
I have mixed feelings about retiring. I got into education by accident, 34 years ago. I never really chose to be a teacher...more like teaching chose me...
I haven't retired, though, not really. I'm still working with students doing exactly the same sort of things I did when I was "a teacher" only now I do it as a volunteer.

I am still affiliated with the teachers association (aka "union") that I was a member of for so many years, as the blog/webmaster. My blogging responsibilities have grown, though, and now I've added a second teachers association, two retired teachers associations, and a community group.

I am still writing about the failures of our society which politicians, pundits and policy makers blame on teachers, public schools, and the children who are struggling in poverty.

Data is King

Some of the teachers I'm working for are anxious that their students pass the IREAD-3, Indiana's punitive reading test for third graders which, if failed, requires that students repeat third grade. I understand their concern...but I don't take the 'need to pass the test' into the volunteer room with me. I approach the students like we did when teaching was education and not data collection. I work with the student, try to problem solve the difficulties he/she is having, and find ways for him/her to overcome those difficulties. We don't talk about skills needed to pass the test. We don't work on "test taking strategies." We read.

My former colleagues do the same, as much as they're allowed to, that is. They work hard, focus on helping their students learn and only focus on the tests because they're forced to by the local, state and federal educational bureaucracies.

School has changed since I stepped into my first classroom as a teacher in the Spring of 1976. It's changed from a place of learning and growing to a place where data is king and the needs of children are secondary.

Teaching has changed, too. When I started teaching I entered a "noble profession" honored by society and parents. True...there were some who were spouting the "those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" philosophy, but they were less noticed...fewer...less respected. The fault with public education (because, for as long as I can remember public education has always had "a fault") was with ineffective parents, lazy students, and only rarely with teachers.

In the 21st century, however, teachers take the brunt of criticism, as if the majority of the nation's 3+ million public school teachers were incompetent and ineffective...as if we caused the dot.com meltdown, the burst of the housing bubble, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the recession of 2008 (Remember Enron, anyone?).

Hate the teachers unions -- hate the teachers

Why is teacher and teacher union hating so popular? The KDP/Gallup Poll on the public's attitudes towards public schools still shows that parents with children in school are overwhelmingly optimistic and positive about their children's schools and teachers. It's only "those other schools" across the country which they claim are poor (see Where are all the Bad Teachers?)

Corey Robin claims that people hate teachers unions because they hate teachers. They hate teachers because taxes pay teachers...and they hate taxes.
...many kids and their parents held teachers in contempt. Teachers were not figures of respect or gratitude; they were incompetents and buffoons. Don’t get me wrong: like most people, I had some terrible teachers. Incompetents and worse. But like most people I’ve also had some terrible friends, some terrible co-workers, some terrible neighbors, some terrible doctors, some terrible editors, and some terrible professors. Mediocrity, I’d venture, is a more or less universal feature of the human condition. But among the upper classes it’s treated as the exclusive preserve of teachers...

...Every year there’d be a fight in the town over the school budget, and every year a vocal contingent would scream that the town was wasting money (and raising needless taxes) on its schools. Especially on the teachers (I never heard anyone criticize the sports teams). People hate paying taxes for any number of reasons...but there was a special pique reserved for what the taxes were mostly going to: the teachers.

So that’s where and how I grew up. And when I hear journalists and commentators, many of them fresh out of the Ivy League, talking to teachers as if they were servants trying to steal the family silver, that’s what I hear. It’s an ugly tone from ugly people.
Matthew Swope, an ex-marine, ex-police officer turned teacher claims,
I...went back to a school...took a $24k per year pay cut...saddled myself with 20 years of student loans. I spend in excess of $1000 a year of my own money to provide equipment and student supplies so I can do my job effectively. I take every student in my class, whether it was the year I am doing inclusion teaching or the year I have the AP kids. I turn none away nor should I. As an American citizen, It’s my task and privilege to educate everyone who comes through my school’s door. I make progress with every student but that progress cannot always be measured by a standardized test. I feed some of my kids. I’ve bought them clothing. I’ve visited them in juvie, hospitals, hospices and at the graveside. I’ve been praised, cussed, disrespected, honored and ignored by parents and administration...

I am not responsible for what happens outside of my 45 minutes a day with your child. I only accept that responsibility for my own two children...Please help me do my job for your child and community. Stop demonizing me, my profession, and my fellow teachers. See through the deceptive manipulation of the reform movement and high stakes standardized testing. Don’t buy into the propaganda about teachers unions and how evil they are. Don’t listen to political hacks like [Michelle] Rhee who are only in it for the opportunities to gut the profession and privatize it for the wealthy to plunder profits from.

Let me teach.
I think the public (as a whole) hates teachers and teachers unions because they've been misled by politicians, pundits and policy makers. They encourage the public to hate teachers and teachers unions for some very important (to them) reasons.
  • they want to privatize public education for whatever reason...their own personal gain or they actually think that everything is better when privatized
  • they don't want to take responsibility for the huge level of poverty in America (nearly 25% of our children live in poverty...the most of almost any advanced nation in the world)
  • they don't want people to notice that they are in the pockets of the corporate power of America; the ones who actually drove the country, and the world, to the brink of economic depression
  • they want votes and blaming teachers and their unions for all the ills of society is easy. Divide and conquer. "Look at those teachers with their easy jobs, long vacations, and huge pensions. Why do they deserve it and not you?"
Teachers are angry and frustrated at being accused of ruining society, which of course, they haven't done. Citizens in the 99% are angry and frustrated at being left out of the "American Dream." Millionaires and billionaires -- those who have the economic and political power -- don't want to give it up so they pit us against each other.

More on this...

Why Do We Become Teachers?
Why did you become a teacher? Off the top of their heads, some teachers might respond with an enthusiastic “because I love kids!” or, “my subject is awesome!” or “I grew up in a family of teachers and just always wanted to be one!” But what really drives us into this profession? We don’t know when we first enter teaching how relentless the days will be, how endless the meetings are, and how much we will have to always work. But we also don’t know how incredibly invigorating it will be to participate in the stimulation of young minds, to introduce students to the challenge of critical thinking, and to constantly learn more every day in the process of planning. But it is a lot of work. Statistics tell us that most teachers leave within 3-5 years of their first year. So why do I keep trying to get back into the profession?
Remember when reading was fun - Mrs. Mimi
Matching books to readers remains essential, but first comes instilling the love, the joy of reading. How many students are discouraged as readers because they are told that must only read books at a certain level and only at that level? Is that truly choice? Yes, it is key to make sure our students are working with books that will provide them with success while challenging them in appropriate ways, but we must remember that leveling is a TOOL not a RULE. Lately, I wonder if, like most things that start out as a good idea in schools, we have abused and over-used this tool.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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