Posts Tagged ‘K-12’

Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 4: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively; Is there a solution?

April 1, 2012

Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

I’ve alluded to a few of the requirements in the TEP of California, and perhaps other states as well. One of the most hated by all teachers is CLAD: Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development. As is clear from the title, this was foisted upon teachers both new and existing due to the inordinate amount of immigrants into California, including those who are illegal. (That problem is discussed in depth in “Our Failing Public Schools, Part III: Illegal Immigration”.) CLAD consists of four full courses:

“Learners enrolled in this program gain a depth of knowledge regarding current theories and research in the specialized instruction of English-language development. They will develop a foundation for understanding cultural differences among English learners-and how those differences relate to academic achievement in a culturally inclusive environment. Language structure and use, and first- and second-language development is investigated. Throughout the program, strategies for instruction and assessment of a linguistically diverse student body are addressed.”

No other country in the world allows illegal aliens to attend their public schools, let alone makes special concessions that cost taxpayers vast amounts of money in order to educate them. Teachers pay for the privilege of learning how to accommodate the annual influx of students who do not speak, read or write English. As I recall, one TEP course was devoted to the teaching of children with learning disabilities, one course was devoted to the psychology of children in general, and two courses were intended to teach classroom management, which is the most critical issue all new teachers must face. But four courses are dedicated to “cultural differences”? What ever happened to the “melting pot” theory, where all legal immigrants were welcomed into the American culture?

One of the courses I was forced to take was on cultural diversity. Sounds fine in theory, but the teacher was an African-American and focused on how ill-treated African-Americans were in our public school system. We were assigned to write an essay on the history of Ebonics — that’s right, that alleged sub-language — and I wrote that it was simply poor English, not meeting any of the criteria for a separate language (which has subsequently been determined). Never mind the grade I received; the point is having to take such a course at all that emphasizes separation rather than cohesion.

Within the world of education, there is no disagreement that establishing a “learning environment” is the first priority of a teacher. If the class is unruly, if students feel threatened in any way, they are not going to be able to learn, or not very well. In my opinion, and that of many colleagues, child psychology and classroom management were subjects that should have been stressed in all states. Clearly, California politicians, who established the requirements of the TEP, are much more concerned about political correctness than in what a teacher really needs to know in order to succeed.

Little Teacher Support

In business, a good manager does not only pass on orders, they pass on knowledge and experience. In other words, they mentor the workers under their authority. Of course, they have great incentive to do so. Good workers make a manager look effective, which means raises and promotions. Effective departments usually mean profitability for the company. In all successful companies, there is a clear goal that requires a great deal of teamwork. Usually, lack of teamwork and isolated actions leads to failure.

Traditionally, there has been very little support for teachers in the classroom. While there are principals and vice-principals, those administrators are not managers in the sense of either mentoring or even monitoring the teachers. Even though the scores of students are in many ways a measure of a principal, administrators in most respects are much more closely aligned to outside entities — the school district and board, and now the state — than they are to the workers immediately under their authority. Their primary duties involve budget, supplies, curriculum, discipline, school-wide activities, maintenance, management of external services, and so on, but not the actual process of education. During my first year as a teacher-of-record in classrooms, my “student mentor” visited me three times during the year. My first year as a credentialed teacher, the VP who was responsible for evaluating my performance visited my classroom twice, for less than one period each time. In all cases, they wrote an evaluation of me as a teacher, with nary a word of how I might handle problems or improve my instructional techniques.

In 1997, the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program was instituted. During the last few years, many schools and districts have taken this program more seriously, although it is still marginal in many districts. Experienced teachers are given extra pay and some preparation time to mentor new teachers. They go into the classroom on a regular basis, observe the proceedings, and later discuss management, instruction, and other relevant topics to their mentee. If asked, they will on occasion model a lesson or management. While this program has a very limited time and scope, it’s still much better than the nothing that existed before.

While programs such as BTSA were slowly contributing to teacher retention, the current economic situation will soon destroy all gains. Now, even tenured teachers are being laid off, classrooms are being staffed with student teachers in such alternative-certification programs as Teach America and Project Pipeline, and even those teachers face probable layoffs before they gain tenure in order to hire new beginning teachers who come cheaply.

