Each year a certain week is designated for teacher appreciation, and this year is no different. Our school’s PTO did a great job of trying to spoil the teachers with goodies as a way of showing appreciation for all that teachers do. I am grateful to the PTO for the love and kindness shown to teachers, but I have to be honest – It is hard to be a teacher & it feels like it is getting harder each and every day.
I’m not just talking about the usual stuff, having patience to repeat instructions for students for the hundredth time, or sweltering in the afternoon sun during assigned duty, no I mean the job itself is much harder than it used to be. High-stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core Curriculum, there is an ever growing list of new federal, state and local regulations and initiatives that are choking the joy out of teaching and making a teacher’s job incredibly difficult.
Arizona, along with many other states, has enacted strict new teacher evaluation laws. I am not opposed to requiring some accountability and ensuring that teachers are doing a good job, but these new laws are unrealistic and unfairly biased against certain teachers. As part of the evaluation process, student scores on standardized assessments are included in the evaluation. Despite excellent teaching, there are many other factors that influence a student’s ability to pass one of these tests. Students from poor schools routinely have lower scores. A recent study showed that income levels drastically affect SAT scores, with a significant reduction in scores for lower income students across all ethnic groups.
As politicians and others attempt to hold teachers more accountable, they fail to recognize and address that teachers are only part of the formula for success. Where is the discussion about holding parents & the students themselves more accountable? I watch as students sit and randomly bubble in circles on standardized state tests and parents make excuses for students and ask for extra credit because their child has a bad grade. Students miss school so their family can go on vacation to Disneyland. Parents explain that their child cannot do the assigned homework because they have Little League practice. Some parents even blame teachers for their child’s poor behavior or lack of effort. Most parents are amazingly supportive, but a teacher has a limited ability to impact a student, especially if there is not adequate support at home.
Teacher spend hundreds of their own dollars each year on supplies for the classroom. Teaching is one of the lowest paid positions that require a professional degree. Teachers are constantly told things like “yes, but you get summers off”, which while technically true, does not take into account the hours of in-service training that teachers are required to do to retain their teaching credential (and which most teachers pay for with their own money). Teachers do NOT get big raises, they are NOT paid bonuses for doing a good job, and most often they are expected to show up in the evening for school events, but are not paid any overtime.
Teachers care deeply about the students they teach, and for the last ten years they have been asked to constantly keep doing more with less. Class sizes are larger than ever and budgets are getting smaller than ever. Teachers have to rely on begging parents just to have basic classroom supplies.
Despite all of this, there is nothing quite like watching students get ‘turned on to learning’. When I started teaching I was really proud of the impact I had on the lives of children, but it's getting harder and harder. I am frustrated at politicians and others who believe that they know what is needed in my classroom more than I do, and I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. I have worked with amazing and dedicated teaching colleagues who literally pour their heart and souls into their teaching every day, yet they are ‘evaluated’ on things that are out of their control.
I am very grateful to the parents who go out of their way to recognize teachers during teacher appreciation week – I just wish the policy makers in our state and national governments would also appreciate teachers and all that we do.