Sunday, May 8, 2011

Who Will Teach Our Children?

I recently talked to two teachers, one who retired before her retirement time and the other teacher is going to retire this year--also at an earlier date.  Both express concern about the negative feelings about teachers and how it affected their outlook in the classroom.  They agreed that there was not the satisfaction they once got from working with their students.  Both were primary teachers.

One teacher, Gail, who had taught for twenty-eight years and I knew to be an excellent teacher, was reflective on the fact that the negativity was coming from many sources.  I asked about this and she said that two years ago a new young principal was assigned to the school and told the staff they were going to raise the testing scores for the next year.  But Gail was upset because she and her colleagues thought they were doing a pretty good job at the time.  It appears that the new principal hadn't really looked at the test scores.  She also mentioned that he changed some of the policies and time schedules, the latter seems to have upset the faculty more then anything.

You see an elementary school, a good one, runs like a fine tuned watch.  This class had the gym at this time because the other fifth grade has library at that time or the first graders put their classes together so that the music teacher can get to them every week rather then every other week.  There is sensitivity to the schedules in school down to who goes to the buses first.

Then Gail mentioned that it seem to her that the parents were more on edge then in the past.  Instead of "how is my child doing?" it was more "how are you teaching my child?"  I asked Gail if she thought that parents were changing because of the TV news, web articles and newspaper reports on education and she did think it had an influence.  

Both teachers mentioned the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) as being a focus for the schools and both thought it took away from the teaching.  But Gail said that she still got in much of her reading instruction in spite of the extra demands on the curriculum for testing.

There is a point I wish to make, that both of these elementary teachers are married and both are comfortably well off.  Retiring early would probably have little to do with their level of income.  The majority of teachers in this country are women. And without going to the web to check statistics, I would suspect that a least a majority of them are married.  So my assumption is that a number of women teachers are going to leave the teaching profession for one reason or the other.  This worries me.

When I first started teaching fifth grade (I had already a year of teaching music in the elementary classrooms), I was young, I was popular with the kids, and the parents liked me.  But I know now that I did not teach to my full potential.  Many times during the first year I went to Jo Tylia or one of the other upper grade teachers and asked, "How do you do the following......"  OR, "what do I do next?"  I needed those more experienced teachers to guide me along my first year of classroom teaching.  They saved my butt.  

Now I hear that many local school districts are preparing layoff notices for faculty and because the state legislature has changed the rules of layoffs, the old rule that the last to be hired is the first to go will not be in effect.  Now there is an understanding that no one seems to want to mention, that by laying off experienced (read at the higher end of the salary level) teachers you save a bundle of money and can hire MORE beginning teachers thereby keeping classroom levels somewhat lower.  I think we'll lose a quality of teaching if that happens.  Losing quality and experienced teachers will cost society in a long run.

There is a comparison that I want to make that I found interesting.  The level of salaries of teachers and those that are in the military appear to be quite similar. But society makes sure that the military get the best equipment to do the job, the military personnel and families get free medical help, and when the time comes to do another term, military personnel get bonuses.  The military families also get to use the P-X where food is much lower in price.  Yes, me being a veteran I know about the hazards of being in the military.  But if we keep making teaching a hazardous job, we may need to do some of the same things we do to ensure our military levels.  Already some colleges of education are reporting a drop in enrollment.  This is not good.  And as the cost of tuition continues to rise the ratio of college costs to teaching salaries will continue to be a negative number.  The future in teaching is not very bright.

[editorial update]  A friend of mine who taught at the community college level in Portland, Oregon,  just wrote me and asked had I seen a recent article, "The High Cost of Low Teachers' Salaries," in a recent New York Times.  They said it better.

Have you thanked a teacher today for teaching kids?  They could use your pat on the back and support.

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