Reposted from lmackh by Lorikeet
Today is National Teacher Day. Schools are closed for the celebrations, right? Hah. Teachers have come to accept that we are often under- (or completely un-) appreciated, misunderstood, and maligned.
A co-worker sent this article to our entire organization today. Blueberries
“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”
The article goes on to say:
I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society”. Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!
Over and over again, teachers are told that we need to do our jobs better, that our students need to be better educated. At the same time, however, we're being told this by people who by and large have little to no experience with the education system, and who have very little functional understanding of the obstacles and barriers we face every day in the classroom, regardless of the level at which we teach. Business people preach a business model; the tech industry gurus (such as Bill Gates) think that technology is the solution. But they often forget the human component that we deal with every day, every month, every year.
I always phrased it like this: Schools cannot operate like a production line in a business. In a business, you can control the quality of the raw materials you take in. If you receive raw materials that are not up to standard, you can reject them. Schools have no control over the raw materials. We get some raw materials from the best possible producers -- from parents who are engaged with their kids (but not overly so), who have talked with them and taught them the skills they need to have before they come to school. We get raw materials from producers that seem like they should be of high quality, because they come from the best location; but these materials are sometimes flawed, too, because they've been protected from every adversity and are consequently not very strong on their own. We get the raw materials from parents who try hard, but who haven't necessarily had the tools they needed to provide a solid grounding for their child pre-school: perhaps a lack of financial resources, perhaps a lack of education, perhaps a lack of parenting skills. Their children come to school with some skills they need, but often lag behind on other crucial skills. Then we get the raw materials from situations that put the children months -- if not years -- behind their peers. Poverty, neglect, poor nutrition, homelessness, displacement, language barriers, developmental delays, attention deficit issues, substance abuse . . . the list goes on.
“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”
In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.
“I send them back.”
“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
We are not only expected to educate all students regardless of where they start, we are also expected to do it with fewer and fewer resources, larger and larger classes, less support staff, and in many places, for stagnant salaries. We get told by people all around us that we're not doing our jobs, that we need to do better, that there are too many bad teachers in the system, etc. When we have the audacity to strike for better working conditions, the inevitable response runs along the lines of "What are you complaining about? You only work 9 months out of the year and get 3 months of paid vacation! You only work a 6 or 7 hour day. Teachers have it so easy!" I feel like I've spent my whole life educating the public on what we do and why we do it. I've spent my entire career defending myself to people who should actually value the fact that I care enough about how I do my job and what I have to do it with that I have been willing to go on strike -- for $40/day in strike pay -- 3 times in my career. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that if teachers don't do their jobs properly, we end up with an undereducated populace who are unable to get jobs, manage their own lives, participate in their civic duties, etc.
To quote Diane Ravitch, from her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System:
Schools that expect nothing more of their students than mastery of basic skills will not produce graduates who are ready for college or the modern workplace. Nor will they send forth men and women prepared to design new technologies, achieve scientific breakthroughs, or accomplish feats of engineering skill. Nor will their graduates be prepared to appreciate and add to our society's cultural achievements or to understand and strengthen its democratic heritage. Without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate, and reason.
Our schools cannot be improved by those who say that money doesn't matter. Resources matter, and it matters whether they are spent wisely . . . if we are serious about narrowing and closing the achievement gap, then we will make sure that the schools attended by our neediest students have well educated teachers, small classes, beautiful facilities, and a curriculum rich in the arts and sciences.
Our schools cannot be improved if we ignore the disadvantages associated with poverty that affect children's ability to learn.
Our schools cannot be improved if we use them as society's all-purpose punching bag, blaming them for the ills of the economy, the burdens imposed on children by poverty, the dysfunction of families, and the erosion of civility. Schools must work with other institutions and cannot replace them.
Currently, the problem is that the other institutions -- the government, politicians, business leaders, religious leaders -- all want to TELL teachers how to do their jobs, without consultation. They want to mandate what gets taught, what gets spent, who does what, but with limited knowledge of how schools work, what our actual purpose is, and what the constraints are within which we operate.
And as long as there is a gap between schools in poor neighborhoods and schools in wealthy neighborhoods -- a gap in resources, a gap in facilities, a gap in staffing levels, a gap in income, a gap in accessibility, etc. -- we will continue to see some schools succeeding and some schools failing. The problems with our education system will not be fixed until we start to address the inequalities in society. That's a much bigger problem . . . and one that can't be blamed on just one group of people. We all have to take responsibility for it. Time to stop beating up the teachers . . .