Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday Musings: Respect...Or Lack Thereof...For Teachers

Do you feel like you're in one of Rodney Dangerfield's jokes: Teachers don't get no respect?  Well, it isn't a joke. All the teachers I know feel under attack and overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them.  Many have told me they don't know how they can hold out until they are able to retire.

Foremost among the issues creating the most angst is standardized testing.  But onerous teacher evaluation systems rank right up there, too.  If states wanted Race to the Top money--and most did, considering the economic difficulties they were facing at the time--they were forced to implement new, stricter methods for evaluating educators.  For example, in the district in Massachusetts where I most recently taught, teachers with professional status (i.e. tenure) went from being observed two or three times every other year to being observed every year and over the course of two years, seven times in total.  

In addition, under the new state-wide system, teachers have to prove they are proficient at meeting four standards about teaching.  That doesn't sound like much but each standard has between three and six indicators and subsumed under those indicators are between one and four elements.  (See photo below.)  That makes for a total of 33 criteria upon which teachers will be judged exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory.  Not only that, teachers also have to develop goals for students and professional goals for themselves; that is, they are required to do action research every year.  But wait, there's more!  Teachers' evaluations also have to factor in the results of students' standardized tests and the results of district-determined measures.  I get tired and anxious just thinking about it all.
Quotation about teaching on blackboard with author's text about teaching being harder nowadays underneath.
Image created by The ESL Nexus
These and similar kinds of evaluation systems underscore the attitude many policy-makers have about teachers.  When Andrew Cuomo says there's a problem if 96% percent of the teachers in New York are rated satisfactory, the problem is not the teachers--the problem is Cuomo and his lack of respect for teachers.  Why shouldn't most teachers receive positive evaluations?  What research-based study says there can only be a certain number of teachers performing at a satisfactory level of achievement?  That's just setting up teachers for failure.

Demeaning teachers as Cuomo, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and far too many other politicians and ed-reform "experts" have done recently makes it a no-brainer that many of the best teachers can't wait to leave the profession.  And when they do, where will that leave the students--the ones they profess to care so much about?

If teachers got more respect, they wouldn't be subject to such burdensome rating systems.  If teachers got more respect, the powers-that-be would institute changes that actually benefit students, not their own careers.  If teachers got more respect, the good teachers wouldn't be leaving the K - 12 teaching sector at the earliest possible moment they can.  If teachers got more respect, students might actually learn more because teachers would actually have time to teach.