The Real Problems

My dad called me today to tell me to turn on the radio.  He was listening to the local a.m. station on his commute to my grandma’s house, and they were discussing education.

“Turn it on,” he said.  “You should call in.  You’d be the best caller they’ve had.  They are discussing the problems with schools, and it is exactly what you describe with your students.”

I didn’t know if I could even stomach to listen to two random people (not educators) discuss what’s wrong with education, but I turned it on. I tried to remain calm as I sat in my classroom on a Sunday working on my mile long to do list.

“Tenured teachers are ruining education,” the first caller said.

“Teachers’ unions are the problem,” the next caller thought.

 The callers continued to chime in with their opinions for why education is failing.  I angrily listened and realized these poor radio commentators didn’t have a long enough segment for me to explain to them what’s wrong.

Then I wondered- what is the real problem?  The biggest problem?

This is the only profession where having a great deal of experience is considered a negative thing.  I don’t hear any other profession dogging their veteran employees.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “That CEO is really lazy now that he/she’s been in the profession for 10+ years.” Or, “That doctor is awful after doing surgeries for fifteen years.  Give me the new doctor who’s never done a surgery before.”

Tenured teachers are NOT the problem.  Sure, there are some lazy teachers just like there are some lazy trash collectors or sales associates.  However, the education system is not being ruined by people who have devoted their lives to educating children.

Tenured teachers are a wealth of knowledge.  I think our system would be doing itself a favor to honor and value these veterans.  My friend and I used to talk about how valuable it would be to match veteran teachers with new teachers.  If there was a way to continue to pay veteran teachers who wish to retire a consulting fee (maybe in the form of insurance) in exchange for mentoring to new teachers, maybe we could help train new teachers into becoming experts.

Teachers’ Unions are not the problem.  I’m sure there are some imperfections to system too, but I’ve seen nothing but advantages to these unions this year.

The problem as I see it is that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen claiming to be “experts” in a field they aren’t in.  I don’t make decisions/suggestions about health care, because I’m not in that field.  I’m not sure what gives politicians and other figures the authority to make decisions regarding education based solely on the fact that they went to school at one point in their childhood.

Here is another example of why education is failing: Students Shamed for Being Rewarded.  I could barely get through this article and video without screaming.

Not every child deserves a cookie.  You have to work hard to get rewarded.  The point at which every student gets a trophy is the point at which we fail our students.  It scares me that many parents don’t seem to understand this.  And it angers me that this news station questioned this school.

Today I listened to old voicemails and received an angry message from one of my student’s parents.  The dad yelled into the message, “My son said you took his pencil case away.  I’m not sure what makes you think you can take away something from my son, but I swear if you don’t return his pencils by tomorrow, you will be sorry.”

This was an old message, so I don’t even remember taking pencils away from this child.  I’m not going to make a return phone call to that father, but I’m pretty sure he is also part of the problem with education.

If I would return the call, I’d say, “Sir, I’m your child’s teacher.  It’s my job to make sure your son is learning.  I took his materials away because they were distracting him.  I’m an adult and your son is a child.  That is what gives me the authority to take his pencils away.  The materials are in the class, and I will redistribute them to him when he needs them.”

My administrators require me to give my students a reading and a math test every Friday to check for growth on skills we’ve identified that they need to practice.  We also give countless other tests every few weeks.  My students are being tested repeatedly over skills I have yet to teach.  Then, I am questioned on why the students aren’t growing.

My kids cannot get along with one another.  Some of them have parents who are in jail.  Some of them talk about wanting to kill themselves. Others haven’t had their needed meds, because mom and dad can’t pay for the prescriptions.  Others haven’t bathed and are wearing the same clothes from the previous day.  Most of them complain about stomach and headaches daily.

These are real problems.

They show up each and every day, and I try to teach them fractions and about U.S. history.  They aren’t sure whether they will get food at night or if the Division of Family Services is going to come and split up their family.  It’s hard to care about school when you can’t be a kid.

Until someone creating these tests and making all the decisions gets this, we will continue to have real problems with education.

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