Well, this is coming from a former teacher turned education researcher/advocate. So of course he believes that what teachers do is important. However, similar sentiments have come from all around, because who can be against teachers? Who can be against the people who spend several hours a day teaching children and trying to produce a better tomorrow ripple effect? This ripple effect is certainly why I became a teacher.
One of my fellow teachers turned to our table and said, "It's hard to believe that anyone really believes this. One example that comes to mind is class sizes." She is a middle school art teacher with more than thirty students in her class. Her statement caused be to start thinking about all the messages we get as teachers that tell us that what we do is not all that important and that we are not set up for success and that the powers that be do not really care about whether we succeed or not.
Class sizes is one thing. Thirty teenagers. One teacher. Honors biology. Forty-five minutes. If we subtract just five minutes at the beginning and end of class for announcements and reminders, it's really thirty-five minutes. Each student will get to interact with me, one on one, for less than two minutes a day. And I'm supposed to be teaching them how photosynthesis works. For the first time. Within two class periods. What am I, a magician? If they wanted us to be able to do this, they'd cap classes at 25. Back in the 90s I had an elementary class of 28 which I thought was huge. A 20-student cap would be better, but I don't want to ask for too too much.
What other job is a person expected to interact with that many individuals in that span of time? And not just hi and bye, but REALLY interact and make sure they were understanding something?
Income. Everyone always talks about this, so I won't.
The breadth of the curriculum. The curriculum is jam-packed from August to June. It is already tight even if you teach all 200 IQ students who are present everyday. But many students are absent once, or more, a school year. We have random school interruptions (e.g. fire drills, assemblies, lockdown drills, standardized testing, PSAT's, etc.). Asking us to cover so much information for every student, regardless of current capability or pace, is asking us to graduate these students to the next class without having them really have a solid foundation in the previous. And we wonder how students fall further and further behind each year.
Our say. Teachers are practically ignored when it comes to decisions that affect the classroom. We say that we don't like heterogenous classes (http://www.edutopia.org/node/6527/results), but we have to teach them anyway - and the idea of eliminating the on-level class (which means, eliminating the honors class) has been floating around. At my school, the on-level and honors class is mixed. It's like asking two different bands to play over each other at the same time. It's a headache. And should we not be regarded as the experts? Instead, the Department of Education relies on research done by people, most of the time, who are no longer teaching. When we would ever see the medical community changing the way they work based off of the sayings of an individual who hasn't practiced for years? So he says, this is the way we should start doing heart transplants, despite not having done one in a decade. And Mayo or Hopkins says to their surgeons, start doing this now though the man has very little current knowledge!
The idea that our job is so easy, we can reach perfection. No child left behind told us that it is possible to have EVERY student in the country meet proficiency in reading, math, and science by 2014. And if we could not meet this goal, we were failing the children. This has been said before, but I think it's so brilliant, I'll reiterate: this is like telling police departments across the country that all crime has to be eliminated by 2014. And let's not even say all crime. Let's pick three to represent reading, math, and science - homicides, robberies, and rape. And if police departments could not meet this goal, they were failing the country. Despite what you may think about the PD's of the U.S., no one, and I mean NO ONE, expects crimes to ever stop ... ever. Because humans are imperfect. We make mistakes, we have individual struggles. Some are just disinterested in living within the confines of the law. Whatever the reason is, we're never going to eliminate these three crimes and no one blames policemen.
Then come resources and the limited budget we're asked to work with. You put your eggs in the most important basket. When you shaft us on the resources we're allotted, you are telling us that we are not important.
Teachers and the education system are NOT important. Not until people start