Is it the end of the road for public school teachers? It seems like a bad sign when a respected teacher wins an award for teaching, and during a conversation afterwards on CNN, tells young people to go into teaching only if they enter the private sector.
Last week Main teacher Nancie Atwell became the first winner of the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. Atwell is a veteran teacher, and a specialist in literacy at the school she founded, the Center for Teaching and Learning, in Edgecomb, Maine. Nancie has helped many students who come from diverse backgrounds. She has also written books about reading. One, I found, has a Forward by the late great Donald Graves (National Writing Project). This impresses me to no end. See HERE for more about Nancie Atwell.
The concern, however, is that in Nancie’s reply to the CNN anchors when asked, “What do you say to kids who are growing up that may want to consider teaching?” She answered, “Honestly, right now I would encourage them to look in the private sector.”
She didn’t say do not go into teaching. She essentially said don’t teach in public schools.
When asked why, she answered “Because public school teachers are so constrained right now by the Common Core standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them. It is a movement that has turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners. And if you are a creative, smart young person I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”
She makes valid points. In fact, if I’d been Nancie, I would have added more about what makes it difficult to be a public school teacher today.
***Teaching in public schools doesn’t need to be so difficult. See below for how I think teaching could be made better, and you are welcome to add to this list.
I would also kindly remind Nancie, since she mentioned Common Core, that due to the alignment of the ACT and the SAT to the Common Core State Standards, even her school (all schools) will have to face the standards. If private and independent schools, like hers, want their future students to be accepted in most colleges, those teachers will have to become “technicians” too—.
Telling future teachers they should all go into the private sector, if they want to teach, is a very dramatic alteration. Currently, there are approximately 3.3 million public school teachers, as opposed to 0.4 million private teachers. If every young person interested in teaching decides to become a private school teacher, where will they all go?
Some, who are savvy, like Nancie, could start their own schools. But starting a private or independent school takes a lot of know-how, time, money and effort.
Then there are the charters. The original charter school concept, the old thesis idea by educator Ray Budde, was for teachers to have much more decision-making power than they are currently given. You can find a few teacher-led charters—probably the better ones. But, for the most part, teachers have little say in charter schools. Many are run by people who know little about education and children. Most credentialed teachers do not want to teach in charters. The pay is not good, nor are there usually benefits. Teachers can be fired on a whim. Many charter schools rely on Teach for America or other teacher fellow programs. Often these schools provide a strictly scripted, heavy-handed curriculum that frowns on teacher ingenuity.
Telling future teachers to leave public schools is also giving up on public schools. Giving up on public schools, due to the draconian things being done to them, is not fair to the parents, students and teachers who have relied on a free democratic public school system.
Certainly the teaching profession is in trouble. It has been in trouble for years. Neither the Democratic or Republican party has been the party of the teacher. The mainstream media, along with politicians and businesspeople, criticize professional teachers every chance they get, while throwing widespread support to the fast-track teachers who rarely stay in the profession long enough to become experienced Nancie Atwells.
So the future of the professional teacher, like the future of public schools, is looking pretty dim. Eric Westervelt, for NPREd, recently did a report entitled “Where Have All the Teachers Gone?” He highlights, nicely, I think, the terrible lack of support and disintegration of the teaching profession. He discusses the push towards technology which I think is ultimate goal for education.
But is this really the end of the public school teacher? Is this the end of public schools? I would say emphatically no. And here is why.
Don’t count the next generation out. Remember, teaching in poor public schools has always been a tough Up-the-Down-Staircase challenge. Many creative young people thrive with such challenges. And with social media they can multiply like never before.
Take for example Mel Katz. Mel is a student, well known around the county for her fight against harmful public school reforms. I can barely keep up following Mel on social media. Her activism centers on fighting high-stakes testing and other issues that are harmful to students. She is going into her career with eyes wide open. Who knows? Maybe, in the end, she will choose teaching in the private sector, but right now, she is in the fight for public schools. Visit Mel’s blog The Education Activist: From Student to Teacher.
What about Stephanie Rivera? Stephanie attends graduate school at Rutgers University where she is studying to make her dream come true to teach in an urban school. Stephanie also has a blog Teacher Under Construction which discusses push-back on the PARCC and other harmful reforms. She was recently mentioned on Diane Ravitch’s blog for a new website she is creating called Young Teachers Collective. Support them on Twitter @YTCollective. She has given a TED Talk to encourage others to speak out on important issues surrounding diversity in schools. Here’s what Stephanie says to those who tell young people not to be teachers.
And don’t count out high school students. I know young people who dream of teaching. Phi Delta Kappa International supports Future Teachers of America (FTA), not to be confused with Teach for America (TFA). FTA helps high school students understand some of what goes into teaching. PDK claims that by 2020, our nation’s schools will hire 1.5 million teachers. We should ensure that these teachers are committed to teaching long-term and in our public schools.
To those who are thinking about teaching, no matter what kind of school you choose, the road will be tough with bumps and potholes, and you will need each other for support, but, if you hang tight, it could also be the most rewarding job you will ever know. There truly is gold where you are going…the gold is the bright faces in the classrooms inside every school.
***Here is how those who have power could help teachers in public schools if they really wanted to. They are in no special order.
- Federal, state and local school district policy makers need to start proudly investing in public schools instead of withholding funds in order to eventually convert public schools to charters.
- Reduce the number of required high-stakes tests.
- End Value-Added Measurement which is not accurate and does not improve teaching.
- Support high school programs like Future Teachers of America to help young people think of teaching as a career.
- Help public schools be community hubs to bring people together, giving teachers visibility and support.
- Strengthen the PTA. Bring parents and teachers together.
- Lower class sizes, especially in kindergarten through third grade.
- All teachers should be fully-credentialed in their subject by a College of Education in an accredited university.
- Any non-credentialed teacher should only be hired in an emergency and it should be temporary.
- Create a new public relations program to welcome future career teachers to the university.
- Insist on well-prepared, credentialed teachers for all classes, including the arts.
- Create schools that have a balanced curriculum including the arts.
- Permit teachers to have a vested interest and a voice in their school.
- Increase support staff at the school, including guidance counselors, librarians, nurses, and school psychologists.
- Address special education with a continuum of services, including parental involvement.
- Look for better ways to devise unique school schedules that support a teacher’s ability to teach where learning is not disrupted.
- Give teachers adequate time to plan each day.
- Bring teachers together to collaborate for the benefit of their students.
- Provide fair due process for all teachers.
- Give teachers tenure and better job security after the first 4 years of a trial basis.
- Improve Colleges of Education that need it.
- Investigate the Common Core State Standards and any test that goes with it. Don’t force these standards on schools and teachers.
- Improve school buildings when necessary and make them clean and safe.
- Only permit teacher or educator run charter schools overseen by the school district.
- Enforce regulations when it comes to outside influences on the school and school district.
- Businesspeople with no vested interest in the school, should not override a teacher’s professionalism.
- Improve media/library centers. It doesn’t cost much.
- Provide technology to supplement, not take over, teaching.
- Make Teach for America and teacher fellow programs a teacher’s aid program.
- Ensure that those in educational leadership roles have experience working with children for several years at least.
- Insist that those in educational leadership roles earn a degree in school administration at an accredited university.
- Pay teachers according to the step experience. It is fair and easy to understand and doesn’t divide teachers.
- Award innovation grants to teachers and groups of educators who write formal proposals for student projects.
This list is by no means complete. I will continue to add to it and your suggestions are welcome as usual.