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Whose Job Is It?


Today at Tech Camp, my friend/colleague told me her story. She is taking a serious pay cut to switch from public schools to museum education. A $14,000 pay cut. She told me she loved the kids but couldn’t deal with the crazy administrative rules that, I believe, stifle the true art of teaching. A few things really summed up her five plus years as a public school teacher, but one story stood out in her mind above the rest.

My friend was evaluated for her performance in her Kindergarten class. She was a first-year teacher at the time and had many children who hadn’t been to preschool. Twenty-eight kids and no aid. The grades of the evaluation were S for Superior and E for Excellent. My friend received all E’s so she went to her principal to ask what she could do to improve, to get all S’s. The principal told her that she needed to be using her workbooks more. She could get better control of the class if the children used the workbooks. Do we want our children doing workbooks in order to keep class control in overcrowded classrooms? Do we know who’s writing the workbooks? Informed scholars, I hope.

On June 25, President George W. Bush discussed the No Child Left Behind Reauthorization with his Presidential scholars.

"The reason I've asked to speak to you is because I want people to understand how important this No Child Left Behind Act is to America and its future. And we will talk about ways to make the law better. I know some members and senators have got concerns about the law, and we're more than willing to talk about flexibility. But there is no compromise when it comes to setting high standards and measurement. You cannot compromise away the principle of saying, we expect good results, and we're going to measure to determine whether or not we've achieved those results. And when you've achieved the results that we, a society, expect, we'll give you the big embrace."

The last part of the Bush quote bothers me. “We” is our society, including the president. So that makes “you,” the scholars he’s put in place to fix what is broken with our educational system. “And when you've achieved the results that we, a society, expect, we'll give you the big embrace." This implies that American society is waiting to give those scholars a “big embrace” (cash reward?) because they will achieve high standards for all children. Personally, I do not expect that the group of Presidential scholars will fix problems that exist in public education: overcrowding, poor nutritional choices, workbook learning, millions of future American citizens in urban and rural America who see no point in graduating from high school... These are changes we need to demand and help facilitate as a community. But how do we do that?

As teachers, parents and community members, we know that children are facing serious educational problems. Many are similar to those we faced, and others are of a new brand. Educational budget cuts are imminent. Problems are becoming more expensive.

Speaking of problems, according to a report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers on the infrastructure of the United States, "The Federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 billion was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since reported a need as high as $268 billion. Despite public support of bond initiatives to provide funding for school facilities, without a clear understanding of the need, it is uncertain whether schools can meet increasing enrollment demands and the smaller class sizes mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act." What is a small class size? Twenty-eight Kindergarteners is not small, nor is thirty-one 6th graders.

We all live in communities with problems. What is our role in combating those problems? Would you want your child to spend a day in the worst public school, just to have the experience? Is a teacher’s job to merely teach the curriculum using workbooks and prescribed formulas? Is it the community’s job to sit back and hope that their local public schools are doing an ok job?

What do you think?


I am thinking that the "embrace" that President Bush is speaking of may come in the form of cutting into the teacher's pensions and furtherly undercutting their ability to provide proper environments and supplies to comprehensively teach their students prior to that. Excellence in educaton, as a priority, has fallen as our population has increased over the last fifty years. And it's not just that! How can we keep up with more and more poor children, more special needs kids, more pregnant teens and teens with kids and everything else that presents a radically different and ever-changing social landscape that has evolved over that amount of time. The world is a more dangerous place and education remains as the key factor that will save these kids from themselves. It's not just about the numbers, the test scores and the graduation statistics. It's primarily, in many areas of many cities, about getting kids through safely with the capacity to make the right decisions. Underfunding and overcrowding our schools, in these large cities especially, cuts these kids chances of getting the right amount of attention to get the right message that will fortify them against whatever can and will present itself to them to take them down a wrong course. We need to build and maintain the right kind of schools for the right kind of teachers. A school is more that just bricks and mortar. If this country wants to be great, as great as it has ever been, and as great as it's potential holds, then these fact need to be realized. Again, I believe your comments deserve accolades. You are a shining knight.

I am saddened for your friend. The system has yet again forced a young, bright, and potentially talented teacher out the door.
As Owen has said above, "schools are more than just bricks and mortar;" it’s teachers, administration, government, parents/guardians, students…it’s people. We don't need more legislation that muddies the waters of progress. We don't need more high-power people (with no teaching experience) deciding what's good for the classroom. What we need is flexibility for the teacher, the ground-zero public servant, to decide how best to serve her/his students. We need more incentives for people to become teachers (i.e., higher salaries, supporting administration, order in the bureaucracy). We need less teaching for a test and more teaching for the sake of learning! This is what we need to raise the schools to the expectations to which Bush refers. And, of course, most importantly we need societal support…the support of those served everyday by their local school district.
So, to answer your question, "Who's job is it?" It's EVERYONE'S job.

(I also applaud your commentary. Continue on “Shining Knight.”)

As a teacher who was also "pushed out the door" I must say that the pressure of all this nonsense is what got to me in the public school district I taught in for a mere 6 weeks.

As a first year teacher(at age 23) I was assigned 3 English preps-1 college level course, 1-reading strategies, and 1-Honors, no classroom, and little to no support from my supposed "mentor" teachers who were simply teaching from the 1980's "workbooks" they had been for so many years because they were on their way into retirement.

