The Real Value of Teachers
I’m so upset. I watched the news about California teachers and education today. They mentioned the teacher shortage, but the reasons they gave didn’t even touch on what is really happening to teachers and education around the country. When they said that California has the most crowded classrooms and highest teacher to student ratios in the country, I’m not sure others around the country have a clue what this means. We’re talking 25 to 30 little ones in K-2 classes. In some high schools, math classes are over 40 for each teacher. Secondary teachers are responsible for up to 150 kids and teaching multiple subjects in 45 minutes periods. I don’t know how they do it.
By 2013, the state’s student-teacher ratio had reached 24-to-1,
compared with the national average of 16-to-1.
Report on Teacher Shortage in Mercury News, CA 1/23/15
On top of that the focus of education has been wrong for the past 12 years and longer. Teachers are the ones held accountable for the test scores, so why would kids care about the tests? The focus on testing has taken away the love of learning and frustrated teachers, administrators, kids and parents. We have a generation of people who went through this system who think this is the only way to learn. The focus hasn’t been on learning–it’s been on meeting test scores and instruction not on who we should be focusing on: each learner and supporting how they learn. Teachers are more like middle managers jumping through bureaucratic hoops and accountable for test scores and grades.
Now this is going to change, but not many people are aware of it changing or want it to change. They only know what they know or have been exposed to. Teachers are burning out and leaving the profession. It costs more to keep training and retraining teachers. There has been so much professional development on how to teach to the test, manage classrooms, and other mundane tasks that people who went into the profession feel dummied down. There is a sense of “compliancy” built into the system that blocks creativity and fun. We all need to have some fun when we learn. Let’s get it back!
The report was talking about districts offering a $10,000 bonus for new hires, but that won’t take care of the other issues or bring in the right people to the profession. The teaching profession is less and less attractive to Millenials (18-34 year olds). Many realized they didn’t care for school, just learned to “do” school to get out of school, or they just don’t want to be part of it. Many of them were in the system when testing went crazy. They also want to be more in control of what they do, be respected and valued by members of their community. Millenials tend to be skeptical about systems and also are concerned how they can pay their bills. Housing costs in California and other parts of the country are skyrocketing. A one time bonus won’t pay the bills. A majority of the Millenials have extreme student debt, a degree that doesn’t get them the right job and other reasons why they just don’t trust the system. There are many who dropped out and taught themselves skills in the technical field — all on their own taking classes online or watching YouTube. Why? Because in the Bay Area that’s where the jobs are along with bio-technology, robotics, etc.
So what can we do about this problem?
Look at the teaching profession like Finland did in 1983. They had the same issue and realized they needed to turn everything upside down. Teachers needed to be valued, supported and highly respected compared to other professions. So Finland changed the teaching profession. Kids start school at seven. They got rid of standardized tests except one at the end of high school. They built a system of support for teachers and pay them well. Read “What ever it takes” Smithsonian.
Now with the new ESEA re-authorization from the Department of Education, we will be focusing more on learning. There is a surplus of funds in California and more money will be going to school districts. Let’s do it right this time.
I’m going to put a plea out to superintendents and school boards: Stop spending money on “stuff” and rethink how you are going to rebuild your most prized resource: teachers! Here’s some ideas:
- Rethink teacher education and build or partner with K-12 laboratory schools so the focus is on learners right from the beginning.
- Increase salaries for teachers so the profession is competitive with other professional services.
- Provide mentoring and ongoing coaching support for teachers.
- Build in collaborative time every day and encourage co-teaching models.
- Develop communication plans that showcase learning not increased scores.
- Build partnerships with businesses, non-profits and higher ed to support a competency-based system.
- Look to retired educators to work or volunteer as advisors or mentors.
- Offer ongoing job-embedded professional learning opportunities for all teachers.
The reason why I focus on personalizing learning is because we are all learners. When we stop learning, what do we have? It is about building the capacity to want to be lifelong learners and never lose that curious part that makes us who we are. Every moment can be a learning opportunity. But when school is tied to rewards and punishment, grades, and extrinsic forces, why would anyone want to be part of that type of system?
Who’s with me? Let’s all work together to change the system, focus on our learners, bring back creativity, joy, and fun and value our teachers.