A couple of things crossed my desk and my computer screen this week that persist to trouble me about teachers. By and large in my forty-five years of teaching most teachers just want to go about doing their business of getting someone to learn something. In my case at the college level, I wanted to teach teachers how to use (at first, early on) audio-visual equipment. Later we call it media (communications) and finally a term that seems to be sticking, Instructional Technology. I was convinced that if teachers would use media correctly that kids of all ages would learn more in less time. I still think along these lines. I'm not sure how one could measure the teaching/learning that I generated but I suppose one could devise a test of some sorts. But if you then said to me that my future would be determined by the students' test scores, I think I would end up in a blue funk. Well, certainly not a happy guy. Probably scared a bit.
But I have taught a college (graduate level) course on "Tests and Measurements." I know that one can write a test to get certain results. Negative or positive results depending upon how you construct the question or test item. Are you with me on this? Recently around the Fourth of July several news sources asked the question, "could you pass the American citizen test that is given to immigrants wanting to become U.S. citizens?" Out of curiosity I took the test and failed...not surprisingly. I'm not good with details like who is the seventh president of the United States. But i did okay on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, probably because I use to teach that to my grade school kids. But there were items even on that subject that I forgot. Damn! And I couldn't remember all the words to the National Anthem....not surprising as I could probably play it in several different keys on my trumpet. I remember all the notes--do you?
Testing is the quicksand of education so I was also not surprised when those same news sources reported that a large number of teachers and principals in a large southern city were found to be cheating on their students' behalf so that school scores would look better for the "No Child Left Behind" tests. The headlines blared: "Teachers Found Cheating," and later clips in the news showed the superintendent of schools "...if teachers were found cheating would be immediately dismissed--FIRED!" As if superintendents never cheat.
[A sidebar] I was once a school board member and one of our duties were to review the budgets of a number of smaller school districts in our area. In one case two school districts used the services of a school psychologist but one district paid his salary one year, and the other district the next year. Thats legal under state law. But what those districts were doing was EACH district was budgeting that salary EACH year and then using the money if it were not their year to pay for other items--not legal. But they had been doing this for a number of years and using that money as a slush fund for sports.
So in the news a lot of hand wringing about how teachers were cheating. I haven't talked or written any of those teachers but I suspect I know what was in their mind. First off, this testing has gotten out of hand and many schools are doing more to prepare for the test then teaching the students what they need to know. If I had been among those teachers I suspect I would have been in the group that changed student's scores. I'm still thinking about it. Teachers would rather teach the students a solid curriculum that will allow the students to be successful in the future. I'm serious, teachers want to teach and they want to teach worthwhile subjects that will be useful to the students. I have yet to meet a teacher who didn't want this objective. Teaching to the Test is a waste of time for everyone. Yes, teachers will still do testing but they want to know if what they are teaching is getting through to the students. I have given tests to my fourth graders and realized I needed to go over the material once again--they weren't getting it. But to teach for a national test that doesn't make sense is silly. So who is the eighth president of the United States? Don't google it, just tell me. I don't know either.
I feel sorry for those teachers and principals. I think they really had the best interests of the students in mind when they did this sort of thing. I do wish them well...and want to remind the superintended, "let me see your budget for the year, eh?"
However, another item that came before me was essentially a local news clip. Teachers in Seattle could take a 1.9 percent pay cut OR the district would have to forego buying new textbooks for the children. This statement came from the Public Information officer of the Seattle School District. Holy smokes, I couldn't believe it.
Now think about it--the teachers can keep their salary at the present level (no raises) or they can take the pay reduction to buy the books for the students. The district isn't buying the books--the teachers are! What blackmail! Not only did this stick in my craw but in another news source it said that the Seattle school administrators are getting "pay raises to stay competitive." Somehow I really don't understand all of this.
To be fair I have found out that several mid-level school administrators have been released. But my feelings are with the teachers. Tough spot to be in.
I wish them well. Perhaps one will write me and tell us what the final decision was. Did the teachers buy the new textbooks? I wonder.
I wish all teachers well. My thanks to them for the work that they do with our children and young adults. Thank you.