Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Few Bad Apples

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Help me today, Ogma. I have to sound wise.

My previous post sparked some debate about teachers and their safety net, better known as tenure.

I will grant you that some tenured teachers cruise. They couldn't care less about their students. Yes, this is true. I see it in my school.

However, tenure exists to protect vulnerable, underpaid workers from being fired at whim by new administrators who want to hire their own people. Tenure protects older workers from being fired because they cost more to insure. Let's see ... is anyone in any other industry being fired right now because they're getting older and sick? Uh oh! Widespread practice!

As an untenured teacher in my first year, I have been formally observed four times already. If the people who observed me also had to observe every teacher in the school four times before mid-year, it would be the vice principals burning out, not the teachers!

Tenured teachers are observed and critiqued. They are expected to participate in at least 20 hours of professional development per year. It is to be hoped that they will continue to have high professional standards for themselves after achieving tenure. Most, almost all, of my colleagues do.

If I didn't think I could get job security within a few years, I would not be able to do this job. I've never had a more stressful occupation in my life. And I love my students. I love my subject matter. I do well on my evaluations. But I just couldn't face year after year after year of such constant scrutiny. Not that I plan to slough off, but I need to feel safe.

Anyone who does not like public schools can take advantage of the immense amount of home school teaching opportunities offered in this computer age. In my opinion, however, a student is always better off at school, with peers. School is where students learn to co-exist with one another, to deal with authority in a mature manner, and to earn praise from someone who is impartial. When my students impress me, they aren't impressing their moms or dads. They're impressing the teacher.

I have a lot to learn about teaching, but I think in three years I'll about have it nailed. Either that or I'll be dead, because this is tougher than writing an encyclopedia, tougher than building chimneys out of limestone, tougher than alphabetizing cards in an Ivy League university library, tougher by far than interviewing Michael Vick upon his return to pro football.

Some nights when I get home from work (typically a 12 hour day), I literally fall asleep in the driver's seat of the car. Would I be willing to work this hard if I could be canned in ten years because I'm no longer spry? I'm not a pre-Wobbly factory slave. I'm a professional!

We at "The Gods Are Bored" support tenure in public schools, recognizing that the system isn't perfect, but also that children would be served far more poorly if the tenure track did not exist. Just like any other industry, education would love to hire a new crop of college kids every year and let the older workers go. How would that help students to learn?


Lavanah said...

Perhaps only slightly off topic, but I think a greater hazard to actual teaching and learning in our schools comes from the local schoolboards. At least here in New Jersey (in the smaller towns) it is seen as the first of a series of stepping stones to a political career-no knowledge of how to educate needed. If fact, if you do have the experience of being a teacher, you are considered suspect.

Sarita said...

I just want to reply to your comments about homeschoolers...

Speaking as a homeschooler (or as a college kid who was homeschooled from 3rd grade thru 12th) I've only met two homeschoolers who didn't have much social interaction.

Virtually all of the homeschoolers I took were part of social groups, and took classes such as dance, choir, fencing, swim, etc. which allowed them to earn praise and critiques from people other than their parents. So yes, homeschooling isn't faultless, but please don't say that we don't get out of the house enough and that we only learn from our parents.

Of course, it can be different in different parts of the country...but please don't assume that all homeschoolers sit at home and that their parents are their only teachers.

I haven't read the discussion about tenure on your last post, but I do have to say that I like your arguments for it. :)

Madam Lost said...

"In my opinion, however, a student is always better off at school, with peers." I used to share that opinion. My hubby and I even moved our children 2,500 miles across the country to put them in a good school district. Unfortunately, these are kids and "one system" doesn't work for all children.

My two were homeschooled -- one by his choice and the second because Beaverton ISD's school psychologist told me that homeschooling was the best place for my daughter. She was different, so she didn't have any peers. She had a few friends, but many taunters who took their cues from the teachers who shook & hit her over the head with a newspaper. A few bad apples, but special needs kids only get one chance and they bruise easily.

Yes, our nation depends on a strong public school system. However, even the best school district in the country isn't a good fit for every child. I thank the Gods & Goddesses that our school was blessed with a professional who cared enough to recommend "the school down the street" instead of the State Sanctioned School.

