A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.
“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed. “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”
“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged. “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”
Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher. Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches. I know their battles and the wounds they carry.
“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim. I found that, no, he didn’t. I fear most Americans might be as clueless.
I emailed a former colleague (she’s two years from retirement) and asked one question: “How has education changed since you first started teaching?” A week later I received six, single-spaced pages.
When Susan started teaching thirty-one years ago, she had six class periods (about twenty-five kids per class) and two “preps” (subjects to teach). “We were expected to do all the usual things” like developing lessons, grading homework and tests, handwriting grade cards, and contacting parents “if and when necessary.”
(That last part made me snicker. Teachers will get the joke.)
A lot has changed over three decades, and though they haven’t broken her, many of those changes have bent Susan to the point where she is ready to retire.
While Tim condemns Susan as America’s problem, her own words reveal why she and teachers like her suck …
Gentle reader, teachers suck …
- … because of paperwork
Reading through Susan’s career experiences, one word kept surfacing: “paperwork.”
We have shackled our educators to a paper trail that, according to Susan, “takes hours and does nothing to help the students.” Her state now requires documented learning objectives for every single student, including “all the steps to achieve that goal.” The same legislation saddles each administrator in her school with the task of 120 classroom observations, “with the requisite pages of paperwork every time. The teachers also have to submit paperwork for each formal observation.”
Papers, papers everywhere.
Susan’s school also has a mandatory mentoring program for new teachers. Not a bad thing. However—you guessed it—it comes with an avalanche of forms. Both mentor and mentee spend hours preparing and submitting documentation instead of doing what they’ve been hired to do—teaching our kids.
Friends, teachers have always been successfully mentored. In my first year of teaching, I received tons of help from experienced educators who actually had time to share their wisdom with me … because they weren’t buried in bureaucracy.
Susan sees new teachers “trying to wrap their heads around their preps, classroom management, fostering relationships, and learning the ART of teaching,” but that’s hard to do because they must submit “a huge portfolio filled with hours of paperwork.” Meanwhile, some wizard waits behind the curtain to evaluate those documents and decide that young educator’s fate. Some teachers fail only because “they don’t play the paperwork game well.”
(Also, just so we’re clear, digital submissions might save some trees, but it doesn’t save our educators.)
- … because of unfunded mandates.
“Our politicians are fond of making laws about education without any input from the people in the classrooms,” laments Susan. The result? Things like state and federally mandated testing.
“Since we don’t trust teachers to actually teach, we have ‘accountability’.” Yes, her sarcasm is delicious. “Our kids spend hours [weeks, I would argue] testing rather than learning.”
As an employer, I see the fallout every day. We have a generation of high school graduates who’ve been taught to worship some standardized test score but can’t think their way out of a corner. But we can’t pin that on teachers. They’re the ones left holding the empty bag dumped on them by short-sighted legislators.
Susan’s school just completed another round of mandatory testing. It came with a hefty price tag.
“Because these tests are all online, our district had to retrofit each high school (there are three) with more data ports / WIFI / whatever you want to call it, to be able to handle hundreds of computers needing bandwidth at the same time.
“Where did the money come from? Locally, of course. We had to spend our district’s money on a state/federal mandate without any recompense. Add that to the loss of learning time and it’s a big, fat lose-lose.”
A buzz-topic right now is school vouchers. In a nutshell, vouchers allow parents to receive a tax credit equal to what might be spent on their child’s education. They can use that money to send their kid to any school they want. However, the money always comes from schools which are already underfunded.
On the subject of vouchers, we’ve got to change our perspective. You’re not paying taxes to educate your own kids. You’re paying to educate your neighbor’s kids, and that’s a terrific investment, because who wants dumb neighbors?
Friends, our educators are constantly being required to do more with less, and it has to stop.
- … because of litigation from parents
“I don’t know what kind of catastrophic event would have had to happen in 1986 to cause a parent to sue the school,” Susan writes, but schools are now legal tinderboxes.
Schools are filled with letters and numbers: IEP, 504, ELL, SLO, ESL, IDEA … the list goes on. (Google them if you don’t recognize them.) They aim to provide a quality education to every child, no matter their circumstance, deficiencies (or giftedness), mental or physical challenges, etc. These are all good things, but they come with a heavy cost and the classroom teacher pays the bill, spending an excessive amount of time accommodating students who come in with these legally-binding documents.
I just talked with an educator who’s dreading the upcoming school year. He’s already under assault by a parent waving around her kid’s unrealistic 51-page IEP. This guy knows, however, that if one letter of that document isn’t followed with precise satisfaction, mom will file a lawsuit (as she has before).
Susan says lawsuits are now “common place,” and schools usually settle out of court to avoid expensive legal battles. One student in her school was recently caught selling her mom’s prescription pills at school.
“Cut and dried, right?” Not so fast. “The parents said it was the school’s fault that she stole her mom’s meds and sold them because the school didn’t diagnose her with ADHD.” The parents filed a lawsuit and the school district settled out of court.
“This happens all the time.”
Teachers have to second guess everything they do and say, and the ever-looming lawsuit threat only dims their brilliance as educators.
- … because of expectations from a broken society.
Teachers no longer simply teach their subjects. Our schools are now responsible for raising children. Not many kids learn basic “life skills” and attitudes at home, so we expect teachers to do what moms and dads won’t (or can’t). Oh, and they’re also supposed to make sure the kids get fed.
Too many schools now have food / toiletry / clothing pantries for kids whose homes can’t provide basic necessities. These are run by volunteers … and teachers, of course.
We ask teachers to teach, feed, clothe, and parent our children, but refuse them the resources, support, and time to do the job. Instead, we shame them for not saving our fractured society.
“Not only are schools and teachers expected to fix all of society’s ills, we are also expected to turn out a fantastic product,” Susan says. “It would be nice if it could be remembered that we are working with human capital, not with a product whose outcome we can control completely.”
And therein lies the biggest key to understanding why teacher’s suck …
Our teachers end up parenting a lot of kids, and that role comes with a costly emotional and psychological investment. Teachers are often caring for students who are functioning orphans—and they do it for countless kids. While they’re teaching their preps, answering emails and phone calls from angry parents, trying to ignore what some yahoo has said about them on social media, and filling out an insane amount of hoop-jumping documentation to help some politician get re-elected, they’re also trying to get the girl who’s been raped into counseling, making sure the kid out of rehab stays clean and on track, and trying to tenderly engage that discipline problem who’s now living on the streets because his parents are both in jail.
Friends, that’s reality.
You still want to know why teachers suck …?
Let me finish the sentence.
Teachers suck … it up and keep doing what they do because they love our kids.
They suck … it up and keep fighting the good fight because they are professionals with more heart, grit, and passion than anyone I know.
Teachers bleed for our nation’s children on a daily basis, and it’s time we unshackle them from bureaucratic nonsense and give them the resources and support to do the job they are called—and trained—to do.
Release date from Simon & Schuster / Howard Books: June 11, 2019. Order Now.