Friday, April 4, 2014

Being optimistically angry

http://goo.gl/Xxk7h8
I will preface this post with the following information:we are still a few weeks away from Spring Break (yes, I tell the truth on that) so my edge might be a little sharper than usual.  With that said, here we go...

This week's #slowchated topic is all about anger.  As I ruminated on question 3A (what makes you angry at your school/district) I jumped right down the rabbit hole and now I have to blog about it since 140 characters isn't enough to capture this one.  What makes me angry is the lack of equity from school to school in my county, this state, and our country and the lack of professional recognition for educators. 

Schools are the very foundation and uniting fabric of our society.  Their success or failure determines the level of success or failure of our democracy, of our economy, and of our society.  Everyone wants their children to be educated, but not everyone is willing to put their money where it counts.  Why is that?

Teachers are some of the most educated professionals in our society, yet they are treated like uneducated employees.  Often parents, politicians and business people, those who have chosen a profession other than education, believe they know better than the educators how a class or school should be run.  I am not saying that there aren't some ineffective educators out there, because there are.  however, every profession has misplaced individuals.  What I am saying, however, is that just because you went to school doesn't mean you know how to run a school.  I would never walk into my accountant's office and tell him how to do my taxes!  I would never give my surgeon advice on how to properly remove my spleen!  I wouldn't do this because these are not my areas of expertise.  I want to partner with these individuals and I will dialog with them.  But ultimately, how they do their job is their decision.  I trust them because they are the professional in that realm.

So society needs to treat educators like the professionals that they are!  I know of no other industry where people have to constantly keep up with new trends, ensure that they address a long list of standards, manage 130-160 individuals, draft performance reviews on a weekly basis for these 130-160 individuals, attend numerous meetings every month, take work home with them or stay early and/or late for no additional compensation, return on evenings and weekends to cheer on the company team or meet with potential investors (parents)--again for no additional compensation, and constantly pursue continuing education.  These are just some of the many things educators do as a matter of course.  Yet they are some of the lowest paid professionals in the country.  Don't believe me, just read these statistics compiled by the NEA: http://www.nea.org/home/12661.htm.

But enough about the teachers, this is about the students.  Why can our nation not have leaders who truly care enough to provide top-notch education to EVERY student in the country?  Why do students in poorer neighborhoods have to attend underfunded schools that lack adequate tools, including textbooks, supplies, and the ever important technology?  How will these students ever be able to compete for the top jobs with students who show up to school carrying 3 personal devices, have access to the internet 24/7 and never have to worry about where their next nutritious meal is coming from?  We hear a lot about "breaking the cycle of poverty".  We know beyond a doubt that education is the key to this goal.  But there is minimal action to actually make this a reality.

I am really befuddled by the fact that our nation does not consider it mandatory for every school have unfettered access to internet, every student have ALL the tools they need to succeed: supplies, technology, appropriate furniture, safe campuses, nutritious food, and great teachers.  Every campus in the country needs to have well-lit, comfortable learning spaces, bathrooms that work, and furniture that is ergonomic, inviting and rust-free.  Why must anyone wait to "go to work" to experience a productive environment?  How do we prepare our students if they are trapped in antiquated environments?  Am I the only one who finds this odd?

This business about the state not interfering in education is a sham in my humble opinion.  If you DON'T interfere, education is for the elite only and the gap between the haves and have nots will continue to grow.  And by interfering, I am NOT talking about standardized tests, PI programs, or the latest program du jour dreamed up by bureaucrats.

As our education options weaken, there will be more individuals attempting to survive on welfare and not enough successful workers to pay into the pool for welfare, Social Security, health care, and the rest.  Then what was once the most prosperous nation on the planet will slip into the lower ranks of nations with a very long, uphill battle to regain some of it's former status.  Some would argue we have already slipped too far.  I believe there is hope, but I am an eternal optimist so please correct me if you think we have moved past the point of no return.

As a history teacher I know this scenario will come true if things do not change.  I know I am not the only one who teaches these basic principles of democracy so how is it that the thousands of elected leaders in this country have forgotten such a basic lesson and do nothing of real impact to improve the outlook of education in this country?   I believe the answer is a simple shift of priorities, a partnership with industry (if Google can begin Google Fiber as their own initiative, why can't more companies follow suit?) and a recognition that educators are professionals and should be treated as such.  Those in positions of influence need to dialog with educators, develop a SMART plan and then get to work.  This is how we teach our students to tackle large projects.  The adult community needs to follow suit.

Perhaps the most sobering fact for me is reflected in this infographic from CNN Money: http://goo.gl/46O6AZ.  The disparity between what states invest in their future generations and what they invest in their prison systems is quite appalling.  My goodness, many states spend more per year on their prisoners than do on annual teacher salaries.  Seriously?!  What is wrong with this picture?

There has to be a way to turn the ship but I am at a loss to see the clear path--perhaps because I am blinded by anger at these inequities.  My sense is that it will not be one path, but many, that save our children and our future.  It is happening in small pockets around the country as individual teachers, and small groups of teachers work to make their classrooms exciting hubs of learning for every student.  Theses teachers and administrators create havens in their classrooms and on their school sites where students feel safe, valued, respected.  But I don't think it's enough.  Every student deserves these opportunities, and not just for one day or one year but every day of every year.

So here is my challenge: if every educator can pledge to mentor just one other educator then I believe this problem can be solved from the ground up.  Because if all the teachers are doing amazing work, then the stories will get out.  Administrators and Superintendents need to pledge to tell their site stories LOUDLY and proudly to the press so that the politicians will hear them and the public will start to really believe in education again.  When that happens, then maybe, just maybe the tide will turn.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.  I am angry, but I am also optimistic.  Thanks for reading!

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