I am so disgusted right now.
I cannot believe how many teachers have contacted me sharing similar issues and concerns as those I've recently outlined. (This is not what outrages me. I'm glad they're sharing. What is so ridiculous is the commonalities between stories that indicate the deep issues our system faces.)
Teacher after teacher has written in to say things like, "Wow. Your story could have been my own" or "As another teacher who has suffered XYZ, I know where you're coming from..."
Teacher after teacher has written to say that they are now former teachers or have moved to private school or have faced disciplinary action for speaking up.
Teacher after teacher has written to say how they are being undermined and chastised any time they don't "yes" parents, students, and administration to death.
WHY IS OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM SO WARPED? Why are these stories so much the norm and yet the situation is not being fixed but is spiraling more and more out of control???
We live in a country where education is a right. That's fantastic... in theory. However, as with most "rights," there is a point at which we fail to recognize them as something that probably came about as a result of some struggle by someone who came before us, or as something that someone else--at home or abroad--would kill (or die) to enjoy. Rather than appreciating what we have, we take it for granted.
(Case in point: women's voting rights. Women hoped and dreamed and suffered and fought and worked for this right. Yet it's (disgustingly and sadly) not at all uncommon to hear female students today remarking casually, "I can't be bothered with politics. Voting is for boys." Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa????!!!!)
Other countries in the world value education. They value hard work. They realize that education is the key to larger success. The more they learn and know, the more success their countries (and they themselves) will enjoy in future. Education is an investment into the greater good of humankind. Teachers are valued and respected. Administration oversees the cooperation between school and home. Parents push their kids to be great. Students push themselves to bring pride to their families and countries.
Our own great country, though, has lost its way on this point.
Here, funding is cut. Programs are eliminated. Class sizes are increased. Meaningless testing is revered. Teachers are peons and whipping boys for everything that's wrong. Administrators work for parents. Parents pass the buck to schools. Students pass it farther.
Teacher after teacher has remarked to me, "I just want to reach the kids. I want them to understand the material and to appreciate the lesson." My own goal as a teacher is that I want students to leave class knowing more than they did when they entered, to ask questions, to seek the answers, to think and to try.
But there's usually a 'but' that comes after the statement of the teacher goal. Things like:
*But there's too much other work to do (chaperoning duties, conferences, meetings, grading)
*But they won't listen (students, parents, administration)
*But they won't even try
*But there's no support
*But when I point out the issues, I'm scolded or ignored
*But I'm just too tired to fight anymore
I've spent a lot of time talking about some of the problems with student mentalities today, with parental disengagement and heaping on the teacher blame. But let's face it: if the people at the top would demand more of parents and students and would support their trained staff, maybe these other issues wouldn't spiral so out of control.
Nobody is saying leadership is easy. I'm sure that administrators are being pulled in all directions--they need to answer to voters, school boards, the public, the government, etc--but if there was an expectation from the onset that the learning and functioning of the system was the number one priority, I think everything would run a lot more smoothly for all.
To begin with, people who know nothing about education have way too much say in education.
These people, usually elected officials, read snippets of "the latest" in educational research theories and fancy themselves qualified to make idiotic, counterproductive proposals that will affect the rest of the world. (Come to think of it, this is not necessarily unique to education; government itself can be largely uninformed about much of what they decide. But I digress...) Many times, these theories are financially motivated, and do not consider other important factors or possible solutions.
Bureaucrats come up with their supposed money-saving ideas and push them through the system. They strive for uniformity and high performance, but aren't willing to back that up with anything that means anything. Instead, they try to impose merit pay, curb worker rights, force mass firings, and other ridiculous nonsense in efforts to push the blame off of their own poor choices and onto someone else's shoulders, and act like they're doing the system a big favor. They pass all of those stresses onto the guy below them. Here's what you have to do, school districts. Now do it (even if it makes no sense).
Then the district big shots have further theories on how to make ill-informed decisions a reality and how to please their public (wouldn't want to have to raise taxes or anything), and they pass those along to the building administration.
The building administration mucks things up the rest of the way. Most (if not all?) building administrators started as teachers. At a glance, one would think this would be a good thing for teachers. But somewhere along the way (within 2 years, typically) administrators forget what it was like to be on the front lines. They start "drinking the Kool-Aid" and things go to hell.
Suddenly, their main intent is to avoid pissing anyone off, (by "anyone," of course, I mean the school board, superintendents, parents, and students; nobody else really matters) and to keep the customers happy. (Parents and students learn quickly that this is how things run. And then they exploit it.)
Teachers are told the policies du jour of the school. Sometimes, those policies are even explained. Sometimes, there's an illusion that teachers even have input into them. But that's really just an illusion. Because when teachers try to have input, that usually means that there is bound to be some contention over things and suggestions of how to improve the proposed policy or concerns over issues that may arise, and then the time for teacher input promptly ends. Enough talk; let's move to action! Administration really doesn't tend to like to hear anything that isn't "positive."
So teachers try to make sense of these mandates and carry them out. But, from several accounts I've heard from other teachers, when they encounter confusion or seek administrative clarification, they are told to use--wait for it--their "professional judgment." (There's a laugh!) So they use said judgment, only to encounter some complaint, and then they are promptly called in by the administration for discussions of how they misinterpreted something or should have handled it differently. The administration's half-baked ideas are purposely vague because they don't know how to tell the teachers how to implement them (since, perhaps, they weren't so well-considered as they first seemed and that extra input WOULD have been useful), so what happens is that they leave things undetermined and go back and try to correct problems after the fact.
What a shitty way to run things.
Do we go to restaurants and tell servers: "Hey, take a look at me and guess what I'm in the mood to eat. Use your professional judgment since you know the menu. But if you guess wrong or bring me something I'm allergic to, you're not getting a tip!"? What? That's ridiculous? Exactly.
Teachers, though, are routinely left the unwilling participants of a guessing game that usually ends badly for them. So many teachers say, "Look, just tell me what you want me to do and I'll get it done. But don't make me guess what you want, or tell me one thing one day and then change your mind the next day. And if you say you trust my professional judgment, TRUST IT!"
What does this all amount to? Well, frankly, administrators are an unnecessary step in the education process, like some needless middle-management. They're so concerned about answering to their bosses that they forget what it was like to be in the trenches. Instead of listening to the troops and backing them up, they bark orders from behind closed doors and end up appeasing the other side. They're only creating more turmoil in being removed from the day-to-day of the process.
Education is supposed to be about teaching and learning and bettering society and affording our citizens the opportunity to be and contribute something to society.
If the people at the top would keep that in mind and get their heads out of their asses; if they would take a good, hard look at the glaring deficiencies of the system as it exists; if they would tell parents, "Get it in gear, people, and do your jobs at home and sit down with your kids at the end of the day and help them with their work and listen to the suggestions coming from school"; if they would tell students, "Hey, you're lucky to have this opportunity to learn and we expect you to try and to think and to respect and appreciate the system so you can give back to it later"; if they would put a little more stock into the professional opinions and suggestions of their educators; if they would stop trying to make everything about a bottom line and privatization and big business, THEN we would be on our way to making a change that matters. THEN good teachers wouldn't have to quake in fear at telling the truth, speaking up about reforms that would help, or leave the profession altogether, but could actually reach their goals of making a difference in their students' lives and molding young minds.
But it starts at the top. And, sickeningly, until the mentality shifts up there, nothing is going to change for the better.