Finding the Words

I recently found myself in the midst of a Facebook conversation with several individuals on various sides of education issues. Yes, I know better than to fall into this trap. For the most part, I avoid this kind of conflict on social media, mainly because I’m very bad at walking away from a fight and I always have to have the last word.

sicillian

 

I also feel somewhat unqualified to speak on education matters when there are already so many people—more articulate and experienced than I am—advocating on our behalf. Recently, however, I have found it more difficult to keep my mouth shut (or my fingers off the keyboard) when I come across comments from people who have bought into the false rhetoric that public schools are failing.

Here are a few of the statements I find it hard to walk away from, and my responses:

 

“Some remark about what teachers make being fair because they only work nine months out of the year.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, I’m not even sure where to start. First of all, starting teacher pay in Oklahoma is much, much less than the national average of around 56K (2012-2013). According to this document from the state department of education, with 25 years experience and a doctorate, you are guaranteed only 46K. So at the highest step on the salary scale, we’re still 10K below the national average. Somebody please show me another field in which that salary is commensurate with that level of education and years of service.

Secondly, this statement proves that some people don’t have an adequate understanding of what the job of teaching entails. My contract states I am to work 7.5 hours a day for 180 days year. If that were truly the amount that I worked, you might be able to argue that my salary is fair. But this is where our contract belies the amount of work teaching demands. If teachers worked only the time our contracts stipulate, let me tell you some of the things we should be prepared to live without: athletics, fine arts, clubs and other activities; before/after-school tutoring; grading/assessment in a timely manner; Advanced Placement courses (AP summer workshops are a week long, and those audits for the college board are no walk in the park); professional development for your teachers…and the list goes on. Point: as I write this, my sister (who teaches high school geometry) is sitting next to me grading exams…on a Sunday afternoon.

I won’t talk about the correlation between teacher pay and the teacher shortage because Dr. Cobb over at okeducationtruths has already done so in this post from a few months ago. Or you can just take my word for it that until we start give teachers the respect they deserve and a salary that measures up to surrounding states, we’ll continue to have problems staffing our schools.

“Some remark about why you’d waste time or money on a master’s or doctorate degree.”

That’s the spirit! No need to seek more knowledge or pedagogy in your area. We’re perfectly fine not giving any incentive for teachers to expand their practices or seek additional credentials. Does this mean you no longer desire media specialists, counselors, administrators, curriculum coordinators, reading specialists, social workers, or speech pathologists? These are just a handful of positions in public schools that require a master’s degree.

“Some remark about merit pay, and teachers being held accountable according to test scores.”

 

            Well, like many things, that’s a good idea in theory. The problem is, it just doesn’t add up in practice. If all students were created equal, with similar learning abilities, and from the same socioeconomic background, then success might be determined by the same set of standards across the board. But that just isn’t the reality when it comes to the differences across communities in our public schools. Research has shown time and time again that poverty is a factor in educational success. How do we convince a kid that learning about photosynthesis is the most important thing he’ll do all day when he’s worried about whether or not he’ll get to eat over the weekend? How does that girl in high school keep up with her homework when she’s caring for her younger siblings at night while mom works a second job? Do those kids’ teachers really deserve to make less because the odds are already stacked against their students? I’m going to be really unpopular for saying this, but to me, merit pay for teachers seems more about rewarding people for getting jobs in high-income districts and less about rewarding good teaching practices.   The district I work in now has a poverty rate almost twice that of the last district in which I worked. I am working harder now than I ever have before. I’m researching new techniques, reading articles and books, consulting with other educators in my field, asking for feedback from my administrators, and yet, I am not seeing the same results in my current classroom. I firmly believe test scores and student performance are not always adequate platforms for evaluating teachers.

I’m a tenured loudmouth, but relatively new to advocacy. I remind myself to step back, take a deep breath, and try to understand opposite viewpoints before spouting off a knee-jerk reaction that does more to offend than to convince somebody to come around to my way of thinking. I’m not always successful, as you can see from my responses above. Blue cereal education makes some very good points about the value of trying to understand those who disagree with us.  

My question to you, fellow teachers, is how do you address these topics, and others, when they come up in conversations? How do you respond to social media posts, blogs, or articles that make sweeping generalizations about our profession? How do we correct misrepresentations of our profession without alienating the people we need to convince in order for change to happen?

I’m willing to learn if someone will teach me.

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