Part Two of Three:
Plato hit the nail right on the head. Essentially, if a mind isn’t accepting of knowledge– if the cup is not empty– the information won’t stick. In my first article, we examined the type of creative minds we are fostering [or stifling] at home. Now we’ll take a look at what expectations we have of our teachers. Are they realistic?
The most basic of amenities.
Our country boasts some of the proudest citizens in the world. We grow up with freedoms, liberties, and protections many governments balk at– freedom to worship without fear of the government shutting down your church, freedom to demonstrate without being shot to bits; Hell, we can question Obama’s leadership without being Shanghai’d into a political concentration camp. These freedoms we take for granted have led us to become quite the entitled people. Whenever we travel, we expect “You can do that, I’m an American citizen!” to get us out of most sticky situations. We take that same entitlement and bring it to our education. We tout ourselves as technology leaders, saviors of the democratic free world, and non-traditional thinkers; yet among the top 50 countries, we are only 17th in education. We’ve even fallen behind Poland… and after all those jokes…
But really, what do we expect out of our education system? All things being equal (they’re not), many universally expect a safe environment, fair and equal treatment, and for their children to learn the skills necessary to move on to a great post-secondary school. Each family will have its own unique expectations based on individualized history, but it goes without saying that all expect an education befitting of a, nay, the world’s greatest superpower.
So where’s the hold up?
I’m fortunate enough to have grown up with a lot of friends who’ve become teachers. Thanks to social media, I’m exposed to myriad gripes and ventings regarding parents, students, culture, budget, standards– things that generally fall out of place during a standard school year. Hearing all of it got me thinking, so I took it a little further than Facebook and asked a few face-to-face of what’s going on. It would seem nationally and locally– many teachers are experiencing the same frustrations.
1) Lack of respect from students.
A new Harris poll finds that of 2,250 people surveyed, 31% felt as though teachers were respected by their students. This poll is unscientific (citing how adults recalled their school dynamic versus students of today), but not far-fetched. Single-parent families, kids who don’t know how to deal with adversity– nor the value of a job well done, modern distractions, and unrealistic popular culture all contribute to a breakdown in the hierarchy of respect and power in the classroom. Disruption among students (particularly those who’ve not developed a strong maturity) is a contagion easily spread.
2) Lack of funding
It’s no secret: we place great importance on education. If we didn’t, every job wouldn’t require a baccalaureate, 5.3 years of obscure space research experience, and working knowledge of ancient Minoan language (written required, spoken preferable). It may surprise you to learn that though we place such stock in higher education, since the 2008 crisis only Maryland and Delaware have increased their dollars-per-student spending (of the mid-Atlantic state budgets). All other states in the region have cut spending, Virginia cutting back by $695 per student since ’08! To compare nationally, North Dakota increased their spending (per student) by $1116, while Alabama cut their spending by $1242.
These cuts in spending don’t go unnoticed. Fewer supplies in the classroom, fewer arts and linguistics, fewer cultural field trips– just… fewer! A 2010 survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found 91% of teachers say they need more supplies or better equipment for their classroom. Where will it come from? Well, that same survey found teachers [on average] spends $936 of their own money on classroom supplies. This may not be limited to pencils, paper, etc. Don’t forget, 15.9 million children in the US live in “food insecure” households– it may be that the snack a teacher provides his/her pupil is the only food he/she will eat that day.
3) Lack of Parental Support
It’s one thing to not have the respect of your students, but it’s another conversation entirely to lack the support of their parents. Recently, one of my friends found her prize box had been rifled through and several prizes had grown legs. A fellow teacher and several students observed the culprit and informed the teacher of the wrong-doings. The child would not (and did not) admit to it, so the teacher phoned the parents. The parents heard out the case and responded with an apathetic “Ok.”
Another teacher made a pupil’s parents aware that their child was behaving inappropriately in class, that it was destructive as well as distracting, and that it needs to be brought up at home. The teacher was verbally accosted by one of the parents, being accused of everything from favoritism, to racism, to downright ineptness. We put our teachers through the ringer: background checks, four-year degrees, state-level certifications, federal performance testing, in-class observance, and annual surveys– yet we’ve lost our trust in their capacity to know how to prepare the next generation for what lies ahead? Seriously?
What’s the big picture?
In addition to the issues encountered in class and at home, those entering the professional side of academia find themselves looked down upon by others. “You’re too smart to be a teacher.” “All that education; you do know there’s no money in teaching, right?”
That last comment highlights the issue perfectly. We’re asking public educators to bust their asses day in/day out to develop the next Einstein, Curie, or Livingston; but they [teachers] can make just as sustainable living as a bartender, with fewer student loans, and less stigma!
As far as I can understand, there’s no single corrective action to bring us around to where we need to be. Some suggest longer school days, others suggest starting school later. Without correction at home as well, it would be nothing more than a feather in a politician’s cap to say “I supported our students growth by making school start times later!” In my next and final piece on the subject, I’ll take a look at what other countries are doing successfully, what others are suggesting we do, and figure out if the whole damned thing can work.
Thanks for reading!