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.