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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The real reasons for the teacher shortgae may surprise you... or not.


I was recently contacted by the Philadelphia Inquirer to share my thoughts on why the US is experiencing teacher shortages. In the article, the gist of what I said was reported, but more needs to be added. In addition, there are certain words used to summarize my opinions, which are words I would never use – like rigor. In fact, I blogged here that when you hear certain jargon, beware. Rigor is on the list.

The article begins with the following, 

I love teaching with all of my heart.


It is my 13 year-old daughter who had wanted to be a teacher since pre-school, and I was thrilled... until things began to change, even in my wonderful school district. It has been difficult to stand by and watch the changes that have slowly been eroding away at my beloved profession. But the changes are real. I want all kids to be able to have happy futures in their chosen fields, and they need degrees that will help them find a career which is intellectually satisfying, ethically responsible, and financially feasible. If your child wants to be a teacher, I do recommend a second major, because many of our elected officials don't know what they are doing.


 What I am really warning parents & tax payers about is more than the symptoms listed above. It is a warning to pay attention to your local school district, school board meetings, strategic plan, and to ask questions – before it is too late.

The teaching profession has been purposely undermined by corporate education reformers (including Teach for America... I am sure that the Teach for America volunteer featured in the article along with me is a fine person, but he never studied education, chose not to be an education major in college, and was not a professional, highly qualified teacher, though he did give it a try. Read legitimate concerns about why NOT to Teach for America here and here.)



What I actually said was that I worry my daughter will not find teaching as satisfying as she thinks. Working with my students is still the best, and I find connecting with parents and families a true pleasure. But the other stuff – the stuff you will read on the list below– that is what frustrates teachers and makes us consider leaving. Ours is a career in a caring field. We have ethical and moral standards that are often compromised when we are forced to teach in ways that are questionable and administer high stakes tests that hurt our students and communities.



I am often surprised when I discuss the purposeful starving of public schools via budget cuts and the intended results of charter schools, which suck the funds away from local, neighborhood schools. Some people really think that underfunded schools are "failing" because the teachers stink, the parents are indifferent, and the kids don't care. Our urban schools are suffering from skin and bone budgets, but the article predictably omits charter schools and their impact. The charter school industry gives people the illusion of choice, because not every charter school takes every child, like a true public school does. As we are growing closer and closer to the end of of city public schools, I wonder who will take the kids the charters don't want? I worry. Some people think that charter schools are good for kids of color, but I blogged here about how the NAACP is for public schools, NOT charters.

Testing overkill is a huge symptom of the problem, but parents, grandparents, and all who care about children, must be wary of competency-based education (CBE), which is coming to a school near you soon. CBE involves stealth testing, which I wrote about here and here.  Basically, children will be on screens working on isolated skills much of their school day, as data will be collected constantly and we will never know when the high stakes data is being collected. It is sneaky and it doesn't improve the educational experiences of our kids. It just gets rid of the stand alone, weeks of high stakes testing and gives the ILLUSION of the terrible tests going away. 


As far as the new PA teacher evaluations, I would never call them "rigorous."  I would call them time wasting, a mile wide and a millimeter deep, and rather ridiculous. I am happy to share that in all of my years of teaching I have had excellent evaluations. The most informative of the bunch came BEFORE corporate ed reform ideas were implemented by our legislators, who are mostly NOT educated in education. They may mean well, but most have no idea what they are doing. Just because people went to schools does not make them experts in education. Previous evaluations had principals sitting in classrooms for entire periods and observing how teachers not only deliver instruction, but how we handle the inevitable behavior challenges that occur, how we respond to student questions and disruptions, and how creative, organized, and engaging our lessons are. The new evaluation model is a burden on principals and they spend short amounts of time in our classrooms. The feedback is not detailed and helpful, as it was before. This is not due to individual principals, but to the new laborious paperwork in the time sucking new evaluation process.

In terms of dimming public respect for teachers, I can honestly report that I see this myself. I work with the most brilliant, interesting, nutty professor-like science teacher you would love your kids to have.  He originally wanted to work for NASA with his love of physics and space. Fortunately for every student who ever sat in his class, he changed his major and followed his heart to teaching. You can imagine how my jaw dropped when a parent who was a scientist sat at parent conference night and told him he wasted his talents teaching... How lucky for this man's child that such a dedicated and brilliant teacher didn't see it that way. Another colleague I teach with also came to teaching from an incredibly sophisticated background in IT, among other things. She is also brilliant and is certified to teach English, Physics, Math, Spanish, Social Studies, and probably some other areas I am forgetting. I came to education via a degree in marketing. At my interview in 1994, I was asked by the assistant superintendent if I was wasting my business degree. I went on explain how understanding marketing and psychology makes me a better teacher. I got the job.

I am concerned about the public education system on its current trajectory. Blogger & former teacher, Nancy Bailey, explains perfectly in this post  what is really driving teachers out of the classroom.

She shares the following list, which I find to be true. Not necessarily all are found where I live, but all are true elsewhere in our state and around the country, just the same.

  1. Lack of control. Teachers are told what and how to teach without being given input. Many schools have signed on to draconian reforms in structured teaching that ignores the needs of the developing student.
  2. High-Stakes Testing. Teachers understand that high-stakes testing is bad for children. They don’t want to be a part of it. They also don’t want their teaching judged by it.
  3. A Limited Curriculum. The curriculum is too narrow. Many teachers (e.g. art and music) have not been hired for years.
  4. Large class sizes. The research is clear that lowering class size especially in k-3rd grade helps students. So why aren’t they working harder to do this?
  5. Non-supportive school administrators. This could be the school principal or school district administrators who look down on teachers and do as they are told by the outside corporate school reformers. Many of these individuals aren’t even educators!
  6. The loss of a good library. Many schools no longer have libraries, and if they do, they are often inadequate.
  7. The loss of support staff. Many school counselors are now relegated to mundane tasks having to do with testing and data collection instead of helping troubled students. A good school relies on a variety of support staff—school psychologists, librarians/media specialists, nurses, school counselors and more.
  8. Data Collection. Teachers who care about teaching find micromanaging useless school data on a child maddening.
  9. Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These un-scientific standards were foisted on all teachers and students removing a teacher’s decision-making power. Many teachers distrust CCSS. The Common Core State Standards are such a volatile issue, it was reported yesterday, that WikiLeaks caught the DNC warning they should not be mentioned in the campaign–calling CCSS a “political third rail.” (A third rail is the electrified rail on a subway).  
  10. Standards in general. The high emphasis on standards started with No Child Left Behind, even earlier, and has done nothing to improve schools.
  11. Lousy school conditions and poor teaching resources.
  12. Lacking respect. All of the above lead to a pervasive disrespect of teachers that lacks professionalism.
  13. Disregard for poverty and a child’s difficulties outside of school. Teachers are caring individuals. They recognize problematic outside circumstances that affect how students learn.
  14. Lacking special education and ELL support for general education teachers.
  15. Professional development that is uninspiring. 
 
If we want to keep great teachers or attract college students to the field, I think the solutions are fairly simple. Read Nancy Bailey's list above and make things better.
 

 I like to think that one of the reasons I was hired was for my imagination and creativity. What I bring to the table cannot be found in a text book or teacher's guide. When micromanaging and alignment start to take away the part of my job that uses my mind & my intellect, it makes me feel dissatisfied. That is just good old psych 101. 

Would I leave the business world behind if I knew then what I know now? You bet.
As I stated in the article, "If it's really in you, you have to teach. Or at least you have to try."





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