3/13/16

IS THERE REALLY A WAR ON TEACHERS?


Is there really a war on teachers or is it all just a figment of our imaginations?

I work as an art teacher in an average, suburban, public middle school, where teachers get along well and support one another. We have a good administrative team who are all doing the best they can to support teachers and maintain the structural integrity of our school. I feel that our school culture is positive, warm, supportive, and professional. I love the surrounding community - I have served families here for 12 years. However, even in a good, upstanding community, we are fighting a losing battle. Part of that battle is due to a lack of funding which leads to overcrowded classrooms and discipline problems, and part of it is due to the culture of testing and unreasonable expectations for our students.

On the subject of class size:
The vast majority of our students do what they are supposed to do, but when you have 30 - 34 kids in a class, the teacher can't always effectively teach, especially when there are a few who enjoy playing or disrupting more than getting their work done. The school does not have any control over the number of students in attendance - nor how many teachers are hired. The teacher units are decided based on the number of students in attendance for the previous year. 

Class size matters, especially in younger grades. One of our feeder elementary schools is experiencing a boom in the kindergarten classes and those teachers are struggling! When funding is largely based on attendance data from the previous year, the school can do nothing about hiring extra teachers when there is an abundance of students. Kindergarten classes should have around 15 kids max., but at our feeder elementary school there are 22 k's to a class! This is not going to be good for the kids or for the teachers, and the culture being created by this lack of resources will follow this group all the way through their years at school. It will perpetuate a lack of trust between the community and the school, feeding the (growing) animosity between parents and teachers.

On the subject of school/community relationships:
Many parents really do want to blame the school for any and all problems their children are having, no matter how effective the teachers are. I wish that parents understood that teachers don't choose how many students are placed in their classes and they don't choose the amount of money they are given to spend on resources. One kindergarten teacher I spoke with spends several thousand dollars of her own money every year on her classroom! In her class of 22 kindergarten students, she has at least one child with severe anger issues and who throws chairs. While this teacher is restraining the one child who is a danger to himself and to others, what is happening in the minds of the other 21 students? What kinds of fears are they dealing with? What are they really learning?

Teachers have no control over students arriving in their classes with a lack of basic skills, from kindergarten children arriving with no preschool experience to middle school students reading at a 3rd grade level.
Teachers also don't have any control over the level of technology that may or may not be present in their classes. 

On the subject of discipline: 
At our school, there are real, actual consequences for misbehavior, albeit mild. The other day I had to write up a couple of kids for being out of their seats and playing instead of working and I overheard a (very well-behaved) student say, "I hate blue forms!" When I asked him why, he said he didn't understand why kids weren't immediately sent to the principal for acting up. In his eyes, the consequence of a write-up was ineffective. I explained that there were only three administrators and almost 800 students, that if they were sent to the principal's office every time they misbehaved the principals would be overwhelmed! He nodded and looked down at his drawing. 

Unfortunately, he is one really good kid in a raucous 7th grade culture - he might be right in his opinion that not enough is being done to discipline the students who act up. Do the few rebellious, unruly kids ruin school for the rest? Those in authority have to decide which battles are worth fighting. When funding is cut and the district loses half of its alternative school teachers, and fewer students are allowed to be sent to alternative school, those in authority have to be a bit choosy.

At the school where I teach, I am surrounded by extremely caring, professional, highly effective teachers who work diligently every day to make sure their students learn valuable skills and knowledge. They are fighting a battle, though. When we need to call home because of a behavior issue or because of a failing grade, more often than not we are greeted by a supportive parent who will say they will have a talk with the student. However, sometimes we are unable to reach a parent at all, and sometimes the parent demands to know what we as teachers are doing to help their children rather than demanding that the children take responsibility for their actions. It really does seem that ALL the responsibility for student achievement is resting on the shoulders of teachers.

Teachers are also fighting a losing battle regarding a culture of testing. More emphasis is being placed on preparing students for testing rather than on preparing students for life. So much emphasis is placed on academic achievement that the humanity of our children is ignored. Kids need to play, they need to relax, they need to move their bodies, they need opportunities to be creative! They need to socialize! Right now, our middle school students are not given any opportunity to take a break during the school day and are shuffled from one academic class to another, with a 20 minute lunch. Their day is highly structured, which is a very good thing. But please, can't we allow them some time to refresh their minds? Wouldn't that improve their ability to learn?

We need better funding in our schools - this would provide more teachers, reduce class size, improve access to technology, and reduce discipline problems. Better funding would also provide access to the arts in ALL public schools in Alabama.

Instead of providing more support for teachers and schools in the way of better funding, and instead of seeking insights from our teachers, lawmakers are planning to make our jobs harder. 

Why? 

When you make it harder for teachers to teach, when you hold them accountable for the choices their students make, you simultaneously undermine the effectiveness of schools and the trust of the community crumbles. It doesn't matter how great the teachers are, when they are not provided with the resources they need to teach, then the students suffer the consequences. 

Our children are our future, and the most important job there is (besides parenting) is teaching! In the richest country in the world, why can we not adequately provide funding for our schools? Why do we continuously sabotage teachers by reducing funding and support for schools? We are not only sabotaging teachers, we are sabotaging our future.

Alabama legislators will be voting soon on a bill that will make things much harder for teachers in the state. Please contact them to urge them to vote, "NO," on the PREP Act, SB 316!


"So what would you do if you worked hard, and in many cases went into debt, to get a degree for a career that you feel you were born to do (we all know that teachers don't do it for the money) but this career turned into a nightmare. No matter what you do, how many hours you put in, how much of your own money you spend, how much of your own time you use to get all of the work done, how much professional development and continuing education you engage in....nothing can ensure you will be looked upon favorably by your employer."



article by Mrs. Anna Nichols





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