I must say that I literally cracked under all of the pressure put on me to follow the curriculum guidelines to meet the NCLB ACT, the District's expectations, and then to follow all of the other strategies I was learning about and being judged on- Multiple Intelligence teaching, teaching the LD kids, the small group method, etc, etc.

It difficult enough to just teach and maintain an orderly classroom, let alone cover all of these other layers and try to differentiate your teaching style to meet all 30 kids' needs....yes 30 in my classes too!

What needs to happen is that we need to take some of this money that we are spending on the WAR and invest in something such as Education, which would have a lasting impact....More teachers, bigger schools, larger salaries, and more JOBS for those talented teachers who are out there, but struggling to find a teaching job...while classrooms are overcrowded and teachers are overworked!!

I am one of these "old teachers" trying to makes sense of the system and feeling so saddened by the number of the young wonderful teachers who just give it up as 'it is not worth it." I worked in the Sun Valley neighborhood in Denver. The Governor decreed that good schools would be rewarded and poor schools closed or teachers replaced. Sun Valley had no computers and finally received some second hand. The tests would not even be within many of the students experience. Same problems as we all have encountered. Not a chance that they could stay open but close scbools did not want "those kids" so they continued to struggle. Bush's plan has the same problems, the same glitches, in Denver, on the reservations and many rural areas.

Hi Amy,
I also think it is sad that your friend left teaching in the public schools. Especially because the school system probably lost a great teacher. However if her primary reason for leaving was that she was concerned with the "rules" in place and having to abide by the workbooks to teach students to pass tests, isn't it hypocritical of her to leave the school because of her own "grade" on performance? If she wants to teach for the sake of learning and not to have to stick to a strict curriculum, why is she so concerned with getting Superiors instead of Exceeds. Couldn't she just teach for the sake of teaching and not be so concerned with what "grade" she is given. She could have continued to teach the students that she loved the way she prefers and be happy she's getting Exceeds. I agree that many schools these days are teaching just to help kids pass tests and not to truly learn - but aren't tests a solid, measurable way to determine the success of the materials taught? In every profession, you have to have a means by which to measure results. In schools, students take tests. While I do not believe that the materials taught should only be taught to help a student pass a test, I do believe you have to have a means by which to validate the students have grasped and learned the information. Tests seem to be a logical way!!

Sorry for any confusion! My colleague/friend quit four years after this evaluation. She isn't/wasn’t concerned with evaluations, but as a new teacher back in 2002, she thought it appropriate to ask how to get an S (Superior) as opposed to an E (Excellent). What I do think, though, is that the comment made to her about the workbooks set the tone of her five-year teaching career. She experienced this attitude repeatedly.

When going to school for a degree in Education, we (many of us) are taught the very lofty goals of education, which seem to contradict what we see when we finally get to the classroom. It is shocking and depressing for many new teachers to have their philosophies and teaching methods shot down by "standardization." In my opinion, future teachers should spend A LOT more time in classrooms before student teaching. One of my ideas is that Ed majors get paid as teacher assistants, like an internship, spending part of their day at the university, and part of their day in the classroom during their time as and Education Major.

Teaching for the love of children gets depressing after awhile. People who love children find so many other ways to help once they leave the public school classroom. Teachers in difficult schools, in difficult positions, have their reasons for staying and for leaving. For those of us who are relatively independent (no children of our own) it is much easier for us to leave an oppressive position than it is for those with families and health care to worry about.

By the way, my colleague/friend is still teaching, just through a museum. She is bringing science to classrooms around the city, using her own teaching methods with loads of hands-on activities and experiments. And she enjoys it!

I am an educator of 14 years and I too have finally had to leave. I am not one to quit anything, but it is disheartening to go into a school everyday and see what education has come to under the new standards. NCLB is an important concept but it has been implemented so haphazardly. Teachers and administrators have been forced to put the standards above what's best for children. It just doesn't make sense to "help" children by not really helping them to be lifelong learners. If we don't teach children to be critical thinkers we are on a path to destruction. As a mentor, It was very difficult to take the Stepford Wives approach and just follow the program. The young teacher that I was working with was fighting a battle that she could not win because it was so much bigger than her classroom. I would like to work with legislators and others who are responsible for this sad state of affairs. As someone who has taught from coast to coast I can offer some insight as to why we have a severe teacher shortage and why we continue to lose great talent like the young lady that I mentored last year.

Thanks for your article there, Amy, but see, I may have been misquoted there. What I meant to say is that we need to push through those vouchers so the people with money can get their kids out of those horrible public schools and into the private schools, while still getting a tax break and diverting money that would otherwise have been wasted in those wretched public school cess pools. See, that way we can make sure none of the "haves" get left behind with all those "have nots" and we can all go watch Yale try to win a rugby game and we can all give our money a big embrace!

I empathize with teachers who, like myself, have repeatedly experienced systemic oppression. I can't remember whose theory it is, but the basic idea is that those closest to the problems have the least power to promote change, while those furthest from said problems have the most power to promote change. One solution may be to pay classroom teachers administrators' salaries, and vice-versa.

Hi there, I attempted to mail you about this article but can't seem to reach you. You need to email me whenever you get a minute. Many thanks.

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