Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Teaching - No longer a respected profession

I graduated from college a long time ago. I received a BS in Math with enough hours to obtain a teaching certificate since we were moving overseas right after graduation and I knew I would need that certificate to find a job. I taught with the Department of Defense for a couple of years and then taught for a year in Georgia upon our return to the states. At that point I decided to go into the computer industry. I was a software engineer for 14 years. At that point we had 2 children and the travel in that industry became a burden for them, so I decided to stick my toe in the waters of the educational system again.

On a personal level, teaching would let me work the hours that my children attended school and have the same summer schedule for the convenience of the family. On a professional level, I had learned a LOT over those years that would be advantageous to my students. I was older; I was smarter; and I could tell them about the relationship between the real world applications and the math they were having to take. I taught for one year at a private school and then taught for 10 years at the local high school until our youngest (child number 3) graduated. For the next 5 years I played around with genealogy and taught at our local genealogical society, taking one job for 3 years (during that time) to assist an office in converting paper medical records to a digital system.

I then received a call to help out a city middle school for the second semester as they'd had a teacher retire at Christmas. I agreed. Realize, that our local school system is divided between a county system and a city system. My previous local teaching (10 years) had been in the county system. This new 5 month stint was in the city system.

The school in the city was an "optional" school, meaning that there is usually a waiting list of parents to get into the school. Half of the kids are part of the optional program and half are from the surrounding neighborhood. When I taught for the county, I thought I was a good teacher. My students tested well, participated in class and most went on to college.

When I taught at the city system, all my Honors Algebra kids passed the appropriate standardized tests but then there were the other things I couldn't "teach" for most of the other classes.

I had a student fall asleep in my class. It was near the end of the class, so when the bell rang, I had the rest of the class leave quietly, with the intention that I would confront and talk with the sleeping student privately. Another teacher and I woke him and found out that the reason he was sleeping was that he had been in the emergency room all night with his brother who had been shot in the face. How does a teacher fix that problem? How can teaching math even matter to a student with a problem like that?

In yesterday's newspaper, the city system is saying that they will pay teachers based on test scores, and the teacher's salary could vary from year to year and oh by the way, they may have to take away all health insurance too. A teacher cannot MAKE a child study for a test at home; a teacher cannot MAKE a child bring a pencil, book or paper to class. There may be no parent at home to reinforce what the student has been learning in class and there may be no money for pencils or paper. A teacher is usually in the profession because they want to help children and have a love for a particular subject area (in the case of high school teachers). We go through many years of education to learn to teach. Anyone in any profession should ask themselves how THEY would like to be paid based on the feedback of their patients or customers. What if police officers were paid based on the effectiveness of the prosecution of those they arrested? What if a fire fighter was paid based on the portion of a house that was saved from a fire? Notice how those things are based on things over which the worker has no control - just like the issues swirling around teaching.

My daughter is about to graduate with a masters degree. She had hoped to teach middle school social studies, but sees these things being discussed, along with good, experienced teachers being replaced with young, non-certified Teach For America kids (saves the district $$).

Teachers cannot fix the social issues surrounding the education system. A math teacher cannot teach Algebra to a student who has not taken the responsibility to learn the times tables in third grade, but WHY did that child not learn the times tables? It COULD have been that they had a "bad" teacher, but I would think that the child did not practice those tables at home (MY children did) because no one was home to make them do it. WHY did the school pass the child on to the next grade if they didn't achieve what was needed? There are too many questions and issues and not treating teachers with the respect they deserve is part of the problem.

One of my honors students received a B on a report card. Her mother was at the school the next day wanting her child removed from my class. Luckily they didn't let her move and that child worked harder in the next terms, coming in for help after school and was very pleased with herself when she scored well on the standardized test. The good thing was that she had a parent who cared, but the bad thing was that the parent immediately decided that it was a teacher problem and NOT her child that wasn't doing "A" work that caused the "B". My responsibility was to teach the subject and give the student the grade they had EARNED.

I have no answers. Teaching in the city system opened my eyes to problems faced by those students. I had not seen those problems in all my years of teaching with the county system. Those two systems are being combined within the next two years. I think it is the best thing for the students but I don't know how the needed changes can happen that will actually help these students. Academic achievement is SO intertwined with the social ills of their environment. The lack of respect for teachers in the community appears in the classroom every day as lack of respect from the students for the teacher. THERE is a good place to start.

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