Soapbox: What I Really Do

Legislators in my area believe that the bottom line in a school is how students perform on standardized tests. They are under the impression that shifting instruction so that students spend more time in front of a computer screen and less time under a teacher’s direct care will help boost those crucial statistics. Because they believe that a computer program can educate a child as well as a person, they see no reason that a teacher should earn more than about $30k, have job security, or the right to have any input into his or her contract or work conditions.

There is so much I could say. It has all been said before. I don’t think there’s anything that I could say that would convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. I mean, if you believe that teachers are overpaid, glorified babysitters who get out of work at 3 and have all summer off to work on their tans, then you’re the sort of person who will just put your fingers in your ears and go “na na na” if I try to tell you the truth.

But I wonder whether these people have ever had a troubled teenager in their lives. What if they personally knew a brilliant, charming boy with high test scores and skills worthy of a starting spot on the football team, who hasn’t earned any credits in three years because he’s spending every waking moment working to support his impoverished family and can’t squeeze out the time to sleep, much less do homework? What if they knew a beautiful, witty senior, trying to graduate as she is diagnosed with MS, migraines, and brain lesions only weeks after watching her father kill himself in front of herself and her siblings, all of whom now blame her for his death? What if it were their pregnant granddaughter who couldn’t afford prenatal care while she tries to pass classes in a language she is barely able to read while trying to maintain an abusive relationship with her gangbanger boyfriend? What if it were their grandson who was so angry at being neglected and abused throughout his childhood that he can’t help himself from getting expelled from a steady string of high schools, who is now being bounced from foster home to foster home and as a sophomore has given up all belief in the value of education or respect for fellow human beings? What if it were their child who slipped away to the locker room to cut herself viciously, then dripped blood all the way down the halls to the nurse’s office to await the inevitable news that she would be going away to the state mental hospital yet again? What if it were their child whose #1 reason for coming to school each day was to get something to eat, because there’s never any food at home and the school provides two meals a day?

What if they didn’t know ONE of those kids — what if they knew dozens? What if every morning when they went to work, they assumed the role of mentor/coach/”the only person who ever smiles at me” for dozens of children whose problems might be as run-of-the-mill as a fight with the girlfriend, or whose very lives might be on the lines? What if they were these kids’ advice-givers, secret-keepers, role-models, pep-talkers? What if they were the only person in these kids’ lives who gave a damn, and they were trying to save their lives in only 87 minutes every other day?

Would they feel like they deserved more respect then?

Would they feel like they ought to be paid a living wage?

Would they believe that a computer program could do the job just as well?

You can’t put a dollar sign on what good teachers do, and you sure as hell can’t measure it with a standardized test. I’m not asking you to try to measure the immeasurable and pay us according to how many wounded birds we take under our wings; I’m just asking that you not insult us by pretending that our worth can be quantified based on how well students — students like mine, like the ones I described above, like the ones you find in EVERY school — perform on a bubble test.

And that is one reason that I am voting against Propositions 1, 2, and 3.

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6 thoughts on “Soapbox: What I Really Do

  1. … less dramatic, but I periodically look back at school with a wistful “if I knew then what I know now” sort of melancholy. ADHD is a bitch, and the only classes I ever did well in were the ones where the teacher made it interesting. (It didn’t help that I had a teenager sized ego and was too smart for my own good, either.)

    You can’t make connections with a computer program like you can with a teacher. I computer program is cold, unchanging, unadaptable. It can be innovative, but not spontaneous, never silly. It can’t give you The Look or use the Teacher Voice that Makes the Room Shut-Up.

    And, ultimately, *anyone* can be sitting in front of the computer and completing the lessons at home. If you don’t think parents would be completing online coursework to help Billie/Billy get into [insert unfulfilled College-of-Parents’ Dreams here] then you are a very naive person. Hell, I may have had an attitude problem in school, but if I didn’t have an overactive conscience I could have made myself a nice little teenage nest egg if I was able to charge other kids to do their work for them.

    I’m sorry things are so crappy for teachers in Idaho. If it was this crappy when I was in school, then I have to commend everyone who ever managed to make me care and who made this the Invisible Problem while class was in session. If I could hug every one of them with the power of retrospect, I would.

  2. we do have some online charter schools in my area that are a hybrid of instructor-led online courses and in-room time, and from what I understand they are pretty successful. But, from what I understand, teachers are paid a lot more here (or at least in parts of here), and I imagine the charter schools also alleviate some of the problems with population density/school crowding. I am acquainted with an Art teacher who works for one of these schools, and she absolutely loves the process.

    http://www.pacyber.org/curriculum.jsp

    Maybe something like this is a middle ground where everyone involved actually can have their needs met by “the system”?

    • No forum where anyone who cared would actually listen. We’ve been trying for well over a year — two years? — now. If I tried, they’d just spin it and find some way to call me a union thug.

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