Being a good schoolteacher is a difficult job with very few
thank-you's at the end of the day. I come from a family of teachers:
mother, father, stepfather, sister, brother, brother-in-law and
daughter. All of them endure or have endured the difficulties because
they believe that teaching is a noble calling. My brother-in-law
retired this year because he said he "didn't want to end up known as one
of those crotchety teachers, and he could feel himself losing more and
more patience with his students."
My daughter, who went to graduate school to get her MA in teaching
special education, has become frustrated with a system that pays more
attention to placating students and their parents than allowing her to
teach. Students, who aren't interested in learning, have learned that
the way to get rid of an "unpopular" teacher is to accuse them of
misbehaving or goad them into an altercation. Several teachers at her
school have spent weeks sitting in administrative offices instead of in
the classroom because a student falsely accused them.
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My granddaughter's education suffered as a result of such antics.
She unfortunately was placed in a 9th grade Political Economics class
that was completely out of control. The students screamed at the
teacher, used profanity, and generally disrupted all educational
activity. Although the school policy is zero tolerance for the use of
profanity, none of the students were disciplined. The original teacher,
who was qualified to teach the course, was removed from the classroom
when a student accused him of harassment. A string of more than five
substitute teachers followed, none of whom had any knowledge of the
course material. At the end of the school year the assistant principal
was forced to teach the class because not one of the substitute teachers
was willing to come back. The sad part is that this is a required class
and the prerequisite for a proficiency test required for graduation.
Yet the American Federation of Teachers opened its biannual
convention in Philadelphia on July 2 with a call for an additional year
of high school in order to meet new state mandates for graduation
standards. Although the Ontario, Canada, experiment of Grade 13 has
been discontinued, the AFT thinks it should be attempted in the U.S.
Ms. Sandra Feldman, the
stated, "I'm talking about a segment of kids who are just absolutely falling through the cracks because no one's paying attention to them ... we're going to provide whatever these kids need to meet the standards."
Does the AFT, the smaller union of the two major teacher unions in the United States, really believe that keeping those kids, who disrupt classrooms and have no interest in learning, in school one more year will somehow help them to graduate? It seems that the AFT has found another way for taxpayers to shell out more of their hard earned dollars for failing schools. Judy Seltz of the American Association of School Administrators understands the financial strain put on local school districts. She stated, "Even if that fifth year has a substantially smaller enrollment, there's still staffing and space implications."
Years ago children who were having difficulty learning in school repeated the same grade in the following school year. The practice of retention became a casualty of the politically correct notion that no one should fail. As that policy proved flawed, many cities, such as New York and Chicago, started retaining children in specific grades only. Last year the New York City Department of Education began a mandatory summer school program for kids who were in the lowest 15 percentile of their class to try and end the practice of social promotion. Yet, according to the
New York Times, "the standards for sending students to summer school are so open-ended that social promotion is continuing." Retention needs to be used in the early grades so that students don't fall farther and farther behind leading to dropping out in high school because they became frustrated.
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Now that the AFT has realized that some children take longer than others to acquire certain skills, they are going to lobby to add classes and teachers to help those children that should be retained. Retention may have hurt a child's self esteem, but children aren't dumb, those that take 13 years to graduate from high school will know they aren't as "smart" as their quicker peers. Retention worked; let's just bring it back!
What's really got all those union educators up in arms is the fact that in 26 states, by the year 2003, students will have to pass graduation tests. It's those tests that have the AFT and the National Education Association union leaders concerned. After all, both those organizations really don't concern themselves with pedagogy, they are unions first and foremost. They worry about salaries, hours, legal liability, employment contracts, and benefits for their members, not how our children will be educated for twenty-first century challenges or how to deal with disruptive students.
Unfortunately some teachers are trying to solve the problem of required graduation tests in the wrong way. According to the
25, 2000, New York
Times, cheating by administrators, teachers and students was rampant during the taking of statewide exams last year in Massachusetts. "This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's going to happen as the stakes related to the M.C.A.S. test get higher and higher," said Walter M. Haney, a professor at the Boston College's Center for the Study of Testing.
As the Times went on, "the problems in Massachusetts follow revelations in December of widespread cheating in New York City public schools, where dozens of teachers and two principals were found to have supplied students with correct answers on standardized reading and math tests, in some cases directing them to erase wrong responses or changing the answers themselves." Just recently in affluent Montgomery County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., a teacher was fired for helping her students pass a standardized test.
If today's schools in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and the other 47 states were doing their job, there would be no need for cheating. Many teachers feel that standardized tests as a prerequisite to graduation are wrong; we have a curriculum that is test centered, not student centered. However, there are basic concepts, facts, and skills that should be taught in our public schools and our children aren't learning them. American families pay tremendous taxes to support our schools and they rightfully expect to get quality education for our children. Yet, our schools and our teachers' unions are failing our children.
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As a result American parents are seeking quality education for their children elsewhere and they are willing to pay for it in addition to the taxes they pay for the public schools. That's why there are waiting lists for most private, parochial, and magnet schools. That's why home schooling is increasing geometrically. Parents see their children learning in an atmosphere where teachers can teach and disruptive students aren't tolerated.
It's time that we stopped listening to the AFT and the NEA about educating our children. As a representative of the NEA told me over 20 years ago, "We are a union, we don't care about curriculum." Let's start listening to those hard working teachers who are trying to help our kids learn. The system is turning too many teachers into crotchety teachers. We need teachers that work hard to teach their students reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic so that they can pass the standardized tests, the graduation tests, the college boards, and the biggest test of all -- the test of life.