Friday, August 18, 2006

Work environment or "The Education System"

Public schools have been open for about a week now. It was fun getting back and seeing everyone I hadn't seen all summer. I liked this more than I did as a kid. Everyone was shouting joyous hellos and giving hugs. (g)

The school I work at scored very high in the annual TAKS testing this past year. We went from missing acceptable by a fraction of a point to becoming a Recognized school. This was a first for our district so they held a reception for all the faculty and staff at my school. That too was a first. It made the news and the entire School Board was there to thank and congratulate us.

Now my days are spent following a "duckling" around. I am a special ed teaching assistant and my particular duckling has all regular ed classes this year. It is a wake-up call for my student. Learning to take notes and listen at the same time is hard. Part of the time in class I take notes too so that she doesn't miss out on anything. She will probably change classes soon because some of the classes she was put in are too far beyond what she studied last year. I am really worried about how that will affect her self-esteem. There is no way she won't see it as being treated differently and I really want her to be treated like a normal kid and allowed to grow. No matter how supportive special ed is it clips your wings.

I guess I am waking up. When I decided to become a teacher I thought I would be able to help students not feel different or less than good enough. Somehow the school system, our very structure, tends to cripple the efforts of our best teachers. Mostly I blame the accountability system. They put high stakes tests as the ruling criteria for determining a school's success. That is wrong. It puts all the pressure on the students at one point in time. What they should be doing is measuring the students progress and you can't document that with a once a year test. If school systems measured the overall progress of each student instead of their performance then education would become individualized and children wouldn't be held to unrealistic standards that don't apply to them at the point they are in their education. I think we should take away the grade level system and institute a progress system so that long term goals are worked towards and a student gets there when they are ready and have done all they are supposed to do without being labeled or limited. Here is a thought, let's have every member of the State Board of Education be required to volunteer for one week each semester in public school classrooms, making sure they work for the poor schools as much as for the rich ones, and let them learn about the environment their laws are affecting. Maybe then it would be easier to implement the laws in the classroom because they might actually be classroom oriented.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your comment that Administrators need to spend time in the "poor" schools and the "rich" schools to get a feel for the challenges facing all teachers, and to have a true appreciation for the policies that they set and are sometimes mandated by federal law to enforce (e.g., No Child Left Behind). School funding should never be based on the results of standardized testing alone. I would be considered a dunce if my intelligence were purely based on standarized tests (there's a strategy to taking those types of tests). Anyone who knows me and the line of work I'm in would be amazed at how low I can score on those icky icky tests.

The school system "as is" fails to take into account that everyone learns differently, and processes information differently.

A little off topic but:
Where I work there's this assumption that since we're "smart" we can do anything. To some extent this is true, but it doesn't mean I can do it well or efficiently or with any level of joy. The company has begone to recognize that if they put people in areas that play to their employees strengths that they get some amazing results in productivity and moral improves.

Lee said...

Thank you! It was a shock to find myself taking a university class, this summer, which pointed out many of the strategies that public schools use to improve their accountability ratings. Since NCLB insists that every student be able to pass the standardized tests by a certain year, I think it will be interesting to watch the school systems maneuver to meet it.

I totally sympathize with you about the problems with standarized tests. I've scored some of them. The system isn't set up to show what a child can do. It is designed to meet the standards set by the administrative body. The whole experience was very disillusioning. I'm glad the job gave me an understanding of how those tests work. I hope I can use the knowledge to be a better teacher for my students.

Susan Palwick said...

I also agree that if administrators spent more time on the ground, things might be different. But I wonder how locked in they are, too. Unfortunately, too much of this stuff is now federally mandated, which doesn't leave the administrators much choice.

Another issue: teachers aren't paid enough! It's not a high-status profession the way law or medicine is, and if it paid the same kind of money, it would be. As a society, we need to invest in education, and we simply haven't.

Lee said...

Thanks Susan. From what I understand, at least in my state, school administrators have to meet the state level requirements. If their school shows poor performance for 2 years in a row there are some severe penalties such as: funding freezes, hiring freezes and job loss for the administrator. What upset us about that new policy was that it penalizes newly hired principals too. Even if the schools poor performance was due to situations beyond their control, like teachers they had no real reason to fire who didn't want to leave, the principal can still lose their job. We have a new principal at my school. Before she came it was just about ready to be closed it was so run down. In the two years she has been here we have gone from not quite acceptable to recognized. That shows it can be done. That doesn't mean it was easy or that any old principal could do it. Ours is top notch and came from an award winning school. We are so glad she took the challenge. Much as I loathe the problems in the school system I love having a good leader to work with.

No, America hasn't put it's wealth into education. Yes, we do need to do that. Still even as low as teacher salaries are I will make more with my first teaching job then I ever made in the past. Right now most of school funding comes from property taxes in my state. I think it might be the same elsewhere but am not sure. Recently our state government was told by its supreme court that the school funding system was unconstitutional. So now our capital is trying to find ways of supporting schools that don't raise property taxes. When we allowed the Lottery into Texas we were promised that the money raised would go towards education. Almost no one believes that this huge source of revenue is being used to support schools. So now the Texas Lottery is running advertisements to say that they are supporting schools. Since we all know that advertising is propaganda, it makes you wonder doesn't it?