Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Gagged Majority: Teachers on Education Reform

I love the internet: it gives me the chance to snoop into all the private worlds I find interesting. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the Department of Education’s website—not for the somewhat bland press releases and typical government rhetoric (blah blah, better testing, better accountability, “yes, we know NCLB stinks”), but for the mostly well-written, thoughtful responses of educators in the comments sections at the bottom of some of the posts. Now, I know that I’m probably not seeing a full representation here, but they’re interesting to read, and they often reflect what I’ve heard from many teachers over the years. With an aunt who taught for 25 years and a husband entering his 5th, as well as plenty of friends in teaching, I can’t help but be interested in where the educational system is headed.

Here are the “people on the ground” everyone always talks about but forgets to listen to. While the government continues to use the rhetoric of running schools like a business (by making them waste resources competing for funds that only a few will get), these teachers are focused on exactly what they ought to be – teaching every student in their individual classrooms. These teachers are not asking for a pay raise (although they deserve one - I definitely agree with Mr. Duncan on that issue), nor are they demanding better benefits or more ‘incentives’ to do their job.

What do they want instead? Overwhelmingly, the comments I see (and hear) complain of:

- Constant administrational interruptions that disrupt class time and lessen student/teacher interaction

- Teach-to-the test orientation that hampers their creativity and ability to engage students in the classroom

- High student-teacher ratios that lessen their ability to treat students as individuals

Huh. All of these are student-focused concerns that have proven effective at bettering the educational experience; however, I don’t hear anyone in government advocating for these sorts of on-the-ground approaches. Instead, they tout the need for better “accountability” and better testing. And what does more accountability mean? More meetings, more administrators, and… you got it, more interruptions of class time and red tape that keeps teachers from doing the work that they will then be punished for not being able to do. I hear Arne Duncan talk about the need for government to step back, and he says he’s listening to teacher voices (see Arne Takes To Twitter) but I don’t see any action being taken on what teachers really seem to want.

The teachers I know (my husband being one) are accountable. They already, on their own, hold themselves to high standards, and they genuinely care about student learning. They clearly (especially not, since I live in Kentucky) didn’t get into teaching for the big bucks, or the time off. Anyway, just interesting to watch an evolving conversation; with an aunt who taught for 25 years and a husband entering his 5th, I can’t help but be interested in where the educational system is headed. I’d give History Husband’s input on this, but he’s swamped doing what he always does – making sure his students are learning to the best of their abilities.

Check out the teacher comments at the bottom of these posts

*I don’t agree with every single comment - I just want to hear more teacher voices in the discussion on education reform.