Thursday, August 8, 2013

Choose Real Education Over Mind-Numbing Numbers

by Jennifer Clarke

I am angry. I am hurt. But I am not disposable.

I gave up a lot to become an educator. I took on massive student loan debt, took almost a 50% cut in pay, and went back to college with two children, a full time job, and a household to manage. But I sacrificed sleep and worked hard to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I studied to pass the certification exams, and made exceptionally high scores on my first try, and I invested myself wholeheartedly into my training as an educator in order get everything I could from that educational experience so that when I stepped into a classroom I would be prepared.

My students quickly became my kids. I wanted them to learn the material, and we accomplished that goal. I saw them improve as writers, readers, and critics. We opened up discussions, and I saw them think critically and become more aware not only of themselves, but of their global community. I was inspired every single day I spent in the classroom.

I love the time I spent with these kids, and I loved how much they wanted to learn. I coached extra-curricular academic events and spent many weekends and evenings dedicated to helping these kids achieve and gain experience. I also wanted to see my struggling kids in the classroom become successful, and I spent countless hours after school was out working with students to help them master essential skills. Sometimes they showed up, sometimes they didn’t, but if they said they needed me, there I sat (with my own children asking about dinner) and waited until after they finished their athletic and band and dance practices, so that if they decided to come, I would be there to help them.

But with all of the changes occurring over the past few years, testing has eaten away at that time for class discussion, reading of novels and longer works has been replaced by excerpts, writing has been dumbed down to technical and short pieces that provide no real opportunity to build persuasive and fully developed ideas. In short, students are being robbed of the opportunity to think, explore, develop, and achieve.

Additionally, somewhere along the way, someone decided that reports and statistics were a better measure of student progress. But it doesn’t stop there. These same barely relevant measurements are applied when determining if teachers and schools are successful. Lower percentages in DAEP and ISS are a good mark for an administrator, despite what the actual atmosphere of the educational environment is like. Administrators are blaming teachers for lack of classroom management instead of backing them up by applying consequences for behavior issues. How does this impact the students in the room who are trying to learn when another student is willfully disruptive and obtrusive? Why is it acceptable to sacrifice the learning process of students to accommodate an administrator or school ranking by not following through with what is best for the integrity of the educational environment?

Someone also decided that schools would get rewarded for higher graduation numbers, but there is no monitoring to see how these numbers are achieved. The reality is teachers are often forced to pass students when students are refusing to work. Explain this lack of equity to the students who are working hard to earn those passing grades and now have to share the graduation stage with students who got the diploma for nothing. This lack of ethical standards is creating a breeding ground for self-entitled youth with no thirst for knowledge. We must teach these children to be self-reliant, self-assured, and able to think and learn, or we have handicapped them from gaining success in their future.

Students, parents, and teachers have become the unwitting pawns in a political game that will hurt all of them. Parents and teachers have become unwilling adversaries. Many times teachers and parents are truly working in the best interests of the children, but the gap in communication has left them open to becoming easy victims of this broken system. Ultimately, when the breakdown of the teacher-parent relationship occurs, the student is the one to suffer. Teachers and parents must begin openly communicating again. Public schools serve the community, and transparency goes a long way in building trust. When teachers and parents are talking, students will benefit.

Public education is the only guaranteed equity in access for youth in this nation to receive an education. Despite the hype, vouchers and subsidies will rob public schools of the sustenance they need for survival. Privatization means we no longer view something as a right. When we take away the access to education, we are denying knowledge to the citizens of this nation, and in fact, sacrificing our own future. In order to be successful, productive, citizens, our youth must be educated—they must learn to think independently and problem-solve while functioning within the boundaries of society. Starve the institutions that provide this knowledge, and you deny countless opportunity to the youth in our communities.

The testing, the rating, the calculating of scores, all of this has done nothing to improve education. Because the evaluation is not genuine—there is no focus on individual student growth, there is no observation of teacher effectiveness overall, there is no one creating these policies that is educated and experienced in classroom dynamics and student or teacher success—the results are unreliable. The results are reports dependant upon data that is input. How that data is achieved is not questioned. How those results are obtained is not monitored. The equity in evaluation is not defined. Who is evaluating the evaluators for effectiveness and success?

These privatization efforts have done exactly what you would expect competitive, corporate-market style evaluation to do. It is a dog-eat-dog world in education. The classroom is no longer a place for teachers to tune into their unique identities that impact the lives of their students through creative and useful lessons, connections, nurturing, and support. The classroom has become rote and scripted. The teacher must fall in line with set standards and achieve numbers and statistics in line with the latest, “innovative” educational product. Students must conform to these standards in order to be labeled successful. Teachers have watched this happening and have been powerless to stop it.

Because teachers have been relatively docile and silent for so long, they have, in essence, sacrificed themselves in the battle for education. Many teachers stay silent because they are afraid to lose their jobs. Some teachers feel relatively unaffected by all that is happening in education either because of their current position or maybe their district. And some teachers are trapped, despite being beat down, due to retirement and years in the system. But teachers are reclaiming their position in the battle to save education. Teachers face a tough fight: choosing between what is best for their students or conforming to the corporate and political trends in education. To speak up means to go against the corporate ideal, and if you don’t fit the company’s mission, you don’t belong. True teacher effectiveness, that is, student impact, is of no real value in this new education market. The teacher’s role has become to train students to accept and repeat the product. But education is not a product. Children should not be treated as consumers. When we accept the lie, we fail the students.

I stood up for my rights as an educator, and I stood up for the integrity of the educational environment. My administration was not comfortable with my doing so, and many teachers warned me that it would make my life difficult. How sad is that reality? To understand that standing up for what is right will make life hard? Many agreed, but could do nothing but show their support behind closed doors. When we accept that we are powerless, and refuse to fight against the injustice of this trend in education, then what message are we sending? Teachers will lose, but most importantly, students will lose.

While I hope to go back one day, I have wounds that need time to heal. I am no longer teaching, and that is a very difficult reality for me to bear. Practically, I will be paying for the education I received for a very long time. But emotionally, I have lost a part of who I am. Teaching is never just a job. My kids are a part of my life. I learned from them. I connected with them, and I know they learned from me. Because I refused to sit silently and take the abuse, because I refused to be a cog in the machine and allow my rights to be trampled, because I did what I would hope to inspire every single one of my kids to do in the face of intimidation, I lost a lot.

But I have been freed to fight for education. And I would stand up again, and again, and again.
Nothing will change until all of us are willing to do the same.

1 comment:

  1. You have presented a thoughtful assessment of the public education system in the United States. Unfortunately, you're dead on--students are the big losers in this game. Teachers need to speak up, but parents are the ones with true clout.

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