I’m not denigrating any of those programs: how a teacher comes to learn their job does not matter. As in any profession, it takes several years to learn how to put their school training into effective practice. If the system continues to get rid of experienced teachers in order to save money, the students suffer even more, and young people considering a career path are completely discouraged from thinking about teaching.

Is there a solution?

As I stated before, I honestly think most people who go into teaching, both young and old, want to contribute to the society, and want to help children grow into productive adults. If I were to be asked by a high school or college student whether or not they could do the state and country a good service by becoming a teacher, however, I would advise them to study the law. Not that I think we need more lawyers, or that many lawyers have altruistic intentions when entering law school. It’s because I think we need more lawyers who would make good teachers in those positions of power. After all, most politicians have a law degree, whether or not they passed the bar.

Rather than enter the frustration of the current educational system, I would say to those young people: Go into the law. Become an advocate for positive change to our political and economic systems. Become a legislator and fight for bills that will make the system better, that will benefit children and adults alike. As a teacher, you will have very little power to change more than a few lives, and it gets harder every year because of the restrictions put on teachers as to how they can discipline, influence and even teach their students. Teachers are privates in the war; cannon-fodder to be sacrificed by the generals to serve their ambitions. Become one of the generals.

Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California); Part I, Section 1: Whose Fault Is It?

March 28, 2012

The K-12 school systems in a few East Coast states are alive and well. However, it’s well known that the standards of only a few decades ago have slipped or totally plummeted in most of the country, and are nearing cesspool levels in California in particular. Parents blame the government for not investing enough money. The government blames teachers. Many teachers blame the administration and the students. Administrators blame everyone except themselves. Who’s right?

There are many causes for our failing public school systems, but few fixes. Over the next few weeks, I will present an on-going discussion (in small segments!) on my blogosphere of both aspects from the standpoint of a teacher.

From Second to Second Worst?

In 1970, California stood number two in the mythical race for state supremacy of K-12 public education systems. Naturally, the U.S. as a nation was highly regarded throughout the world for the knowledge and skills of the students in our public schools. Now California stands number 49 in the U.S., and still seems to be on the decline. The American education system is becoming a joke throughout the industrialized world. The burning question, of course, is: Whose fault is it?

The number one answer I hear is: It’s all the fault of the teachers. Teachers are the people most directly in control of the outcome, right? Therefore, if scores are falling, it must be because the teachers are failing.

This theory has primarily been propagated by politicians, either directly or indirectly. I have seen many politicians use the media to specifically say that we have many “bad teachers” or “dead wood” in many schools, especially in the low performing schools. Even those politicians who do not overtly accuse the teachers of being the culprits do so indirectly, primarily by piling new requirements and qualifications on top of what a person must already go through in order to receive their teaching credentials. The emphasis on continuing education and endless training for teachers is overwhelming to most.

Not surprisingly, when their elected representatives make use of their easy access to the media to make such claims, the people nod their heads in agreement. After all, parents also know who has most direct responsibility for the education of their children, yet they know very little about anything else in relation to the public school system. Naturally, the children then follow prevailing wisdom. After all, they have the most direct contact with teachers every day, and that person becomes the most influential being in their failure –or occasional success. There were many times I asked the question in one of my classes: “Why is our standard of education falling?” I got that answer first and foremost: the teachers are bad.

As public education teachers are government workers, serving the same state (or county) as our legislators, what possible motivation could the politicians have for blaming it on teachers? Because the first priority of a politician is to be reelected.

Obviously, a politician’s constituents complain about the problems they face in their daily lives. Education is always a topic for discussion, whether it’s about the cost or the quality of what is being delivered. As our national status has continued to decline since 1970, and California in particular has been sliding off of the domestic map, the public has been clamoring for fixes to the problem. There are actually many factors that are contributing to this phenomenon, and the legislators know they must be seen taking some sort of action in order to fix things or their constituents will find someone who will. The easiest target is clear: blame the teachers. If we say the teachers are lousy, then we can take a number of steps to clearly show action, responsiveness, and deep concern — even if we don’t show progress.

Tomorrow: blaming the teachers

Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California)

March 28, 2012

Over the next few weeks, in small chunks, I’ll be discussing our failing public school systems from the standpoint of a teacher.