True Education Reform

Sorry to those of you who were hoping to read about my latest chocolate treasure, but this post is about something far more important. I know, I know, that seems a bit foreign coming from my keyboard, but as much as I adore chocolate, I’ve got something a bit more serious on my mind.

I’m a teacher, and a darn good one to boot. For the past 13 years, I have worked very hard to help my students become better. Better writers, better readers, better communicators, heck, better people. I cannot count the number of hours I have spent over the course of my career revamping lesson plans to appeal to a new group of students or writing detailed suggestions on drafts of research papers so my kids can improve them. I do not know how many hours I have spent worrying about kids who I know are using drugs, going through horrible break-ups, losing parents or having trouble fitting in. I’ve lost track of the free time I’ve spent outside my work day getting to know my kids and lending an ear when they feel the world is crumbling down around them.

In short, I care. A lot. Sometimes far, far too much.

In the last few years though, the profession I have cherished has really changed. Teachers are being vilified, no longer by angry students or even parents, but by the news media. We are being blasted for being over paid and not giving enough of ourselves. We are being blamed for just about every societal ill out there and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m also sick to my stomach over the House and Senate bills currently being pushed through the Indiana government.

The governor, for I refuse to call him my governor, and the superintendent of public schools have supposedly made it their mission to reform education. The only problem is that little of what is being purposed is actual reform. Much is supported by shoddy research (or in some cases none at all), misinformation and the need for drastic budget cuts. Very little of it has any true educational benefit behind it. Much of it seems to be a vindictive attack on teachers. Now, I don’t doubt I’m taking this a bit personally. The only political issues I ever get really, really fired up about revolve around education. Like I said, I’m one of those teachers who really, really cares.

What I can’t understand, is if the governor and Mr. Bennet want true education reform, why they aren’t actually advocating changes at the most basic levels: colleges producing teachers. If real education reform is desired, why not change the way teachers are educated?

I find it absolutely reprehensible that most colleges require a mere C average to graduate with a teaching degree. We expect excellence from our juvenile students, yet allow their teachers to be mediocre. This doesn’t make sense. Teachers should be people who appreciate the educational process. They should enjoy the classroom environment. They should have a real enthusiasm for learning, not a wish to just get by. How can they demand their students rise to expectations they were not willing to rise to? If real educational reform is what our legislators are after, why not change the way teachers are educated? Accepting mediocrity and expecting high performance is asinine.

In addition, Indiana allows potential teachers to take the Praxis tests (standardized tests all teachers must pass, which cover a variety of areas, including general education knowledge, and content specific information) until they pass it. We don’t even allow this of our high school students. Those students are given five chances to pass the ISTEP. If they do not, unless they complete a very lengthy waver process (which so far my school has had 1 student do in the 5 years I’ve been there), they cannot graduate from high school. And yet, that same child’s teacher is allowed to take the Praxis test an unlimited number of times. How in the world does this make any sense? If teachers cannot pass this test with the minimum scores required after three or four times, why should they be allowed to teach? Doctors, lawyers and many other professionals with standardized tests have limits to the number of chances they get to pass. So should teachers.

And while on the subject of teacher training, I find it amazing that college students can spend as few as 10 weeks in a classroom setting during their student teaching and still be allowed to become licensed teachers. This is far too little classroom exposure to truly prepare anyone for their own classroom. Not to mention that with the transition to teaching program, the education foundation and student teaching requirements are almost nil. People who happen to have a bachelor’s degree and have worked in the business sector can become fully licensed teachers in as little as 18 months. How in the world is this proper training?

Again, if any of the current rhetoric was about real education reforms, some of these issues would be under the microscope. So would coaching and club sponsorship. As rewarding as I find the extra-curriculars I have had the benefit of sponsoring during my teaching career, it floors me that schools allow first year teachers to take on these assignments. If real education reform was the goal, wouldn’t it be better to allow new teachers a chance to develop as teacher before they add something as stressful as coaching into their lives? Far too many people who enter classrooms are coaches first and teachers second. Maybe if they had a chance to really hone their teaching skills for a year or two, they would become teachers who happen to coach.

I could go on and on for hours, but as I have to be up at 5:15 to make it to work, I need to turn in. I’m sure I will re-visit this topic because it is something I feel truly passionate about. My dander is up because so little of the bills introduced are about reform. They are about finding a scapegoat. In this economy, it seems the public is out for blood and our governor is happy to throw us to the wolves. One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered being an educator is that education seems to be the only profession that everyone feels they have a right to voice their opinion about. It seems that because every single person in this country has had to sit in a classroom for at least 11 years of their lives, they somehow feel entitled to give their solutions on how education should be managed. I would never presume to tell my doctor, my lawyer, my accountant or even my mechanic how to do their jobs. Few people would. And yet everyone feels it is their right to tell me how to do mine.

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Filed under bad people, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, what makes me me

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