Sunday, June 12, 2011

Teacher Frustration - We're Losing Great Teachers

Last week I wrote that I'm the problem with education.  It was a post in which I expressed that teachers should spend less time complaining about things they cannot control and more time focusing on what they can do better.  That post created more conversation, debate, and discussion than any other post I've written this far.  One of the conversations I had was so meaningful and illuminating, that I felt I had to share it.

After school one day, a teacher shared that our current culture of standardized testing and pressure to "teach to the test" makes it almost impossible for those in our profession who want to be great teachers to do so.  She explained how she wants to teach her students essential skills like critical thinking, responsibility, and collaboration, but is instead forced to teach what will be on the tests that her students will have to take.  Even if she wanted to pursue something her students find interesting or important, she can't without risking some of her students failing the all-important test, which leads to the majority of her students being totally unengaged.  
fickr/Zach Klein

Basically, she complained that she is forced to teach content instead of teaching students, and this makes her job increasingly frustrating to the point that she may not be able to stay in the profession.  

I must stress here that this is an excellent teacher with whom I was talking.  This particular teacher is meticulous in her lesson planning, cares deeply about her students, routinely gives up her own time to help her students in any way she can, and is well respected by all who know her.  This is the kind of teacher that every parent would want their child to have.  This is the kind of teacher that we cannot afford to lose.  

Yet, I believe that she expressed a feeling that many in our profession are sharing right now.  We want to do what's best for our students.  We're desperate to make school meaningful and relevant for them.  We're frustrated because it's almost impossible without being almost insubordinate to administrators who are forced by the current laws to demand test results over anything else, including the very things that make school relevant and meaningful.  

As I said in a previous post, the most important things we do in school can't be measured on a test.  Show me someone who disagrees, and I'll show you someone who doesn't know what's important.

Great teachers are being forced out of teaching because they are being forced to do things in their classrooms that they know are detrimental to students.  As Sir Ken Robinson would say, we are educating the creativity and passion out of our students.  Our students believe that what we teach them in school will have no impact on their lives, and that the time they spend in our classrooms is a waste of their time.

Unfortunately, they are pretty much right. 

What's worse, teachers who want to change that feel that they can't.  Almost every teacher I know went into education because they thought they could make a difference for the next generation.  If you take that away from them, what's left?  

If we don't dramatically change what we're doing, I'm afraid we're going to find out.