Schooling is kind of like religion - there isn't only one true ...

BTW -- Thanks for being on the front lines for our kids.

Sarita said...

...hullo, mom.

BTW, I'm the daughter Madam Lost is referring to.

I managed to get her and my brother hooked on your blog a while back, Anne. :) And your comments about homeschooling and teacher tenure created quite some discussion among us this evening.

And I second my mom on thanking you for being on the front line for kids. If I'd always had a teacher like you in school I think that my three years in public school would have been quite a different experience.

Matt said...

Hi Anne, I'm Madam Lost's other homeschooled child. I left a comment on your post "No One's Bitching about This Stereotype" on December 29. People who don't like us have started as many false stereotypes about homeschoolers as possible. Bad eggs pop up everywhere in this world; I met as many of them during the short time I spent in public school as I have met in the homeshool community. The problems come from the people, not the systems. In a country that basis its power on intelligent voters we need a strong public education system. I support you in every second of your work as a teacher. Do everything in your power to give your students the knowledge they need to run this country when they grow up; you are on the front line defending our democracy. Just remember that you are the first line, not the only line: I assure you that the homeschoolers do their part to.

Erik said...

I'm very happy the public school system exists; homeschooling certainly is not the right answer for every child, and there are many families where it's not even a possibility. We need it, and we need to pay teachers what they're actually worth, which generally speaking is a LOT more than they get.

That said, however, as a homeschooling parent I get really tired of the "but there's no *socialization*!!" trope. First off, it's about as far from accurate as possible; between book group and writing club at the library, homeschool PE classes, aikido, park days with the homeschool group, Girl Scouts, and other stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting right now, my daughter is socialized up to her eyeballs. Second, to be brutally honest, I've seen what often passes for socialization in the school system, and I'm kind of glad she's not being "socialized" that way. I was, and I still have the scars to prove it.

And, finally, our (the HS community) kids do have the chance to be evaluated by outsiders and using objective criteria. If nothing else, at the end of the year in NC she has to take a nationally recognized test such as Woodcock-Johnson or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills; there are the adults who run the other programs I mentioned above; and, honestly, my wife grades at least as strictly as a public school teacher, with the advantage that she is intimately familiar with this one student's learning style and has the flexibility to select curricula that work to her strengths (we're about to switch from Singapore to Saxon Math, for instance, because she seems to learn math better with more repetition and more practice exercises).

In short, please don't tar us all with the same brush.

harmonyfb said...

::shrug:: I've never worked in a position where I had a 'secure' job. Everybody gets observed and judged constantly in the business world. Yep, some bosses evilly fire older workers and practice nepotism. But the system also means that bad apples can be fired without long, involved jumping through hoops (like the mid-level boss I had who decided to institute bible study immediately before the mandatory staff meetings. His ass got summarily canned.)

The public school issues I grew up were so extreme that we've spent all our kids' college money on private elementary and middle schools. And it's been worth it - they grew up LOVING school. The oldest is in public high school, at the local Arts Magnet, and I see even more clearly the difference.

I had it easy compared to my brother, but I had teachers who would call me up and insult and berate me in front of the class (that teacher was so consistently hateful to me that I came home in tears every single day of 4th grade), who would snatch books away from me and never give them back, who looked directly at me while I was being hit, pushed, pinched,etc on the playground, but when I fought back, they punished me. I had one teacher who called my mother in every single day for a week to nastily complain that I was making good grades (if I'm lyin', I'm dyin'. I later found out that she was forced to come out of retirement to teach one more year, which I suppose explains her extreme nastiness. Lucky me.) When a facebook friend recently posted an old all-school picture from that elementary school, I had an emotional response that felt like a freaking panic attack...and I'm 46 years old.

I had one middle school teacher who refused to let me go to the library more than once a week, called me a liar when I said that yes, I'd read all the books I'd checked out, and sent me to the principal's office (where the Vice-Principal also called me a liar and told my mother I was 'manipulating' her. At least in that instance I was able to demonstrate my reading skills and win unlimited access to the library.)

