Two recent articles, and published comments, unfairly incriminate teachers as those who fail students. One comes from The Independent today, “‘Exam Factories’ Conditions at School Causing Children to Self-Harm, Says New Research” and is about the serious issue of students there harming themselves due to the high pressure of exams.
The other article, from yesterday, by Jay Matthews, “Why Can’t We Have More Teachers Like the Ones We Loved?” of the Washington Post, might seem like a folksy good nature yarn about highlighting the great teachers in one’s life, but the message I see is, how can we make all the bad teachers like the few good ones we have known.
Let’s look at the article out of the U.K. first. The report is serious, could have likely been reported in the U.S., and is worthy of grave concern. Students are hurting themselves due to high-stakes exams. It notes that harmful testing came from previous Education Secretary Michael Gove, but some of the comments blame teachers. Here are a few of the U.K. statements that criticize teachers:
If our teaching profession was excellent with regard to the phonics provision in the first place, there would be more than enough time to be creative and no need to pull children out for intervention year after year.
Generally I can manage to sympathise with the ‘teacher’s lot’ when it comes to the recognized stresses and strains involved in their work. But this issue is nothing more than self-pitying drivel on the part of the teachers based on the details given here.
The following is a reader who obviously sees what’s happening:
Reading other comments here, I am struck by the fact that people can read this article and use it as another stick to beat teachers. Grow up! This is a serious issue that needs more research and answers.
Teachers in the U.K., like teachers in the U.S., have been pressured to administer the high-stakes tests, harmful to students. Teachers often become unwilling accomplices due to the devastating reforms that are foisted upon them.
This will not turn out good. When teachers are forced to play the game, they will, in the end, wind up with the blame. The public in the U.K. seems to be taught to dislike teachers, like the public in the U.S. has been lead to blame teachers for all the faults in schools.
Next, in aww, gosh darn it, “Why We Can’t Have More Teachers Like the Ones We Loved” Matthews, as usual, tiptoes around the harmful effects of No Child Left Behind, but his quest for great teachers culminates in a sly endorsement of Teach for America in the comment section:
Teach For America reported a decline in applications, but they too still have far more applications than they have spaces. If anything, in my experience, young teachers today are more motivated and better trained than they were a generation ago.
The reality is that teachers have been unfairly placed between a rock and a hard place.
I have had friends argue with me, and I see their point, that in no other job would professionals not take a stand against the high-stakes testing situation—that it is essentially malpractice.
Yet, I also know teachers who can’t afford to quit working. They need a paycheck to feed their families, or they don’t want to cut short the career they worked so hard to achieve, so they try their best to shelter students the only way they know how.
While the list of courageous teachers who stand up against high-stakes testing, or who outright quit because they can’t stand it any longer grows, we also see more harmful reports making teachers out to be criminals.
Who didn’t cringe, watching teachers led out in handcuffs, charged with racketeering, in the Atlanta courtroom? They fudged on test results to save their jobs and their schools. Scenes like this go a long way to destroy the good image of a profession. And no. Of course, I do not endorse cheating. But we should be asking how we got to this point, and where it is ultimately taking us.
More importantly, teachers, next to parents, are people who are on the first line of defense for protecting students from harm. They must be permitted to do their jobs the compassionate way they know how–focused on the students themselves and not harmful corporate reforms.
Here is what might help the teaching profession. Creating teachers who are once again respected by the public is a goal worth fighting for.
The public used to elevate the teaching profession. We need to get back to that, not just for teachers, but most importantly, for the students in the U.K. and the U.S. who are endangered due to insidious high-stakes testing and other terrible reforms.