Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blinded by the light (of my own ambition)

Have you ever been preparing for a trip to somewhere new and exciting? In your mind, you pictured the hotel and the things that you would see...only to find when you arrived that things were different or maybe even disappointing compared to your excited imaginings.

Teaching is sort of like that. Every new teacher, fresh out of school, starts his or her new job with the brightest and most brilliant ambitions...only to find that things are not what we imagined. We go into teaching blinded by the light of our own ambition to make a difference. Low pay? Long hours? Not enough thanks? Not important because I'll be making a difference. Only, there is so much focus on standardized test scores and AYP and common assessments and data that it gets in the way of the most important thing- actually teaching, which means you're not making the kind of difference you hoped you would.

Standardized test scores cannot accurately measure some of the most important skills that a student gains in a good education, and yet many things are based on those scores, from federal funding, to teacher pay (or even whether they keep their jobs), to program availability. Furthermore, they are not indicators of one of the most important aspects of education- self-motivation.

Every school teacher can tell you that there are plenty of students who absolutely can be successful, they simply won't do the necessary work to pass their classes and tests. Should teachers lose jobs and schools lose funding because some student simply doesn't want to do the work?

One of the biggest problems with education in America is the fact that those who make educational policy are not educators, but politicians who are trained to worry about the bottom line, which more and more seems to be "How much will it cost?"

There is so much paperwork and policy that gets in the way of truly educating our students. New teachers are bogged down with paperwork, extracurricular responsibilities and overwhelming expectations. Teacher education programs do not prepare you for most of the extra responsibilities that come with a classroom teaching position. By the time teachers have trudged their way through bus duty, progress reports, phone calls home, intervention and referral paperwork, LEP paperwork, testing accomodations and modifying and differentiating assignments, their flame of passion is exhausted of fuel.

Even more terrifying, according to this articule from edutopia, nearly 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. It's not because of the low pay; edutopia says that less than 30% of those who left cited salary as their primary reason for leaving. What is the reason? According to edutopia, it is a lack of support from parents, colleagues and administration.

One teacher in the article mentioned that there was not a day when she did not go home and cry, and I knew how she felt. My first year of teaching was terrible. I was blessed to find an experienced ESL teacher at my school who was more than willing to assist me in any way possible, answer questions, and help me prepare for observations, but the pressures and the stress were overwhelming.

Without my wonderful mentor, I certainly would not have made it through my first year. I was also blessed to have been through a strong teacher education program under the wonderful and brilliant Dr. Clara Lee Brown. I credit my training and my mentors for my making it through that rough and terrible first year. But many teachers are not so blessed.

With less and less money for budgets each year, teaching positions are being cut by the hundreds and class sizes are increasing. Budget shortfalls also mean fewer basic supplies and technology for students and teachers. Add to that a higher attrition rate than for most other professions, and it is no wonder than America's educational system can no longer compete with other leading nations.

The question to ask yourself for tonight is, what is truly best for education in our country? Is it time to re-examine No Child Left Behind? I personally think that it is time for an education revolution to take place in our country. Teachers, Principals, Parents, and other educators need to speak out and let our voices be heard. Only then can America's education system truly begin to prepare our students for the world that they will be living in. Weigh in and share your opinion!

Oh, and don't worry. Pretty soon I'll start keeping the rhetoric to a minimum and share more about the daily challenges of a tried and true public school teacher.

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