As you might have read in one of my prior posts, I have had a varied and wide-spread career path over the past 20 years. One of my prior jobs was being a teacher. There is not a job I have taken on that I have not given 100% to and this includes my time teaching. I taught for 2 years in Southern California before heading off to teach English in Korea for 3 more years. There were many things that happened between my teaching in California and teaching in Korea but that is the subject of another post I am sure.
My point today is that I have recently spoken to some old friends of mine who are still teaching. I have the highest respect for these people and 92.3% of teachers in general (note the amazing use of % to make a point) and still think of teaching as a noble profession. What I am shocked with is how little has changed in respect to why I left teaching in the first place. Our teachers are under-appreciated, under-paid, under-respected and hugely over-worked.
Before I left teaching in 2005 I was bitterly angry at how teachers were treated and I wrote the following letter and sent it to t.v. stations, radio stations and newspapers nation wide. I’m not sure what I thought would happen as a result of this letter (and I really did send out over 100 copies of it to everyone from Oprah to Good Morning America.) I still feel the same today as I did when I wrote this letter back in 2005 and I think it’s time for a revisit to the the wrath of Sam. I really don’t want to say enjoy with this post.. maybe I should say.. “Please think!”
To Whom it May Concern:
Considering all of the articles as of late that have been in the paper regarding teachers and teaching, I am writing this letter to introduce an idea that if taken seriously could really be quite an amazing opportunity. Now I realize that reality shows are on the down side of being a good thing, however, my idea is something that has the potential to really take off in this day and age of No Child Left Behind.
The show itself would be called “No Teacher Left Behind. Before I explain the premise of the show, I would like to tell you just a little about how I came to the idea. Sorry this is so long, but please hold out and read to the end.
I’ve been teaching for two years in San Bernardino, California. Here are some of the things I have seen in my short time teaching, most of the issues are directly related to No Child Left Behind and lack of basic funding.
Teachers do not have the basic school supplies necessary to begin the school year. Many teachers are buying supplies for their classroom to support their students’ learning. My daughters high school science teacher stated to the class that they had to be frugal with their Science supplies due to the fact that the teachers were required to buy their own supplies. In many of her classes, students are expected to copy what is on their worksheets because the teachers do not have enough workbooks or copy privileges.
Due to lack of space and over crowding, teachers are teaching in classrooms without walls or doors. I subbed in a first grade classroom where another first grade class had to walk through our room to get to theirs. This would be distracting for adults, imagine how it is for 1st graders. In my own classroom I am told I teach too loud. This is usually the time when the kids are most engaged. Sometimes teaching is loud.
An open ended journal prompt in my class, “What I have learned in school so far…produced the answer in 8 of my 20 first grade students..”how to take a test”. Two new first grade teachers in our building had to teach for 4 weeks or more in borrowed classrooms and in the hallway where other students lined up to eat lunch because the district allegedly ran out of money to pay to finish their portables.
During my first year of teaching I had 17 new students out of 20 for the year due to the transient nature of people living in poverty. One student was with me for only 1.5 months before she was gone. Another teacher during one of the past 2 years had over 50 new students in one year. How do you think that teacher’s test scores are going to look?
Most of my 2nd grade students last year were at least one grade level behind. Most were not receiving services because there was and is no extra funding to support the kind of assistance they need. Most of the students who were not at grade level had already been held back once in their school career, and therefore went on to third grade with out having 2nd grade abilities. Some did not even have 1st grade abilities.
Being a year round district, we have every classroom filled year round. What this means is that a teacher comes into the classroom on Friday at about 1:05 and has until about 4:30 to set up their class to start teaching on Monday morning. This would include unpacking closets, arranging desks, putting up bulletin boards and getting their class list to make name labels for all of their students. Knowing that when class starts on Monday, that list will probably be different.
Many of our students have behavior problems due to poverty, lack of appropriate nutrition, abuse, language barriers, and the list goes on. There are not enough adults and counselors in any given school to help support an accountability and assistance program due to lack of funding. Most schools operate on a positive reinforcement program that gives up rewards to badly behaving students for good behavior to reduce negative behavior, not taking into account that most of the students are socially mature enough to gain the reward and then immediately go back to their bad behavior. This philosophy of positive reward for bad behavior treats students like they are stupid, therefore the behavior continues. This brings the whole class down.
