Sunday, April 12, 2015

About Those Grumpy Old Teachers

You know you've heard it before, maybe even said it yourself. "Those grumpy old teachers are afraid of change. They are too set in their ways." Right. As a Grumpy Old Teacher, GOT for short, I'm here to set the record straight. WE ARE NOT AFRAID. In fact, as veteran teachers we have not only faced, but have embraced change over and over again in our careers. So often in fact, that undesirable changes were often met with the apathetic refrain of "don't worry, it won't last." That's because change in education is constant. One program is replaced by another, new strategies, new interventions, new demands, in quick succession come and go often times so quietly that the public isn't even aware. But the teachers, the foundation of our schools, dig in and do what's required, most often going above and beyond what is required trying to make someone else's plan work for them - and your child.

So what is different now? Why are you seeing, hearing and reading so many things about teachers protesting the latest reforms? Here's why. This time, not only are they not working - which most teachers know how to creatively get around - but they are actuallyhurting education. That's right, current reforms are destroying our system of public education and turning our children into testing widgets. 

You think I'm being melodramatic, don't you? Here's a simple test. Ask yourself these questions. and then start asking others in different districts the same things. Not everyone will have the same answers depending on the culture and socioeconomic status of their district. But we are all headed in the same direction. 

1.) How much instructional time is spent each month on district and state assessments that are beyond the scope of assessing to inform teacher's instruction?
2.) How much of your school's technology resources are earmarked or devoted to giving these assessments? (thereby reducing the availability of technology as learning tools for students)
3.) What is the impact of testing schedules on your local school? (i.e. disrupted lessons, "holding rooms" for students as they finish the test before others, practice tests and test prep lessons)
4.) What percentage of your district's budget is earmarked for developing infrastructure to administer these tests? How does it compare to the budget 5 years ago?
5.) How many hours of elementary art or music instruction does your child receive? 
6.) Has recess time been reduced in your elementary school?
I could seriously create a list of questions that goes on and on but I think you get the jist of where I'm going with this.

Let's get back to the grumpy old teacher part. Just why is it that you are hearing from these particular teachers. It does make it easier to believe that it's just discontent with change. However I am going to tell you that is is precisely because we are at the end of our career that we can speak out. New teachers (or baby teachers as they are affectionately called) are overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes in to teaching and the disparities between what they believed the profession was about and what are the actualities. They are still deciding if this is the career path they want. And sadly, greater numbers than ever are turning away from teaching while there is still time for them to have a choice. Mid-career teachers are unlikely to speak out, especially in Michigan where teacher tenure has been "reformed". They have invested a great deal of their adult life for their career and still hold out hope that it can turn around again, but can't risk losing their job by being a vocal opponent of the current trends. That leaves us GOTs. Quite honestly, we can cash in our pensions at any time if necessary. Most of us are still young enough to get a part time job to supplement retirement until Social Security kicks in. We are hanging on to our jobs because it is our passion, but we are no longer complacent. So you see us as grumpy when in fact we are the very people who have your child's best interest at heart. 

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