Thursday, October 16, 2008

The UnDebate on Education

With all the other #!$#@# going on in America now, education only rated as the last question in the last debate. I was disappointed with what I heard too.
I 'm going to preface my thoughts by telling you that I have worked in four school systems and eight school buildings over the past 30 years. Suppose that each elementary school building has an average staff of 30 teachers and other professionals. That means I have worked with more than 240 other teachers (many have come and gone over that time too). So I think I have a decent perspective on teachers in Middle America. I'm a special education teacher, so I have had to work collaboratively with many teachers as well as spend time in their classrooms.
They say America's schools are failing and are not equitable. The politicians don't really know what's going on so they came up with charter schools and school vouchers. It's hard to understand how giving a small percentage of families money to go to another school is the answer to equal education and improving education in America. If you can explain that to me, please do. Here's a keen idea - how about giving the schools we already have some more money and resources and make that available to all schools, not just a chosen few? Or how about helping schools instead of punishing them as parts of No Child Left Behind does? I'm against school vouchers because they won't solve the problem.
Each of the candidates brought up paying teachers more, but you know what? I've never heard a teacher complain about salary. Never. If you ask any teacher what they would like, most of them will say smaller classes. Why? So they can pay more attention to each child and assure learning for all of their students.
Both of the candidates used the word "competition" as something schools need more of. This is disturbing to me. The word competition connotes that there are winners and losers. Shouldn't all the schools in America be winners? My assumption is that "competition" is supposed to make for better, more hard-working teachers. Here's where my 240 teachers come in - I will tell you honestly that I have never worked with a teacher that I would not describe as dedicated and hard-working. There have been teachers whose teaching styles I didn't particularly like, or even teachers who did not treat children exactly the way I would - but I would not say that they were not trying as hard as they could to teach their students.
What teachers DO want is time to do their job without weeks of punishing test preparation, technology that is updated and actually works, smaller classes and parental involvement.
I applaud Obama for having the guts to bring up the responsibility of parents at the debate. I also agreed with his statement that early childhood education is crucial to doing well in school and for the social skills that so many children come to school lacking.
The candidates mentioned keeping good teachers and McCain said if they weren't "we" would find them another job. Really? Most states have a mandated mentoring program now that is meant to ease entry-year teachers into the profession and give them the support they need so they will stay in the teaching profession. This is to prevent teachers leaving within the first five years as the trend has been for quite a while. But teachers don't leave because of pay or because they don't like teaching - they leave because of the pressure to do so much with so little.
Last on my list of rants is that McCain pulled out the "special needs"card - but he was in error. He said that no one knows more about autism than Sarah Palin - but Sarah Palin does not have an autistic child. She has a child with Down's Syndrome - not even close. Secondly, she has not even begun to raise that child yet - he is only a few months old. I knew a family with a Down's Syndrome child and I remember one story of how the whole family and all of the child's teachers took two years - not weeks or months - to teach him the alphabet. Every night - for two years. He's in his late thirties now and continues to live with his parents. Those people know about raising a special needs child.

8 comments:

Darik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly Jene said...

FYI... the above deleted comment was from me... I was signed in under my son's blog. Oops!

You have a lot of great points here. And DS couldn't be further from autism if it tried!!!

Check your email ok?!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Excellent post, Diane.

Have you ever been to Quaker Dave's blog (the Quaker Agitator). He's also a teach and often writes movingly of education too.

Diane said...

yes, I was very frustrated about the comments on education. I've been working on that in my church -- the achievement gap. We have good teachers in our school system, but it's hard because poverty is on the increase. Smallest class sizes are great, but one thing that happens in our area is that everyone's achievement goes up -- but the gap is still about the same. And the public school teachers are so frustrated about the charter schools, because they are just siphoning off many of the white students, who don't want their children to go to a "diverse" school.

Stratoz said...

I didn't come close to hearing that much of the debate. I am glad.

I wish you and all the others who care about our schools some peace in the midst of all we face in them and all we face outside of them.

rdl said...

Yes who is going to teach her child the alphabet? and the facts are that McCain did not vote for special needs in thek past.

CJM-R said...

Sarah Palin's voting record is not good when it comes to special needs.

I agree, it is all about small classes so more individualized instruction can take place. The whole school system needs an over haul.

I work in a private special education school and we get the students who fail in the public schools. They are expected by law to compete in grade level classes when they are functioning way below grade level. No wonder they shut down, act out, or even try to harm themselves! Heartbreaking.

Billy said...

Diane, I taught writing and English for twenty years, mostly at universities, but I did teach high school for a while and also tutored kids with learning disablities in grammar school. I had two Masters Degrees. I finally threw in the towel, and I am so tired of listening to politicians, who know nothing of education, tell us how to fix failing schools. We make doctors train for seven additional years so they may see our children for fifteen minutes at a time. We make prospective teachers student-teach for one semester and then hand our kids to that teacher for eight hours a day. The training, imho, is inadequate. A few psych courses, a few history of education courses, and then it's into the classroom. New teachers have no idea how to deal with the infinite personalities, some very challenging and rude, that they will encounter. Learning styles, disabilities, discipline strategies--all glossed over with a semester or two of lip service. We also teach a curriculum that is over 85 years old, one based on the premise that we can know everything there is to know ... and yet we're in the space-computer age. Every day, schools run a supermarket mentality. Aisle one for fifty muntes is for math and aisle two for fifty minutes is for history and so forth. Studies have shown that the human brain is not designed to learn this way. And then kids must go home to do four hours of homework and pretend to read a dozen books over the course of a year. We tell adults not to work 10-12 hours a day lest they become type A personalities, but we overload our kids and set them on that very path. The problems with our schools are so deep and longstanding that I decided I could no longer remain in a system that was never even going to diagnose the problems let alone find solutions. The curriculum makers I was taught by in grad school didn't seem to have a clue as to what really went on in the classroom. I know of some very small private schools where the kids are affluent and motivated, but the average school seems to be going through the motions. And politicians aren't going to fix them. We falsely believe that throwing more money at teachers and putting PCs into the classroom will change learning. Wrong. My hat is off to you and other dedicated teachers who continue to do the best they can everyday in the era of "no child left behind" and school vouchers. The miracle is that teachers still make a difference because, like you, they simple CARE, which covers a multitude of sins by the system.