"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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Teachers Who Quit

Are educators going to be unskilled workers...like retail clerks and peanut vendors at the ball park? The direction of American education seems to be going that way. The requirements for becoming a teacher are changing...and the requirements for those who determine who is qualified are changing as well. Diane Ravitch reported on charter school operators opening their own "schools of education." Apparently the entire industry, from preschools through graduate schools, is going to be privatized.

Who is going to want to be a teacher?

I read a letter from a teacher in North Carolina who has decided to quit teaching. He decided that he had had enough of the teach-to-the-test mentality that has taken over public education in America. In I QUIT Kris Nielsen wrote,
I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills.

I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.
There are two crises in American education and neither has to do with so-called "failing schools." The first, and most important crisis in American education, which no one who has any power seems capable (or willing) of doing anything about is the high rate of child poverty in the United States. The cry of "we're number 1" is heard loud and clear in this crisis, as we close in on number one among advanced, or "rich" nations, in the percentage of our children who live in poverty (we're number 2 if you count Romania)...it's approaching 25%. We might define this as a crisis of selfishness. One political party seems to be running this year's campaign on a platform of ending social safety nets completely. It's every man (or in this case, child) for himself in 21st Century America. "I've got mine...if you don't have yours then that's just too bad." It's the "Let him die!" mentality.

The foolishness of allowing one fourth of our nation's future citizens grow up in poverty doesn't seem to register with some people.

The other crisis is that of the American teacher. Teaching has become the job upon which all the blame for every wrong in our society is heaped. Teachers unions are accused of "not caring about children" or children's achievement, even while some of the most unionized states in the country have the highest achievement and some of the least unionized states have the lowest achievement.

Individual teachers are overworked, over-stressed, and burned out. Each year they're expected to do more with less. They pay for their student's supplies, and sometimes food and clothing, to the tune of $1.3 billion nationwide, yet they are accused of greed and avarice when they ask for a raise or express appreciation for their pensions. American teachers are micromanaged, not trusted to do the job they were trained to do, accused of being teachers only for the vacations and pensions...

In his letter of resignation, Kris Nielsen continued,
I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.

I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation. I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders. And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.
[UPDATE: The first version of this entry assumed that Kris Nielson was a female. He is not and the entry has been corrected. Also, Kris Nielson adds additional comments on Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue.]

Teachers are expected to be "called" to teach, so the lack of support from the "outside world" shouldn't matter to them. The abuse heaped upon teachers by politicians, pundits and policy makers takes its toll, though, and teachers are getting tired.

The situation is only going to get worse. Here are some articles about teachers who are quitting...and analysts talking about why teachers are quitting.

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Everyone wants a strong, experienced teacher for their children, but nearly half of all teachers never make it through their 5th year. The managing editor of Education.com wrote...

Why Do Teachers Quit?
Every year there is a crew of new teachers at your child's school, with the ink on their teacher certification still drying. But statistics show that after five years, half of those teachers will be gone—either off to another school or out of the profession altogether.
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Teachers, like any working person, function better when they are given the support they need to do their jobs. That seems like a no-brainer, yet the current atmosphere in public education is one of a lack of support, lack of materials, lack of decision making power and micromanagement.

Why teachers quit — and why we can’t fire our way to excellence
...administrative leadership and support — and student behavior and discipline — matter a great deal. Teachers are more likely to consider leaving their classrooms if they believe they aren’t getting adequate support from their principals, and if they believe the school doesn’t function well as an organization. Good leadership is not randomly distributed among schools; on average, NYC teachers report less satisfaction with the leadership in schools serving high concentrations of low-achieving, high-need students.
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Teachers are told what to teach, how to teach, and when to teach (with little time to do all the extra paperwork involved), given very little say in the curriculum they provide or the teaching methods they use, and then are blamed when their students aren't successful.

Why I Quit Teaching
I quit teaching because I was tired of feeling powerless. Tired of watching would-be professionals treated as children, infantilized into silence. Tired of the machine that turns art into artifice for the sake of test scores. Tired of being belittled, disrespected and looked down upon by lawyers, politicians, and decision-makers who see teaching as the province of provincials, the work of housewives that can be done by anyone.
The media would have you believe that it's all about the money. Unions are only in it for the money, they say...teachers, according to popular wisdom, rack up huge benefits and pensions. It's true that the average salary of $57,000 looks like incredible wealth to those who are unemployed, yet, hedge fund managers and bankers who only manage to make $250,000 a year are seen as struggling to make ends meet.

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But teachers, like most public service sector workers, don't choose careers as educators for the high pay. CNN reports...

Why one good teacher decided to quit
But it's not just the pay, DeRegnaucourt said, "It's the way we're treated."

Her colleagues have waited until just before school starts to learn what courses they'll be teaching, she said. Uncertainty makes it impossible to prepare, hard to succeed.

"Five years ago, 10 years ago, kids would ask me, should they become teachers? I was like, 'Oh, God, yes, I love what I do,' " she said. "Now, I tell my kids, 'You're really, really bright. Why don't you think about going into (this or that?)' They have the potential to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, CEOs and scientists . Why would I recommend to my kids, who I absolutely love, to struggle for years?"
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Teachers are disrespected and underfunded. Their expertise is minimized, their experience and educational attainments are belittled

Why I Left Teaching by Jordan Kohanim
I told a colleague that I planned on leaving the profession, and he said something that hurt: "Your leaving won't change anything." With an emphasis on the anything. It felt like an arrow went through my heart.

In the long run, he's right, though. That is part of the reason I quit. I know ego drives us all, but I really believed I would make a difference. And I did—for about a dozen or so kids. But there is no way I could have made enough of a difference for enough time and kept my sanity.
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I spent the last few years of my teaching career arguing with administrators about testing...about how the overuse and misuse of standardized tests is killing learning. I also finally realized that it's not the fault of the local administrators and principals...most of it is coming from the state (and the US DOE), but the frustration of having to direct all our attention towards "the test" -- knowing that we weren't giving our students the learning experiences they deserved -- was too hard to deal with.

I decided to leave teaching as a career...and take it on as a volunteer activity. I can teach students the way I know they need to be taught.

An online conversation about testing with some young teachers brought these responses.
"Are you telling me that we're supposed to be teachers? I thought my job title was test administrator. It's hard to give all the stupid tests to your students when [we] don't agree with them."

"Yes, we test more than teach! Day after day it keeps getting worse and worse! Unfortunate for all the kids!!! They are missing out on so many things. Very very sad!"
Teachers know what students need, but they're being forced to do things they know are pedagogically wrong in order to keep their jobs. Matthew Swope, ex-marine, ex-police officer, current teacher said it best...
Please help me do my job for your child and community. Stop demonizing me, my profession, and my fellow teachers...Let me teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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