Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Back Into the Fire (Another Education Rant)
It's 107 degrees here in August, as classes begin in Tucson. The weather, however, is not the only heat as we teachers step into the fire that is education in the early 21st century.
Between an overemphasis and misapplication of testing, higher class sizes, lower job security, and less appreciation from the culture at large, teaching has lost ground as a profession. Students don't want to become teachers and education programs go begging for applicants. The shortage is showing up in school districts around the country.
I can't say I blame the students. I doubt I would go into teaching if I were a twenty-something looking for a career that would both be meaningful and allow me to make a living.
Simply put, teaching now is a job that generates high stress while producing little satisfaction.
Class sizes have become ridiculous. Many classes K - 12 have over 30 students in them. Think about trying to control 30 - 35 distracted young people and then multiply that by five if you are a high school teacher.
Then there is the testing and the testing is a big part of your evaluation. Only recently have gains been part of that equation. The testing is full of problems, but the most egregious abuse of test results is penalizing schools and teachers for test results that are out their control.
Then there are the stagnant wages and the loss of social respect. States don't want to pay teachers a fair wage and teachers are blamed for poor student performance and job skills. Never mind that teachers are expected to be cops, surrogate parents, coaches, role models, motivators, counselors, surveillance cameras, and indefatigable organizers.
I have left public school teaching and am glad I did. Life at the university is not a picnic, but it is not the grind that most teachers have to endure. Here too I see the decline of teaching as worth investment and priority. Students, mostly, want a credential to get a job. Administrators want grants for research to fill the hole left by declines in state funding. Teaching gets lip service rather than real, tangible support.
In fifteen years, the number of staff doing my job at the UA has been cut by 65%. We do the same work -- with more students -- but with far fewer colleagues. The gap has been partially filled with underpaid and under-supported adjunct faculty. The work has increased, but the people doing the work has decreased and been covered by teachers with no job security, sometimes little experience, and less of a voice.
Just once, I would like to see political and business leaders take a year to teach in a tough, urban, poor school. Just once, I would like to see story-tellers take the side of teachers, to make the work they do more visible.
These thoughts are my pipe dreams as I make my way down the sidewalk to my appointment with a new semester. The concrete radiates heat.
Yes, it is hot here. My feet are burning.
Can someone please let in some air, shine come light?