Thursday, July 23, 2015

Teaching Conditions Through the Years or: The More Things Change...

Last night, a segment on the PBS NewsHour was about the difficulties recent teacher graduates face in finding jobs and in the working conditions they frequently encounter in schools: 

I was struck by a comment towards the end by John Merrow, the interviewer.  He said that instead of going "back to the future," we were going "forward into the past."  That piqued my interest and I did a search for teaching in America since the 1800s.  The best overview came from elsewhere on the PBS website, a historical timeline of education in the United States from 1772 to the present that is part of the materials that accompany a show called Only a Teacher.

Teaching Conditions Through the Years or: The More Things Change...
1899 American biology class; source: Library of Congress
Reading through the timeline, I was struck by many points, only a few of which I’ll repeat below.  The quotations come from the website.
* The case was made in the early 19th century for hiring women because they could be paid one-third the salary of men.
* Around the turn of the 20th century, with the influx of immigrants, “...schools were not only expected to teach English, but to instill American customs, manners mores. At times the methods were extreme; principal Julia Richman, for instance, recommended washing students' mouths out with soap, kosher soap if necessary, when they spoke their native languages.”
* “Especially in big city schools, teachers at the turn of the 20th century felt like the most insignificant cogs in a huge machine. They felt dictated to and spied upon.”
* “The call for uniform, high standards in teaching and learning has echoed throughout American history. Catharine Beecher and Horace Mann despaired of the low standards for teachers in the mid-19th century; 50 or 60 years later Progressive educators like John Dewey complained about ineffective teaching methods...”

Low pay, unwillingness by some people to accept students using their native languages in school, a lack of respect for teachers' knowledge about their craft, and the belief that teaching standards need to be raised.  Sound familiar?  Clearly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

If you would like more information about some American and other education philosophers, you might like this resource:
Teaching Conditions Through the Years or: The More Things Change...
Click HERE for more info; source: The ESL Nexus
In it, I offer posters with quotations from Horace Mann, John Dewey, and eight other education philosophers along with mini-bios of the people quoted.  The resource also offers pages and prompts for writing a statement of your own teaching philosophy.