Teaching: Why It Is Not What It Used To Be

Education is not to be bottle fed, it is to be discovered. (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Today’s letter on the A to Z Blogging Challenge is “T”, and if there is something that has been on my mind lately it is teaching.  A few weeks ago, a retiring teacher Gerald Conti posted to Facebook about the teaching profession as it stands today.  The letter went viral.  In it, Conti cited the basic idea that testing companies dictate to teachers what they must teach in their classrooms.

In many ways I will have to agree.  Gone are the days when the State would trust that a teacher’s training in college and regular tests within the classroom were enough to ensure that students were learning what they needed to succeed.  Every time I talk about the illogic of standardized testing in front of those who are not in education I hear things like “well we have to know that the teacher is doing their job.”  Following this logic, does society make doctors, lawyers or businesspeople take regular tests to make sure they are “doing their job”?  It all boils down to political parties trying to graft a business model onto an industry that is NOT an industry nor does it fit the business mode.

For instance, in many corporate businesses evaluations are given to managers based on the work ethic and production efforts of the employees subject to the manager.  If the manager’s evaluation is based on this productivity and that manager knows that certain employees in his/her charge are not pulling their weight, they simply fire those employees and hire employees who will do the job well and thereby ensure a more positive evaluation.  This does not work in education.  According to current teacher evaluation policies (which have completely destroyed tenure grandfathered or not) 1/3 of a teacher’s evaluation is based on the test scores of minors who are taking a test on ONE DAY of their calendar year.  If a student has poor living conditions, had a bad day, did not feel well, or simply did not care about the test (as teens are nearly incapable of immediately seeing the future benefits of passing state tests) we cannot simply fire them and hire new students who will pull their weight.  “But it is your responsibility to motivate them to do well” you say.  How do you motivate a student who lives in a home where his mother fights with her boyfriend every night, the doors and windows are missing and they live in a perpetual state of hunger?  They are in survival mode.

This evaluation model also causes teacher to fear for their jobs so much that all of their efforts go to figuring out what is on the State test so that they can teach ONLY THOSE ITEMS to students, holding their breath during End of Instruction Testing (which occurs in mid April even though schools usually end in late May), hoping that their students will remember everything they learned for the high stakes test.  We wait in anticipation for the next school year when our scores are revealed, knowing full well that one class will do better than another based on limitless factors, and that growth can change from year to year based on even more of those limitless factors.  The illogic is deafening.

Today, as it stands, if teachers receive poor evaluations because of test scores for three years they MUST be fired and they ARE NOT ALLOWED to bargain for their jobs.  This happens even if they maintain stellar evaluations by administrators who observe the classroom first hand.  I am usually good at predicting future events, and I will say that as soon as a classroom evaluated excellent teacher is fired for this, the teacher will (and should) sue the State, at which the State will have to repeal their policies about firing teachers over things that they cannot control.  Either that, or we will see the largest teacher walk-out in the history of education.  Something is about to break.

I have heard rumbling in the mix, and so have college students training to be teachers.  This year we have seen a record number of college students changing their majors from education to another more lucrative field.  There are many reasons for this and they all have to do with standardized testing and pay scales.  College students wishing to graduate with education degrees must take at least three standardized tests provided by independent testing companies averaging $130 each.  Colleges are seeing declining enrollments nationwide, and as this Pittsburgh University article explains, most of them are education majors.  I spoke to a college student who was observing my class last week and she told me that the University of Oklahoma has seen a decline in education majors or students changing their major out of education even though the education department offers a free iPad to education majors who graduate from the program.  If this is true for OU, then how many other colleges are seeing these declines?  It could be that education majors are seeing the illogic of the evaluations, the illogic of the meager salaries versus the amount of money we have to shell out to take tests for certification and the rising cost of student loans.

It is very hard to find positives in all this, but I suppose I will hope that this standardized testing/evaluation nonsense will go away like every other bungled and botched policy that our government has cooked up with which to torment students and teachers.

…Or maybe I’ll go work in Finland.

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Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “Teaching: Why It Is Not What It Used To Be

  1. As an ex teacher in Australia I was shocked by your post Roger. I had no idea the US had such draconian policies. Here in Australia we still have a system where becoming a teacher is considered a ‘soft option’, and in truth, the lack of motivation in the system was what made me leave, so I believe that teaching should be a vocation, and honoured as such. However the system of certification you describe is just plain counter productive. I hope this is simply an extreme swing of the pendulum that will adjust itself into commonsense soon. 😦

  2. You certainly have excellent insight into some of the problems of our educational system. You make a great point about teachers having to take standardized tests in order to graduate and become teachers. The government has proved they don’t believe in the quality of these tests if they are compelled to continually monitor these teachers who have passed the standardized tests of which the government has placed such high value. Their actions are hypocritical.

  3. I agree with most of your comments on testing, though I know that incompetent teachers are hard to fire, even in a state that doesn’t allow teachers unions. Business can fire anybody anytime, true, but educating is not the bottom line, it is not about making money, and there has to be some way to evaluate teachers that is both fair and that gives them a chance to train and get better.

    Let some retired and recognized teachers who have no bias toward any active teacher observe them in the classroom for a whole week and then act upon their recommendations. It will cost a little, of course, but what’s that compared to the immense waste caused by politicians?

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