In trying to continue to justify what I do day in and day out, it is difficult not to read what the media says about teachers and public education, and at times take it very personally. Here is just one example.
It asks and answers many of the concerns that those of us who work in the field of education continue to have, whether new to the field, or as seasoned professionals. I had problems commenting on-site due to some technical problem I cannot identify as yet, so I will use this blog to say what I wanted to say.
As a teacher during my brief time with a charter school back in 2010, I had a multi-grade class that included several students with marked behavioral and learning disabilities. I knew this, and was willing to do my very best for them, despite not having the actual qualifications or adequate support to do so. At a Parent-Teacher conference at the beginning of that fateful year, the general attitudes of most parents and our society toward teachers, were summed up for me in the statement a parent made to me in regards to their son, who had “highly functioning” Autism: “He’s YOUR problem now”. I recall how speechless that comment left me, and as the days and weeks passed with that student, the parents proved to me how unsupportive they were of my efforts by complaining, and eventually pulled the child out mid-term, only to return to a previous charter school, where they had also been “unsatisfied”. I had no IEP, no road-map on which to rely, as I attempted to assist this child, who needed near constant one-on-one help. If he did not receive it, he would hide under tables, even attempt to hurt himself. Did I feel bad about it? Sure. Was it disruptive to his and other students’ learning? Very much so. Did the parent actually come and see what was going on, volunteer to assist even one day in the class? Never. They just complained.
I managed to get through that year, teaching three grade levels at one time, with minimal resources, and very little support from either the administration or parents. When my contract ended, I resigned. Taking a job outside of the public-school district I was used to was a risk, and a learning experience as well. But it came with a cost, not just for the students who had deserved better, but myself. When I returned to the district of my previous employment, I was back at square one, considered a first-year teacher (after 5 years of actual teaching experience). I was given a stipend of about $500 dollars for working at a charter school ( considered out-of-district experience), but was being paid as an entry-level educator. The salary didn’t bug me so much…it was certainly more than I was making as a charter-school educator, and I would no longer have to drive 70 miles a day to and from my job-site…what bothered me was the dichotomy presented by “rewarding” me for working at a charter school for one year, while “busting” me back down to first-year status as a public school teacher. And that is the crux of the problem with our societal views toward public education.
Public Education is by no means perfect….but I have found that it focuses on the student more than not, and their importance as future citizens of the world. Never mind the question of data-driven instruction and what the state wants. It seems like charter schools are businesses, and students are the merely the “product”. That is not to say there aren’t some excellent ones out there. There are also a lot of dedicated teachers working there. But the focus is more oriented toward selling the schools to the public and the parents, sometimes at the expense of the students, and their own teachers. Let’s just say they do not always put their money where their mouths are. And this is what state governments, in alarmingly higher numbers, are siphoning money away from public education for. Some say that is justified, because public schools are “failing”. But they will continue to do so, unless people wake up and realize that one reason they are failing is lack of public support. It’s a very vicious circle. Politics is also a problem. Teachers are leaving in droves, and the ones who stay are the most dedicated you will ever know, but they are besieged by mandates and threats to their positions on a daily basis.
Luckily, some districts are beginning to stand up to corporate bullies, politicians who believe in state testing as a panacea for all of education’s ails, and are promoting themselves better. They offer special programs, are trying to bring the Arts back, offer more physical education, and even starting up fiscal literacy classes. Clubs and organizations like The Lions and Kiwanis donate supplies and volunteers. Teachers are putting in extra hours to promote their schools, and meet with hard-to-reach parents. Language Acquisition departments are helping teachers reach out to those in the community who speak other languages, to bring them into the school community. My district is one of them. And although there is still a LONG way to go, and many past mistakes to correct, I think there is a sincerity in our district to put the focus back on the student as the center of all we do. Teachers are still struggling for respect and a decent living, but I think the most dedicated will stick it out as long as they can. I know I am going to. The paradigm shift has been going on for many years now, and it may be many more years before we realize the dream of a decent, fair, and diverse education for all. But it will, and MUST happen.