I recently read an article on the Washington Post website that a teacher friend of mine posted on Facebook. It made me ill, it brought tears to my eyes, it brought bad memories of a past experience, but mostly, it had me scared for my future children. Although a longer piece, I encourage you to read the article because it captures what teachers go through day in and day out, at least the teachers that give a damn. As you know from my About page, I am a substitute teacher and I have my Masters in English Education. I love subbing because I avoid most of the horrible issues brought up in this article, but I hear about them every single day I’m in the school. And I’ve experienced them firsthand.
To sum up, the article makes a few major points.
1) Teachers are told that no student is allowed to fail regardless of whether students hand in work or not. Failure is not an option, so students are just given grades at this point through no fault of the teacher.
2) Teachers are overworked. You think they’re lucky getting all that unpaid time off? Think again. Teachers put in around 80 hours a week but don’t get compensated for this extra time. Those planning periods they have don’t actually go to planning lessons. They exist for meetings, PLUs, conferences, etc.
3) Teachers get blamed by parents when their children are not making the grades the parents expect. If Johnny doesn’t turn in an assignment, it’s the teacher’s fault. Not Johnny’s fault. However, Johnny still gets a grade for the missing assignment. See #1.
4) Instead of teaching meaningful things that harken to learning about humanity, such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Twain, Poe, and Dickens, teachers are now expected to teach meaningless things geared solely to passing tests and gauging shallow objectives.
Again, I encourage you to read the article.
All of these things rang true in my short two-year teaching experience. I even gave up a teaching position, went back to being a teller in bank for a while, and then came back to substitute teaching because of a few of these issues. In a previous position a few years ago, my classes were taken away in March, I was given new students who had not completed a single assignment all year long, and I was told to help them pass by May. If these students so much as completed one activity and passed the End of Course Test (EOCT) in Ninth-Grade Literature and Composition, then they passed for both the Fall and Spring Semester. That’s all they had to do to pass. All that other work the other students completed, they didn’t have to do. All that curriculum planning I meticulously worked on throughout the year didn’t apply to these students. It was like winning the lottery for the lazy and unmotivated. I couldn’t have my name associated with that so I quit. I was also having stress-related health issues and was working 60- to 80-hour work weeks without being compensated beyond my 40 hours.
Reading this Washington Post article brought up the memory of all this, but again, this wasn’t the worst part of reading the article. It was the thought of my future kids. If the students who really deserve F’s are given C’s (because D’s don’t actually exist in most schools anymore at least around where I live), then what does that do to the students who actually deserve C’s? Do those students who deserve a C then automatically get a B, and those students who deserve a B then get an A? And worse still, those students who should get an A, are then told they’re perfect? Giving students false grades is skewing the bell curve for all the students. This doesn’t just hurt the lazy students who aren’t handing anything in; this isn’t just teaching hard work doesn’t matter, which is bad enough as it is. It is also giving false hope to those students who are receiving high grades who might not actually be earning quite as high of a grade as they should get. If you’re giving students who deserve to fail a passing grade, then you’re bumping all the other grades up as well. However, this may be hurting the other students rather than helping them. If they’ve been told all through grade school that their work is A-level work based on this skewed grading system, they’re in for a rude awakening in college when their professors tell them their work is B, maybe C, work. This “new” system is not adequately preparing any student for the great beyond from high school.
Furthermore, this system shits on hard work. Sorry for the language, but like the language, it is deplorable. Studies have been shown that it’s important to tell your children, especially your girls, that when they do something well, instead of “you’re so smart,” you say “you’re such a hard worker.” This encourages them to work hard on everything they do rather than giving up if something is difficult, thinking they’re just not smart enough. However, if they constantly see in their schools that regardless of hard work, they can still pass the course, what kind of a message does that send? Teachers should be teaching hard work along with their subject area, but their hands are now tied. Parents should be teaching hard work, but they now blame the teachers if hard work is not done, in fact if no work is done.
Where does it end? And how do I teach my future children to be hard-working, self-sufficient people in this educational environment gone mad?
There is no easy solution for fixing the educational nightmare we face in our country. The documentaries, such as Waiting for Superman, try to pinpoint what should be done, but no method can fix every little issue. Furthermore, it looks as if more and more teachers are leaving the profession for others either on their own accord or because they are forced to due to budget cuts or the like. The educational world is losing good teachers because the headaches and heartbreaks that come with teaching just aren’t worth the return. For those thinking about getting into teaching, think long and hard about this professional field. It is not for the weak of heart. I have seen many great teachers have to leave because they just couldn’t take it. However, I also know quite a few awesome teachers still shaping young minds and trying to work within the system. For those teachers who still teach, I applaud you.