More recently, my best friend's high school freshman daughter was sucker-punched in gym class by a boy. The coach, who'd been previously contacted about the ongoing bullying and intimidation she was experiencing from a couple of students, went into his office and shut the door. He didn't come out when he heard the commotion, either...some of the other students had to go and get him. (The boy who assaulted her was back in the same class the next week, by the way, and as far as I know, the coach wasn't even formally reprimanded.)

I'm lucky - I grew up still able to hold onto my love of learning. My brother was not so lucky.

Sure, I had some great teachers who helped nurture their students. I'd love to shake the hands of my 6th grade teachers, and my 8th grade history teacher. But they were overshadowed in my memory by the abusive teachers...who had tenure and therefore weren't going anywhere.

In the interest of fairness, I have just as many issues with other aspects of the public school system...such as tracking, 'grading' of schools based on a single test - the public schools here are pretty much teaching the test and nothing else because district and federal money - including teacher raises! - is tied to it. Stupid, stupid policy. I think the pay range for teachers is a disgrace. I think it's appalling that my state pays more for decorating buildings than it does for providing supplies and paying teachers. I'm horrified that the legislature pushed through a lotto with the promise that the proceeds would be a supplement for the educational budget...and instead they *replaced* funding for schools with it. The list goes on and on.

Yvonne Rathbone said...

I was just reading a study about what makes teachers really good. The study looked at teachers who could take kids more than one grade level in a year and looked at what they all had in common.

It was innovation, constantly improving lesson plans, taking risks. What they did wasn't quantifiable. They paid attention to the kids and kept changing things until the kids showed improvement and then the teachers built on those successes. You can't do that if you are afraid of your next evaluation. (To be fair, I don't think these teachers were necessarily all tenured, but they were all universally more concerned about their students than about whether they were going to be fired for trying something new.)

Tenure or not, we must insure that innovative, successful teachers like these keep working at teaching our children. Keeping this talent is more important than keeping CEOs in failed banks. We can afford to float some losers to keep the good ones.

Matt said...

Hey Erik, I also study Aikido. What a coincidence.

Pom said...

I think you're a marvelous teacher (based on your specific situation as your write about it) and am thankful that your students have you. If I were to be granted the right to award tenure, you'd have it now based on time invested as a result of your parenting alone. Those who have already parented their own children, IMO, make the best prepared and the most devoted teachers.

That being said - the public school v homeschool argument is essentially a "no win". Having said that, my daughter has been both public and homeschooled and as a result I have my own opinions about both sides. They each have their PROs and CONs. Homeschooling does not bring parents and children closer together - usually it's the opposite (nor are most of us ass-kissing "teachers" that worship our children's every move). Public schooling is not actually reality based socialization. Both can produce equally intelligent and socially competant people. There are things I wish my daughter had not missed out on in public school while being homeschooled and there are things she has picked up in public school as a result of the "socialization" that I would rather she had not learned. But either way they live, learn, and it's our job as parents to keep on lovin' 'em! Then they grow up, move away and whether we sent them to public school or homeschooled them, we all miss them equally.

That's all I've got.

Laura said...

Hi, Anne,
I live in Missouri and love our easy homeschooling laws that allow me to educate my three daughters to their best abilities. I went to public school all my life and switched schools 22 times, due to all sorts of family-related what-not. I got almost straight A's - what does that tell you? That public school did not challenge me in the least. I knew my daughters deserved a better education than I received, and they are getting it. My 7-yr-old twins are doing third grade work and eagerly moving forward - if they went to public school they would only be in first grade due to their birthday being in October. My 8-yr-old has energy to spare and can't sit still to do her work - we combine learning with exercising. She wouldn't be able to do that in public school. Socialization - I don't know about you, but of all the kids I went to school with, very few were worthy of my time. Homeschoolers can pick the groups where socialization is defined by sharing enjoyable activities and not bad-mouthing the teacher or another student.

I do believe if teachers were paid their worth, schools could be closer to successfully educating our children. If teachers had a say in what was taught and how it was taught and were allowed to taylor their teaching styles to suit more of the learning styles of children, schools might be a place children at least liked. So, good for you for standing up for teacher rights and working in a system that needs major improvement. But don't dismiss other educational systems that succeed where the public schools fail.

Laura Knight