I am fresh from lunch with a new teacher who just finished her first year. She’s exhausted. “No one told me I wouldn’t have a life!” she cries.
She is not fresh out of college. She had a career before this one — she even worked for NASA. She knows how to work hard. But the exhaustion that comes from really caring about your job — all 150 of them for a high school teacher like her — is new.
Then I read this: John Stossel: Why haven’t America’s schools improved?
Argh! Why do we keep hearing this? It’s so predictable, and so infuriating to every teacher who perseveres year after year in spite of stories like this.
First a comparison to industry. OMG! News flash: Children are not products! You cannot produce educated students on an assembly line! (Last year in ONE of my English classes I had a student with severe vision problems, a student with diabetes that was not in control, two students in foster families, three students with other health problems which were not severe but I had to be aware of, five students on either IEPs or 504s – special plans, special needs – and two underperforming students who had tested gifted.)
Then a statement that “In Korea, top teachers make millions.” This is immediately followed by: “Why haven’t American schools improved? The education establishment says, ‘We don’t have enough money!’ But American schools spend more per student than other countries.”
Can you see the irony here? American schools spend money on students, not educators. When schools ask for better facilities, they can often get them. When teachers ask for better pay, the taxpayers scream: Greedy teachers! You should do the job because you love it! After all, you get summers off! If you don’t like it, don’t do it!
[Meanwhile, the push for charter schools, where those horrible unions won’t have so much control.]
Then the statement, “But test scores stay flat.” What tests? Who is tested? Are these test scores from different countries in any way comparable? There is currently a huge controversy in the U.S. about the kinds of tests, the numbers of tests, the makers of the tests, who take the tests. Do the special education students in China get tested? Are their scores included in the overall scores for their schools? Is there the cultural diversity in Finland that we have? Are there as many ELL students as our teachers deal with? Are their scores included in the overall data?
And finally, the usual mention of the Fabulous Teacher from the Fabulous Teacher movie: Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers or Mr. Holland’s Opus, etc. All these movies lead me to say to the new teacher at lunch, “You had plenty of warning that you would not have a life. The Fabulous Teacher movies show us that you must sacrifice everything to be a Fabulous Teacher.” Your marriage may be in trouble, your finances may be impossible and you may never see your own children. But hey, maybe they’ll make a Fabulous Teacher movie about you!
All this makes it sound as though I hate my job. I don’t. I love teaching high school students. I hate everything that goes along with it — the low pay, the constant criticism, the paperwork, the long hours, and the many, many extra expectations. Most of all, I hate reading articles by people who have never taught a class but who think they have all the answers about the problems of the American school system.