Currently, the DCF (Douglas County Federation – of Teachers) does not have a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) with the BoE (Board of Education). It is the first time in over 40 years that this has happened. It has left teachers wondering about a large number of things.Due to the climate, I do not feel comfortable discussing the details on my blog. If you are interested in the details one good place to read about things is SPEAK for DCSD. The issues impacting Douglas County are not isolated and I believe that they will be a catalyst for other districts. Therefore, I would suggest that everyone educate themselves. The thinking, that this can’t happen in your town, is naive. But there could be consequences for my posting my opinions, and I need my job, so I won’t say anything further in a public forum.
However, I guess that the situation here has led me to wonder about the involvement of politicians in education. Personally, I would not want to spend the day as a politician. I believe that I would be bored out of my mind. I would be a lousy politician. I also have no desire to be a decision-maker outside of my small sphere.
Politicians, on the other hand, seem somehow to think that they are able to make decisions regarding education. I’m not talking about the tax-monies involved in education (I do admit that is part of their job); I’m talking about how educators should teach, how we should teach it, and how we are to be evaluated. They also have mandated standardized testing (I think that I’ll leave that subject for another time – it is complex).
Since when do politicians have any background in education? I am required to attend college, take the proper coursework and pass an exam showing my mastery of the material I am supposed to teach before I can obtain a teaching license. I am also required to spend time under a “Master” teacher (a teacher who has more than 5 years of experience). I take classes in, not only the subject matter I will be teaching, but in Special Education, Differentiating the Curriculum, Best Practices, Ethics in Education and other such topics. Following my initial 3 years as a teacher, I am required to attend continuing education courses to keep my license current.
I believe that it would be fair to say that the majority of politicians have no experience in education beyond their own schooling and the schooling of their children (if they have any). I also do not believe that a politician would last a week in my classroom before giving up. Teaching, no matter what you have heard, requires skill. You must be able to relate to the students, deal with discipline in the classroom, differentiate the instruction for individual students and their specific learning needs, anticipate questions, re-teach when necessary, and constantly assess for understanding. You need to plan lessons that will keep the interest of your students. Then there is collaboration with colleagues and communication with parents.
Teachers are supposed to be teaching students the information that they will need to either continue their education or function as productive members of society. They also have to teach test-taking skills and the information that will be on standardized tests. I am not talking about “teaching to the test” but the skills and information that will help students prove their achievement.
AND, in my case (and this holds true for many different types of teachers), I need teach to students that have been identified with Special Learning Needs. Many of these kids are not planning on going to college (their academics are not strong enough for them to get a college degree). These are the kids who struggle with learning and since it is hard have given up. Sometimes it is an accomplishment to get them to come to class (and stay awake), let alone have them achieve on a test that they don’t want to take and struggle through.
The difficulty of this task is overwhelming. Politicians have no idea. In fact, most people have no idea. There is nothing predictable or routine about teaching; each day is different and holds unexpected challenges. You cannot prepare for these challenges and there is no class that teaches you how to deal with them. I cannot imagine stepping into a classroom at 22 years old and handling things. There are days that I have to stretch to deal with (and I’ve got life experience in a number of areas) the challenges. Some days I can do so with grace and other days I fail miserably. On those days, I usually admit that things aren’t working and start over.
So how does one evaluate if I am doing a good job? That is a very good question. If you take my student’s standardized test scores, I will never be a teacher who achieves. If I have someone observe me, then the environment isn’t necessarily authentic (having an extra adult in the classroom can impact how the students respond). I’m not really certain what the answer is, but I can tell you that politicians should not be the ones to decide if students are achieving.
Education is sadly underfunded and the one idea I have would cost money. Teachers in the same field with 5 or more years of experience should be evaluating their colleagues. The evaluations should include student portfolios and student interviews along with classroom observations. Test scores may be used to show achievement, but they shouldn’t be used to show that a teacher is “failing” her students. There are too many variables involved with low test scores.
Politicians should be required to “shadow” a teacher for several days before they should be allowed to create policy regarding standardized testing, teacher evaluations and student growth. Honestly, I think that if they had any clue how hard it is to walk into a classroom and teach all day, the expectations of teachers would be very different. In fact, I do not think that politicians could do my job. That is why I don’t think that they should be setting the policy regarding education.