Friday, March 7, 2014

Education problems

Part of the problems with today's teachers aren't the teachers,* but the teachers' teachers, the "experts" coming up with pedagogy, and the parents who don't give a shit what their "angel" does away from home so long as they come home with excellent grades (earned or not).  Some of the material is good, but most of it is nowhere near good.  And most teachers have no choices what curriculum they use--that's dictated by the state or the school (or the federal government, in the case of Common Core).

It doesn't get a whole lot better, either.  I don't have to listen to the "experts" coming up with pedagogy--I'm considered an "expert" in my own right in my field.  I'm not permitted to give out information on my students to their parents, even to the point of admitting that they're in my class.  I can choose what's taught in my class, and I can choose my materials.

That is, overall, a much better deal than most public school teachers have, but it can (and often does) backfire spectacularly.  I don't think there's more than just a handbook and maybe the literature anthologies held in common through the writing and literature classes, and nearly nobody teaches the exact same readings.  The ones that do take such a different approach that it might as well be a different work for the meaning taken away.  And most of my colleagues cannot agree on what students need to learn in the classes we teach. 

That's not the worst of it, either.  The administration can't seem to make up their minds of what they want us to teach, and how much they expect us to do outside of actually teaching.

If anything drives me out of teaching, it'll be the admin insisting that we all must give a final exam in the scheduled time (even when our class is a skills class, not a knowledge class), and that we all must make a huge point of telling the students exactly what intended learning outcomes are fulfilled by each day's lessons and how (which bores the shit out of them, and ensures that class will go OVER THE ALLOTTED TIME to fit everything they actually need in), and that we have to keep meticulous records proving that we have actually done exactly what they're telling us to do.

I once added up all of the time I spent in class and office hours in a month, and divided the number into my monthly paycheck.  It came out to $23/hour.  When I added in all of the hours I spent outside of class looking for new material to use (readings and such), grading papers, and planning lessons, it went to $4.25/hour.  I don't make lesson plans, anymore, and our pay has been increased, so my hourly rate has almost reached minimum wage: $6.25/hour.

That's really not worth my time.

Want to know what keeps me in the job?

Quelling the fear of writing that has been ingrained into my students.  Showing them that it actually  is a lot easier than they've always thought it was.  Helping them to take the skills they already have, and improve them.  Watching the light come on as they suddenly understand what they never have before.

I don't get a large paycheck.  I don't get health insurance through my employer, or a retirement plan.  What keeps me in the job is a massive love for teaching.

Job satisfaction.

If everyone was a quarter as happy as me in their jobs, the world would be a much better place.

And this is precisely what the administration is threatening to remove with the addition of all their stupid rules and check boxes, on all levels, all the way from Kindergarten through doctoral studies. 

*I will admit that one of the problems with teachers is that teacher education majors tend to either be dumb going into the declared major, or smart enough to drop the major when they realize just how awful it will be.  The incoming freshmen ACT/SAT score going into teacher education is the lowest of any major...and drops as the smart ones drop the major, and people too dumb for more rigorous Women's Studies degrees drop into teacher ed.


  1. The problem, as I see it, is that educational "administration" is constantly having to justify its existence. So change-for-the-sake-of-change becomes the norm, and it doesn't matter if something works, it has to be changed, because the only way the educational bureaucrats get to write papers and justify their paychecks is by telling the people who are actually teaching that they're doing it ALL WRONG and they need to change.

    I've seen some of the changes you refer to - increasing micromanagement, across-the-board zero-tolerance application of "rules" that don't actually apply in some situations, increased busywork paperwork loaded on the profs and instructors.

    Like you, I love teaching. (Unlike you: I get a fairly generous paycheck and benefits). But yeah, there have been plenty times these past couple years where I've wondered, "Can I keep doing this until it's time for me to retire, with all the changes that are happening?"

    What would it take to improve education? A big chunk would be the government just butting out. (Another big chunk would be the parents who don't give a crap actually giving a crap whether their kid learns something or not. And another big chunk would be allowing teachers to expel the chronic disruptive or borderline-violent students)

    1. I'm just hoping I can hang on until my other half gets his CPA and gets a job that can support us all. I have no illusions about "retirement" age.