Teachers Are Losers

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Donald Trump, Jr. was absolutely right when he said teachers were losers.

  • Teachers lose money buying their own supplies for the classroom.
  • Teachers lose sleep grading papers and worrying about their “kids.”
  • Teachers lose large chunks of time outside of school coaching and supervising extracurriculars.
  • Teachers lose heart when they can’t get through to one of their students.
  • Teachers lose hope when know-nothings like Trump, Jr., denigrate them and their profession in public.

May is traditionally the month in which school and parent communities show their appreciation for the hard-working educators that spend hours every day with our children. Special breakfasts, goodie bags, flowers, and the like are prepared to make teachers feel special.

But the teaching profession is losing ground. A report by CBS News states, “Teachers are earning almost 2 percent less than they did in 1999 and 5 percent less than their 2009 pay, according to the Department of Education.” (Aimee Picchi, “School’s back in session, but many teachers aren’t returning,” August 23, 2018) Teacher pay is only one factor explaining the attrition in qualified teachers. The climate at many schools and the lack of leadership has caused many teachers to leave the field well shy of retirement age. And the numbers of college students planning to major in education has dropped.

I believe that what is contributing to the decline in the ranks of teachers in America is the public’s perception of teachers as lazy, entitled complainers who get their summers off.  In other industrialized countries, the teaching profession is well paid and well respected. Here in America we subscribe to the old saw, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

So while our little ones pick flowers from their gardens to bring to their teachers this month, it would behoove all of us to consider the hard work and dedication it takes to educate the next generation. It’s time to stand up for teachers and support them in the difficult job they have of making sure our children can read, compute, reason, and live responsibly in our society.

If we fail to respect the education profession, we are going to be the losers.

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Teachers Rule

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In my last post, I extolled the virtues of the best teachers and pointed out how important good teachers are to the development of our children. Yet as I wrote that post, a contentious contract negotiation has been taking place (or getting stalled) between our high school district and its teachers.

The school board is trying to hold the line on teacher pay raises and at the same time ask the teachers to shoulder a greater portion of health insurance premiums. Much is being made about the fact that the teachers in our district are already some of the best paid in the state. To which I respond, Touché! Bravo for us! But in order to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, we need to continue offering the most competitive salaries and benefits in the area.

I understand that school boards need to be fiscally responsible. And no one wants to pay more in taxes – except maybe Warren Buffett. But it’s not as if we are making teachers rich while we languish in poverty. For that reality, our community should consider itself luckier than many. As a matter of fact, a highly regarded school raises property values for the entire community, whether or not you have school-aged children.

Our school facilities are not the most up to date. Both high schools could use major facelifts, it’s true. But in our district, we taxpayers put our money where it counts – into teacher salaries. After all, a gleaming new school building with state of the art equipment is meaningless without the students and teachers that fill it each day.

As summer wanes and we prepare to send our precious cargo (aka, the kids) off to school in the fall, let’s remember that it will be our teachers who welcome them, nurture them and help them grow intellectually and emotionally. Just as happy moms make for happy families, happy teachers create healthy schools.

In Loco Parentis

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This morning I read a post entitled “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing.” No, it’s not a diatribe about the poor state of education in America. It’s a lovely homage to the teachers who have graced the lives of the writer’s children. As I read the piece, I reflected on how true that statement is, in both the positive and negative sense. Teachers have no idea the dramatic impact they can have on a student’s life – for better or worse.

The number one criterion for a teaching certificate should be a love for children. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend his or her days with dozens – or in the case of secondary school – hundreds of students without being absolutely crazy about kids. My children’s elementary school has seen a succession of lackluster and, in some cases, even mean-spirited principals. Finally the district asked for parental input on choosing a new one. The predominant request from parents was simple: a person who likes kids. The feedback worked! The school now has a principal whose former students adore him, who plays guitar, and who recently sent home a video of himself roller blading through the hallways of the school to “check on” the facilities. Who wouldn’t love to go to a school with such a man at the helm?

On the negative side, I have seen souls crushed by cold and unfeeling teachers. When my oldest child was in kindergarten, she had a cold and controlling teacher. Each afternoon she had the children line up to shake her hand and say goodbye. My daughter, an affectionate six-year-old, would always give her a giant hug, but Mrs. M. never returned it. I had to wonder why this woman would choose to teach, not just children, but the youngest ones.  A kindergarten teacher should be a second mom or dad, not an authoritarian dictator.

Our schools are known to function in loco parentis, which means literally “in place of the parent.” I believe educators should see this role beyond its strict legal definition. School should be a child’s home away from home, especially when many children’s home environments are stressful and chaotic. And when you think about it, on a school day children spend more time interacting with teachers than with their parents. Teachers are so much more than dispensers of knowledge and skill. They shape students’ lives.

My senior year of high school, I had a curmudgeonly but lovable old teacher named Mr. Stringfellow. When Mr. Stringfellow put that British Lit anthology under my nose and expounded on the beauty of literature, he truly did not know what he was doing. He was creating a future teacher. When I became a teacher, my students were almost literally my kids. I cared about them and tried to nurture their curiosity and creativity along with their reading and writing skills. I went to their athletic events, concerts and plays. When my first batch of students graduated four years later, I was like a proud mama as I watched them cross the stage to receive their diplomas.

