Monday, August 20, 2012

The three R's

I have always been proud of my daughters for becoming teachers.  I remember how I loved many of my teachers as a child and I couldn't imagine a more satisfying occupation.  But something happened between the time I was in grade school and now.  My teachers were not expected to raise me.....that was my parent's job.  

Every year more and more people feel qualified to tell teachers how to teach.  They feel compelled to let them know what "they" think they are doing wrong.  Most of these people have never set foot in a classroom as a teacher.  When people like Oprah Winfrey host shows with all the "experts" there to voice what is wrong with education today there are notably a few "experts" missing.....the teachers.

The first educators in our country were only expected to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.  This didn't change much until the mid 50's when a little social studies was thrown in the mix.  I didn't get exposed to science or geography until I was in the 7th grade.

Today, teachers begin teaching science, social studies, foreign languages, reading, anti-bullying, writing, arithmetic in kindergarten all while playing counselor, health educator and remaining ever diligent for signs of possible child abuse and neglect.  Teachers are now expected to teach and to parent the Nation's children.  

Let me tell you a little about Oklahoma teachers and their classrooms. Many teachers at the high school level have more than 170-200 students in their classrooms. Do you think a student is worth 10 minutes a week from his/ her teacher? Outside of the classroom? Do you think a “good” teacher should spend that much time on weekly grading — 10 minutes a student? Please do the math: that would mean another 83+ hours weekly, outside of the classroom. If each student receives 10 minutes of attention on his or her work outside the classroom.

“Don’t they have plan periods?” I hear people ask. No, many don’t. “Plan periods” went the way of smaller classrooms — there are too many school duties: hall monitors, cafeteria duty, mandated professional development that has nothing to do with the school’s demographics. And even if they did, that’s less than five hours weekly…

And yes, good teachers work a lot of outside hours. Unfortunately, in Oklahoma (where our average teacher salary ranks 47th in the country), many teachers need to take part-time jobs. Does this impact their teaching? Certainly. It also impacts the ability for a single mother of two or three children to put food on the table and pay the rent. Do you want teachers to spend more time on students? Lower classroom size — hire more teachers. And pay them competitive salaries — competitive with other career paths requiring a minimum of a bachelor?s degree. Even nurses (another under-rated career) make more than teachers do.

You don’t want teachers to have tenure? Then figure out a way that a principal in a small town (like, say, Skiatook, Okla.) will be unable to fire teachers s/he doesn’t like. Not because the teacher is ‘bad,’ but because the teacher attends the wrong church. Or maybe doesn’t attend church at all. Small towns — and big ones, as well — have politics.  And surprise: they affect every decision in a school, even to the detriment of teachers.

My daughter's have decided that this will be their last year in the classroom.  They are just feeling defeated.  Even a year ago I would have tried to convince them to stay.  I would have told them how they are impacting the lives of their students and how much their students love them.  I would have told them that the enthusiasm and creativity they bring to their classrooms is contagious.  But today...I just can't think of any reason for them to stay!  They are exhausted.  They are weary from lack of support from administrators to parents.  They feel this way and school doesn't even start until Thursday.


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