Friday, March 9, 2012

The Problem with Teachers?

I came across an article at Edweek called, “Teachers: Must We Be Saints or Sinners?” written by Anthony Cody. The article starts out by commenting on the way Americans define an “effective” teacher. Then, the article describes the “saint” and the “sinner” teacher as Americans seem to view them. I think that he has some valid points (tinged with perhaps a little bitterness), but I have a  beef with the article.

                Cody starts by saying that the view of an effective teacher sounds something like this: she makes herself available to students any time of day, spends lunches and free time with students, stays at school 10 hours a day, brings up test scores, uses her own money from a poor salary to purchase supplies and food for students, and brings students who are performing at low levels up to grade level. These are the saints, the “effective or good” teachers.

The “sinners” or ineffective teachers he describes as those teachers who arrive on time for work and leave at 4 or 5 p.m. They do not spend their evening hours with students but at home with their own families. They take home papers to grade and call parents when they need to, and they do not give students their cell numbers. Instead of spending endless hours tutoring students, they send them to the school’s tutoring programs. He states that these teachers’ students gain about a year’s academic growth per year, but this is not good enough because the students are below their grade level. These teachers spend their money on their own families instead of on school supplies and student needs.

Cody goes on to say that he has done some of the things that saints have done. But he states that if he chooses not to do them, he does not want to lose status as a good teacher. He talks about the expectations for teachers to sacrifice money and family to schools. Cody states that teachers should be planning powerful lessons to teach and attending professional development that will stimulate powerful teaching, but are instead spending hours paid and unpaid tutoring students who are behind. He also says that it is not the schools’ or the teachers’ responsibility to get students and communities out of poverty but that seems to be one of America’s expectations for teachers.

I agree that the public seems to be of the opinion that teachers aren’t doing enough.  It is a real problem because of these reasons: there isn’t enough money to afford tutors in many schools; there isn’t enough money or time in the day to allow teachers the time they need produce effective lessons; there isn’t enough time or emphasis put on professional development.  The problem lies in expectations, certainly, but also in funding and in politics. Without the almighty dollar, and without effective political policies, there is no way to fix the problems. Everyone complains about the problem, but no one has any viable solutions to offer. I’m tired of the media and politicians attacking the teaching profession, but until we come up with some actionable solutions we are just complaining and whining.

What we need is an educational leader in politics who has actually spent time, years, teaching. We need someone who knows the joys and the hardships, and who understands what it means to be an effective teacher directing the education programs for our country. What we need are politicians who are less concerned about money and reelection and more concerned about students and real learning. What we need are administrators who understand what true professional development is and provide it to teachers consistently and effectively. What we need are philanthropists who are interested in investing in our students, teachers, and schools for the sake of learning and not for the bottom line, the money, or the publicity. What we need is to quit looking at education for the laborers it can produce. As a country we need to learn to value education for the sake of education, for the sake of learning.