I often see articles questioning whether or not our public schools are failing our children. I think that the real question should be, “Are we failing our teachers?” Without educated, dedicated teachers, our children have no future.
Public education is the only option for most Americans. The economic divide seems to have made the disappearing middle- and lower-income classes a lower priority to each state and local government agency, making proper working and learning conditions extremely difficult all over the nation.
Luckily, I come from a family that has always valued higher education. When my grandmother would proudly tell people that she was an English teacher, I saw the joy she found in her career. In the end, I also saw her physically and mentally exhausted by the workload. The district had a general lack of regard for her time and opinion on her own curriculum. They blatantly refused to pay her any more, even though she almost has a doctorate and was an amazing teacher; there were younger, cheaper teachers that they could hire.
The school districts have become a place of bartering for what is cheapest instead of what is best— for the teachers who teach and care for our children and for the future of our children’s education.
The purpose of this is article is not to argue the case of teachers. Instead, it is to showcase some of the inadequacies of the current system, how they are affecting both teachers and our children, and what we can do to change the current course of events.
Test and Punish Environment
One teacher said she refused to commit what she believes is “educational malpractice” Due to the number of standardized tests added each year and mandatory, quarterly district tests, she chose to leave public teaching.
The pressure placed on both teachers and students by the district and administration has created a space of low morale, according to a 2014 National Education Association survey. Fifty percent of teachers are so fed up with standardized testing that they are ready to leave the profession. These tests do not directly benefit the student, teacher, or the learning process in any way. In fact, to accommodate the time for the standardized testing, teachers have had to cut back on large-scale class projects that require perseverance and create student curiosity.
Not only do the tests cause unnecessary stress on all involved but they narrow the entire curriculum often eliminating subjects like music, art, foreign language, and social studies because it is not covered in the standardized testing.
Reading is also covered more in the testing so writing skills have taken a hit. Learning basic writing skills are covered but learning important aspects of writing—like revision—are not given proper attention. The process of machine scoring and testing also diminishes the learning process and the test results. It prioritizes mechanical correctness and sentence or word length without taking into consideration the substantive dimensions of writing.
Overcrowding & Overworked
Due to the decline in teachers entering the profession in recent years, there has been an increase in class size. Classes have risen from an average of 20 to a whopping 43 in some places.
Among the almost 4500 teachers surveyed, over 80% claimed that their workload was unmanageable, the expectations of them had increased, and over 70% said that the workload was affecting both their physical and mental health. With the rising class sizes, many teachers are working more than 60 hours a week. They are also contributing their own money to making the curriculum and class experience worthwhile on a salary that has been cut.
Budget & Salary
When we talk about the public school system’s budget what are we really talking about? Many people’s first assumption is that they are federally funded. That is false. The amount of federal funding public schools receive is very small, in fact, only about 10% of public school funding comes from the federal government. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the rest comes from state and local government, which begs the question, what is going on?
One example of poor local management is Detroit. The public schools were only funded through June, meaning there was no money allocated to pay teachers and faculty after that time. The teachers then staged a massive teacher “sickout” where they all called in, closing down 94 of the 97 schools. The governor was not moved and instead of using this “sickout” as a wake-up call to the immediate need for change he seemed to take it as a situational power struggle. This is one of many times the Michigan governor has been extremely negligent to the people of Michigan.
Not only are budgets being cut, decreasing teachers’ salaries but there are insufficient classroom resources due to smaller budgets across the board, so as mentioned above, teachers are paying for class materials out of their already dwindling salaries.
The skills gap, which is in essence when there are many skilled jobs on the market, but not enough workers trained to do those jobs. Even with the push from the president for a focus on STEM majors it is still a problem in 2016. The graduation rate is at its peak of eighty percent right now, but less than half are moving on to higher education. This is largely due to the fact that they are ill-prepared for the future. Less than half of high school graduates can read proficiently or complete math problems. Children are being passed on to the next grade when they should not be. Standardized testing and less than ideal learning and teaching conditions have left both teachers and students at a loss for resources and floundering. The numbers are there and being ignored by local governments.
What Can We Do
We can start by staying informed about our local and state government and being a part of the election process of our local government officials. These are the people that are making the decisions that are affecting the successful hiring of educated, able teachers for your districts and controlling the welfare and financial stability of the schools our children are going to.
With any other profession, there are good and bad apples. When it comes to the teaching profession, becoming rich isn’t a reason you will hear any teacher say when explaining why they chose it as a career. These are people who enjoy what they do and want to see our children succeed. Treating them as such and listening when there is a massive outcry of mistreatment to both them and the children in their classes is massively important. There has been a disconnect there and without those two things changing we will be hard pressed to see any change in the public school system anytime soon.
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