As a teacher in Pennsylvania – make that just as a teacher – I’ve been hearing and reading the attacks that have been made on my profession. I’ve grown both disgusted and disheartened as I hear people trashing what I do for a living. There’s a part of me that truly wants to lash out at these seemingly ignorant people, but what will that serve? If anything, it will only fuel the fire. This much I know, though: I’ve got a tremendous job, I work with some awesome people who truly care about what they’re doing and the students we work with, and I think the general public is sorely mistaken to base their opinions upon what the talking heads are spewing about the profession.
Our students are currently in the midst of taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) – tests that are designed to assess just what our students know – or, if you prefer, what we have taught them. This week our students are taking the Math and Reading sections, with Science and Writing soon to follow. I can’t speak to the Math or Science tests, but I can assure you that there has to be a better way to truly assess both students and teachers than by using these tests. I believe that I’ve been on record as saying this before, but in case I haven’t (or you haven’t read it), I have absolutely no qualms about being held accountable for what I’m doing or what our students are doing. We should absolutely be held accountable for what we do on a daily basis. That’s the extrinsic motivation and it’s certainly important. Contrary to what some people will now tell you, however, I don’t believe this to be the primary reason why the vast majority of teachers are doing what we do.
If you want to assess me properly, come into my classroom to see how I’m doing. Talk to me about my lesson planning, observe my work and give me your input. If I am not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, then start the due process to get rid of me. Contrary to what Joel Klein and Davis Guggenheim and Michelle Rhee and Fox News would like you to believe, tenure guarantees a teacher due process – NOT a lifetime job. Quit spewing these lies and misperceptions that people then willingly spew to others.
My original intention was actually to become a lawyer (and I’m sure that some people, who are sick and tired of my arguing and debating, would tell you they wish that I had carried through with this ambition!). That didn’t go as planned and I ended up majoring in English Writing with an emphasis on poetry – I know, what in the world was I thinking? Realizing that I needed to put food on the table, and while having a great experience with coaching while still in school, I decided that I would go into teaching. I thought back to the teachers/coaches who had influenced me and realized that maybe, just maybe, I could do this same thing for others. There are very few days that I don’t think about the lessons imparted on me by Steve Snider, Ken Elkin and George Rutter. Quite simply, they helped to provide me with the intrinsic motivation that keeps me going when I see people bashing what I do.
Make no mistake about it – never in our nation’s history has the teaching profession been disrespected more. And this is shameful. I understand that cuts need to be made in these tough economic times – I really do. And our profession needs to take a serious look at how we’re spending. To devalue the work that we do with your children, however, is absolutely ridiculous. I sat in a School Board meeting last week in which our Superintendent informed the public that our District will receive $1.6 million less in funding from the state. He put this in terms that really hit home for me – that’s between 18 and 20 teachers. I watched as a person in the audience quietly cheered this statement and I was beyond disappointed. Even if we get enough retirements with the incentive being offered, this may still not be enough to cover the costs and we could be looking at more furloughs. Our Superintendent was asked by a Board member what this could mean if we don’t replace these lost teachers. Seeing the immediate consequences, the Superintendent explained that those classrooms that currently have 22-24 students in them could be looking at between 28-30. And I watched as another parent in attendance cringed, realizing that this very well could signify a lesser experience for her daughter.
As the Bard would say, herein lies the rub. We must figure out how to deal with this shortfall in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. We must practice what we preach and make decisions on needs rather than wants. (Oh, and by the way, I stand firmly in the belief that the Arts MUST be a need). We must pull together and work even harder – and we can’t do this without the support of our parents and the community at large. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that the teachers I work with are going to do everything we can to make sure these students who are taking these assessment tests do just as well in these trying times.