If our schools are behind, it's because
teachers don't get enough input.
Governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have been targeting the teaching profession as a cure-all for their budget problems. However, itís pretty obvious the real target is teachersí unions, who tend to donate to the democratic party and constitute a high percentage of DFL campaign workers. Christie, Walker and others would do away with tenure, limit negotiation, and diminish pension programs. How they expect to recruit better teachers is a good question. The GOP have their favorite little gimmicks like voucher systems, charter schools, and their favorite, homeschooling. The only one of these that is at all promising is charter schools because the teachers run the schools. I taught English/Social Studies in three different schools for twenty years; yet, the only time I was ever consulted about what I thought we should do to improve our schools was during workshops, usually run by some consultant the administration was paying thousands of dollars to tell us what to do. Donít get me wrong; thereís a lot to like about cooperative learning, Madelyn Hunter, and left-brain right-brain research, but each teacher eventually learns what works for him/her through trial and error. If the conservative press is at all right about the deplorable condition of our schools, the following are some suggestions from a person who worked in the trenches.
1. Assign a teacher to the principalís position. If youíre worried about this person being overburdened, appoint an assistant to answer the phone and handle the administrative burden, but the principal teacher should ultimately be in charge. Currently there are too many principals who teach for three years, then go into administration. They are paid about twice what a teacher makes; form your own conclusions.
2. If youíre single, find a support group, whether it be a singles society or whatever. Single people tend to be targets; you also donít have anyplace to vent. Teachersí lounges are notorious gossip cesspools. I didnít know I was gay until I was thirty and still single (BTW, Iím not. Not that thereĎs anything wrong with it).
3. Beginning teachers need a mentor. We lose about half of possible great teachers in the first five years. Many just start off on the wrong foot. Others have one hell of a time finding a job in the first place. The mentor should work with the beginning teacher for at least three years and have a say so in whether the rookie gets tenure. One of my favorite things about teaching was supervising student teachers, maybe because I identified with them so much. And because they were all girls (wink).
4. Discipline. For Godís sake donít punish a teacher for sending a malcontent to the office. When I first started, I was told to never send anybody to the vice principal; heíll think you canít control your classroom. But one bad apple can make your life a living hell. These days they have area learning centers where kids with ADHD or whatever can get alternative help, but for most of my career very few kids who needed that kind of individual attention (Thatís whatís going on in a lot of cases; kids trying to get attention) ever got it, sometimes because their parents raised too much of a fuss. Also the school gets thousands of dollars from the state for each kid, and they donít want to give it up. Those teachers who have good disciplinary technique should also work with teachers who ask for help, instead of making fun of them in the lounge.
5. Teacher evaluation. I have a feeling principals hate this just as much as the teachers do. Remember principals have less experience than most teachers, so thereís a certain resentment. I like peer evaluation, but I can see why parents and others might be a bit suspicious. It should probably be done by an outside group with no obvious axe to grind. The kids should also get some input. I had my kids do an evaluation at the end of every semester and they did a surprisingly good job. Of course, not too many really went after me, and some thought I was laying a trap. If you want to keep the present system, the principal needs to get the hell out of the office and be in the classrooms every day. That way thereís no gamesmanship going on and the principal has a leg to stand on when he/she says something negative about the teacherís performance.
6. Year-round school. Come on, Christie, you dipshit. You know those other countries beat us (if they really are beating us) because their kids go to school longer than ours do. Parents are the ones who are opposed. They think theyíll never see their kids, that school will interfere with vacations, and most importantly because when they went to school they only went for nine months. Year-round school is set up on either a nine or a twelve week basis, after which you get ten days off, which gives your teacher a chance to plan for the next quarter (Itís a mad rush these days). And thereís still a summer vacation of approximately two months. That would increase our scores immensely.
7. Get rid of interscholastic sports. Europeans have town teams that the kids pay to belong to. Intramural might be all right as long as everybody who wants to gets a chance to play. What we have now is an elitist program. Academic teams donít get the attention sports team do. For Peteís sake, thereís such a thing as a coachís Hall of Fame. I was a speech coach and I had to beg on my hands and knees to get that weekís results included in the local paper. Come on now, you know why these people are teachers. Do I need to spell it out for you? Not that there is no such thing as a coach who also happens to be an excellent teacher. They just donít tend to care as much about teaching as they do about sports. We did a survey for the school newspaper once asking why kids came to school. Education was sucking hind teat big time. Sports were right up on top.
8. Cliques. Principals need to nip these in the bud. Teachers are just grown up kids after all. Coaches tend to hang; music and chorus tend to hang; elementary has an inferiority complex. There should be a weekly mixer so these people learn the other guy doesnít have horns.
Just a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but above all, donít pay any attention to political naysayers; idealogues donít really care about education; they just want to get elected, and there are a lot of elementary school dropouts out there who still have a hard-on (no, not that kind) for teachers. See Birthers, John Birch Society members, Libertarians, the Christian Right etc. etc.