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Teaching in a changing educational world
Barbara Schulz, Ed.S., ABD | 26 March, 2011 20:51

Teaching during the present day has certainly become challenging.  Recently I traveled with other union members to Annapolis to protest the wish of legislative leaders to cut back on teacher pensions. Another teacher in the same age category as I went mainly to support the younger teachers who have years to go before retirement. Since we are close to looking retirement in the face, and realize how challenging it will be for our generation who has been hit hard with the recession, and we know how challenging teaching can be, we felt it necessary for the younger folks to have something to look forward to in their old age.  It was a good experience, making us both feel that we had done our part, and we had dragged 2 new teachers with us, getting them excited about the political process. 

The present economical happenings are scary for all involved.  The economic crisis has hit many folks in the pocketbook, as well as the savings and IRAs etc.  But several states are threatening unions which have fought for years to get workers' rights.  It scares me that so many young workers don't seem to support the unions. I know that unions have done their jobs , and most people in this country get decent pay and conditions now are good so may have outgrown the need for themselves, but that could change at the drop of a hat.

 Just look at how the federal government has tried to change education in the last 2 decades, and only half succeeded.  The need to leave no child behind has garnered standardized testing out the wazoo.... and it's had its good and bad impacts. It has pushed for a standardized curriculum, which the virtual schools have grabbed and run with and I feel could be adapted to encourage individualized learning, but yet it has also made it so that kids are tested so much that teachers have to teach to the test, so kids are learning less about things like social studies,  STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering & Math), and liberal arts.

But the latest political climate that threatens collective bargaining has also pointed a HUGE finger at teachers blaming them for kid's failures. It's really scary!  There are so many factors that impact a child's ability to learn, particularly their level of abiity, background knowledge, home support, community support, whether they've had enough to eat, and whether they have bad things happening in their lives.  Yet the politicians have read a few research studies that state that excellent teachers make the biggest difference.  Well I hate to tell them that I've met very few "bad" teachers, yet some kids still fail. Most teachers work their tails off trying to offset the challenges the kids bring from the world and trying to help them learn. And some of the teachers in schools with the most challenges are the best teachers because they have to be to survive.  If they weren't they would have quit long ago.

But this latest political climate has turned evaluating teachers into a nightmare.  They want a good chunk of teachers' salaries to be based on what kids do on tests.  This has turned testing into a competition.  My school has jumped on the bandwagon, and had a pep rally for taking the tests, gave rewards every day, and huge rewards at the end of the testing days. 

I hope it worked and motivated the kids, as well as giving them confidence in themselves, or  at the least, relieved the stress of testing. But what exactly are we teaching kids ?  That their future world of work will treat them like athletes that get recognition and pep rallies?  Some fields like the entertainment field and sports do have those available for the few who make it big, but most of our kids will work in places that don't  have a pep rally before each client meeting, or give out awards on a regular basis.

It has mostly put extreme pressure on administrators to evaluate teachers effectively.  The sad part is that it has usually been several years since the admins have actually taught in the classroom on a regular basis, so seem to have lost touch with what a teacher really goes through and what kids are like today.  Every thing they do is based on test results (which if handled correctly could work to improve teaching), but it has caused a complete turn around in what is expected of teachers. 

Take for instance my latest evaluation.  While I was told it was a "Successful lesson", I still received a "Causing concern" in the category of student engagement because I didn't have  "100%" participation from all the students a couple of times during the lesson. The fact that I got 100% of the files where they needed to be (the main goal of the lesson) and that I was going above and beyond the call of duty as a computer ed teacher to work on their literacy skills, didn't seem to weigh as much as having all kids doing exactly the same thing at the same time.  It scares me that the latest trend, even in charter schools which are on the rise,  seems to be this concept of having kids being rote machines that react at the same time. It reminds me of the Chinese Olympic ceremonies where everything was perfectly timed and syncopated, which was impressive, but made people seem like automated machines of drilled armies. It's also like getting 20 birds of different sizes and species to sit perfectly in a row and sing the same note at the same time in the same pitch. Just about impossible.

 This need for  perfection makes me really concerned about how long I'll be able to last in education.  You see, that type of learning goes totally against my philosophy of teaching.  I believe strongly that students are individual learners and progress at their own pace in their own interests.  Teachers can't push learners to learn at the teachers pace, but they can be there to guide the student when they are ready to learn. And the world needs independent learners that can teach themselves, and motivate themselves to learn. We also need learners that want to develop skills and work in all kinds of different fields.  But these current trends feel like they are treating students as automatons.  Hopefully this phase will pass quickly.

After all, I've lived through open spaced classrooms, Dimensions of learning, Learning Styles, and a myriad of other trends that all have good points, but shouldn't be the be all and end all of education.  Hopefully, the powers that be will take the good parts of this current trend  and use the lessons learned to move to the next phase VERY quickly

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