Of course we should expect our teachers to be well educated and smart. Good teachers need sound mastery of their subject matter and an arsenal of teaching and discipline techniques. But they also need a large and generous heart. These are the teachers our children will remember and perhaps credit with some of their achievements.

If you would like to read the post “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing,” please click on the following link:  https://womenwithworth.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/i-dont-think-teachers-know-what-theyre-doing/

Student Teacher

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ImageFor years the smell of Cinnabar cologne by Estee Lauder caused a spike of cortisol in my bloodstream. It was the scent I wore during my six-week stint of student teaching, and it called to mind the terror of facing 30 pairs of eyes staring expectantly at me as I stood at the chalkboard in a high school classroom. I have heard student teaching referred to as a baptism by fire, and I wholeheartedly agree with that characterization.

Although I was supposed to be the teacher, I was facing a steep learning curve of my own. Armed with some educational techniques and a course on child psychology,  I was expected to fill 50 minutes five times a day with meaningful English lessons. I soon learned that the best way to keep a class under control was to have more than enough activities to keep us busy right up to the ringing of the bell. I spent hours preparing lessons with what I hoped would be ways to engage the interest of a group of teenagers. Doing so, I realized that you never learn a subject so well as when you have to explain it to someone else – in my case, many someone elses.

It was unnerving to stand in front of each class day after day, sort of like performing on stage but with give and take from the audience. These kids noticed everything – a run in my stocking, a quaver in my voice, a nervous glance at my notes, and even whether I had worn that same dress just the other day. One student seemed to protest my very existence by turning sideways in his chair every day and looking out the window for the entire class period.

The stress did not lessen when I began my first teaching job at a suburban high school. On the first day, a student skeptically questioned, “How long have you been teaching?”

“Three years,” l lied through my teeth.

As I gained experience and confidence in the classroom, I realized that there was even more to learn from my students. During discussions about literature, I would find myself musing out loud, “I never thought about that,” when a student took a view of the work that was outside my own research and analysis. They were fascinated about the “old days” when the first man landed on the moon, and I was interested in their lingo, music, and popular culture.

The students in my classes kept journals, and I would spend time each week reading and commenting on what they had written. From these journals, I learned about the many emotions, pressures, and difficulties they were facing outside of school. Sometimes I wondered how some of them could pay attention to vocabulary or grammar lessons when they had so much on their minds.

I loved “my kids,” and that is how I thought of them. I baked them cookies. I attended their school events. I tried to help each one realize his or her potential as a writer, speaker and thinker. My father once told me he thought teaching was a noble profession, and I think he was proud of me for my commitment to it.

When my first class of freshmen graduated, I was so proud and also grateful to have been part of their lives. I have learned over the years that the positions of student and teacher go back and forth, that we get as much from young people as we give to them. I hope this realization has made me a better teacher and a better parent.

Teaching in a Perfect World

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Education reform has been at the forefront of the public consciousness in recent years. Debates rage about issues such as school vouchers, charter schools, and teachers unions. Standardized testing has become dominant and taken priority in public schools over critical thinking and creativity. In all this debate, however, teachers’ voices seem strangely silent. As a former high school English teacher, I have been troubled by the attacks on public school educators and the unions which are there to protect them. As a parent, I understand the needs and priorities on both sides of the desk. My reflections have led me to create a dream of what it would look like to teach in a perfect world.

In a perfect world, students would come to school on time every day, well rested and well fed, with homework complete and materials in hand. In too many communities, poverty, violence, and overwhelmed parents make such simple preparation a challenge for many children.

In a perfect world, the school would be well-lit and comfortable – warm in the winter and cool in the hotter months. There would be enough books, desks, and other materials for the students. The teachers would not be forced to purchase extra supplies out of their own pockets. Sadly, in many public schools, these basic resources are lacking.

In a perfect world, the teacher would be respected and listened to. When I was a child, the teacher was always right. While I am not advocating blind obedience, I do think it would behoove parents to encourage their children to approach teachers as their mentors and leaders, not as their servants.

In a perfect world, there would be early childhood education for every child so that all children could enter elementary school with the basic skills they needed to succeed. Preschool is still largely a privilege of the middle and upper classes despite the fact that research supports early intervention to help at risk children.

In a perfect world, teachers would have small classes so that they could individualize instruction for children of varying needs, abilities and interests. A classroom would become a small workshop that would bring out the best in each child.

In a perfect world, parents and teachers would be partners, not adversaries, in the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of children. Teachers would communicate regularly with parents about a child’s progress, and parents would respectfully bring concerns about their children to the attention of teachers.

In a perfect world, schools would be a haven of safety, a cheerful edifice, a bastion of creativity, and an incubator for the minds of the next generation.

It sounds like a tall order, but a teacher (and a mom) can dream, can’t she?