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.
I worked in Denver for 11 years and my last year they made me a Restorative Justice Coordinator because I did not secure anther position after the demolished the school I worked for (not that I looked in the district). I am a special educator who was assigned to the most untrained, chaotic mess. The administration said I did a great job and I have no problems with the principal. I liked him and felt respected by him most of the year, but the program itself has much to be desired. Today, I read this article that students wrote about George Washington High in Denver. I am glad to see kids are talking because nobody believes the teachers. I could not believe the way other staff and parents blamed teachers for the problems brought into the school and there were some significant ones. http://gwhssurveyor.com/957/opinion/editorial-gw-and-dps-discipline/#sthash.gUV90o3t.EFVOxrge.dpbs
Thank you Nancy for bringing this to light as it has been a concern of mine ever sense they brought in a new principal and things started falling apart in the school I taught at for 11 years.
Nancy Bailey says
Lisa, Thank you for sharing this. It is troubling to see students requesting discipline. Striping teachers of authority, or making them afraid to speak out will most likely eventually doom the school. Empowering teachers and staff to create a coordinated plan of action takes support from school and district administrators. Let us know what happens.
Celi Trépanier says
There are many people and many reasons for the dysfunction of our public school system, but ultimately it is the educational decision-makers, lawmakers and policy-makers who need to take responsibility for their choices. If classroom teachers, those who know first-hand what is needed in the classroom, were allowed to make these critical decisions, we likely wouldn’t be where we are today with our educational system failing to educate so many children. I mean, how can we educate when we are too busy prepping for and giving standardized tests?
We need to give the our school systems back to our teachers and parents, those who know our children best.
We all need to stand up and work together to turn our educational system around because it is going in the wrong direction and taking our children with it.
Thank you for continuing to bring to light the real problems in our educational system.
Nancy Bailey says
Well said, Celi. Thank you! You reminded me of what I think is the best example of what you described.
susan norwood says
I wish Jay Matthews would come and sit in on my classes. He would be in for an eye-full. For one thing, discipline isn’t what it used to be. Teachers have to turn a blind eye to all but the most egregious behavior. Here are the behaviors that teachers are expected to deal with in the classroom (that is, not write an office referral for): profanity, disrespect, disruptive behavior, and dress code violation. Does Jay Matthews have children? If so, do they go to public or private school? I doubt that he would want TFA teaching his kid.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Susan, Thanks for commenting. Schools seem to only be focused on test scores and staying open! I also think there is a purpose for special ed. classes for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities, or, alternative schools that address students who need a different approach to learning. Teachers need to have some carrots to address student behavior and support from administration. And I too wonder if Jay Matthews would like his kids, if he has any, taught by TFA.
After witnessing one of my highly intelligent students in my gifted class use a full box of tissues during two 80 minute sessions of the FSA, I got to thinking. Perhaps the true problem with high stakes testing is that it is trying to test the untestable.
Consider for a moment where these test come from, in theory without all the corruption we all know is behind them.
The tests are designed to test the new rigorous curriculum and the rigor of the teachers that instruct that curriculum. The tests are designed to weed out all the accidental right answers to make sure only the students that really know the concepts get the right ones. They are carefully chosen questions that include more that our past version of multiple choice questions with new formats like multi select and graphic response. They carefully take teacher manipulation out of the question by making it computer based in some grades. They include the most common misconceptions as answer choices as distractions. They select only the best questiond that are high riggor and are not right there answers. They do the best they can to find THE ONLY QUESTIONS that can prove we’re teaching and they are learning.
Perhaps, just perhaps, in the stastical test designing process they have created a test that out tests the curriculum. A test that has been so well designed, that students who have mastered the standards are confused by strange formatting, multi select choices, and might just be able to give those test makers a run for their money on why some of those distractor choices are the BEST choice. For one, I would love to see a debate between a couple of my third graders and the FSA practice test creators.
I’m simply saying, the child I watched cry like an infant who needs his mothers warm embrace during the FSA is a brilliant child. This child is smarter than I ever was at their age. This child should not feel like they don’t understand concepts that they thought they did, that I still believe they do, and that they masters in class to the point of being a teacher to other students after taking a test.
The test should not challenge their beliefs of self. It shouldn’t challenge my ability to reach them as a teacher afterwards. Frankly it shouldn’t crush US. Perhaps, just perhaps we have created a test that out tests our children. In addition maybe there is something worthwhile in a student who doesn’t know the right answer right away but can deduce it from the choices, and we have now untaught that skill in a future deductive thinker. Logic has gone out the window, and we are left with a completely illogical test that makes my deeply sensitive, deeply brilliant, and deeply trusting student look to me for-well I don’t know what he looks to me for anymore. It used to be for guidance, but now I have failed.
Great post! The reasons you gave about your student are the exact reasons I opted-out my own two children. They are extremely bright but put a test like that in front of them and I have a hot mess to deal with for days, weeks, months, and maybe years to come. They took it last year and my now fourth grade son still doesn’t believe he is as smart as he is because the test destroyed his self-confidence last year.
Nancy Bailey says
Nicole, A sad, but great message about the harm tests can do to children. Thank you for sharing.
Nancy Bailey says
Jessica, Thank you. I think what you say is spot on! Students go through test prep, they learn to master the test. Next, reformers claim the test was too easy. They raise the bar. The whole process starts again. Thus, you will always have students who do poorly, because when they master the test, the test is said to be too easy and they make it increasingly more difficult! The train of thought is the system is rigged for failure. If students don’t fail the tests, you cannot close their public schools.
Sandy Stenoff says
In a recent exchange with respected veteran teacher and activist, Kipp Dawson from Pittsburgh, PA, she said, “While in Athens, I ran across a very nice British tourist. Turns out he teaches 6th grade in Birmingham, England. He and I could be twins. Same struggles as here, same love of kids and teaching keeps him “of course” sticking out all the data horrors as they prepare for their “big test” times. He mourns the loss of all of the experienced teachers who are leaving for the same reasons people are doing that here. We all are one.”
Thank you for continuing to shine a bright light on the darkest corners of this nightmare for our children.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Sandy, Thanks for commenting. Like Kipp, I learned the same thing a few years back. While visiting England, teachers were protesting harmful policies. I ended up reading The Guardian articles about it and following the news on TV. I felt right at home! I think the similarities are interesting.