Teachers who are in schools that have not met their projected growth goals with NCLB are being required to attend approximately 80 -120 extra hours of unpaid training per year. I have over 150 hours this year alone of unpaid training under my belt. Many of the schools in my district have not met their goals. Many of the schools across the nation are failing the NCLB goals. The extra training often involves reading research that supports whatever curriculum the district has bought. Some of the training we are mandated to attend requires we “learn” how the alphabet goes up on the wall. These hours are on top of the numerous unpaid hours spent lesson planning, correcting papers, conducting SST’s, completing accountability documentation for behavior problems, and conducting home visits to meet with guardians that we can not reach by phone.
Most teachers do not have the basic management and back up support in the classroom they need to effectively teach the high needs students that are in their rooms. (My first year in 2nd grade I had kids throwing chairs and spitting on each other, 4 kids with extensive IEP’s, 8 more that needed to have them, 13 that should have been held back due to not being at grade level, and 17 new students from the beginning of the year to the end.) By the way, none of my students could be held back due to IEP’s, being an English Language Learner, or they had already been held back, so they just went on to the next grade level without having skills for the grade they just left.
Finally to my NTLB reality show idea. I have spent almost 2 years trying to think of ways to inspire teachers and myself to stay in the profession. There are some awesome individuals out there who are trying to make a difference in at least 20 to 37 young minds on a daily basis and they do this year after year, because they love their jobs. They do this without backup and without funding. I’ve talked to teachers across the nation. It’s unanimous, from first year to veterans of 20 years or more, teachers are getting tired. The joy is being sucked out of teaching. Most teachers I know did not come into teaching for the pay. It barely supports a person. I won’t even touch the merit pay for teachers idea.
The reality show would operate somewhat like all of the current reality shows out there. Teachers would sign up and go through an elimination process based on a variety of challenges. There would be the Fear Factor like challenge of eating unknown objects in a cafeteria style setting along with relays dealing with putting bulletin boards together based on non-disclosed themes and setting up classrooms to fit an unknown size & population. There could be face to name recognition and instant teaching moment challenges.
No reality show is worth anything unless there is some sort of prize at the end. The prizes for this show would range from a years supply of classroom materials. A paid assistant in the classroom for a year to handle checking in homework, reading with kids, basic administrative tasks. A weekly massage for the year, a family vacation, or an individual spa vacation. We could make it viewer friendly by having viewers vote on what type of prize package the winner deserves.
The beauty of this reality show is we have a built in audience. Every year, just one teacher has an automatic 20-37 student fan base. Most kids adore their teachers. Even myself with only 2 years of experience, have about 600 built in fans. The entire student population at your school would support you. That’s just the students. Now if you include the students’ families, each teacher has a built in audience of over 1500 people minimum. Now if you had even 1 teacher from each state apply to get on the show you would have an automatic audience base of over 75,000 viewers. I guarantee there would be more. I’ve interviewed a variety of my teacher friends as well as my non-teacher friends, and every single one of them thought it was an exceptional idea. Most of the teachers would apply to be on the show just for the opportunity to win classroom supplies.
I realize this letter is a bit too long to print. I’m just sick and tired of all of the negative reporting on the teaching field, test scores, and low performing students and teachers. Overt 98% of the teachers I know are the cream of the crop and deserve that recognition. I hope someone reads this and cares enough, if not to produce this type of reality t.v. show but at least to stop for a second and thank a teacher.
There were hundreds of videos and news stories on how BAD our educational system is and why it is in such disarray. Ironically, just like in my last post the media wants a story and it’s easier to focus on the negative than the positive. There are several bad examples in education for sure but why not steer towards the positive first by re-affirming what is good. Supporting your educators by understanding what they have to do each day and the lasting impression the good ones leave on YOUR greatest achievement.. your child.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was. “Light! Give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
Clay P. Bedford
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
Henry B Adams