Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson said, An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people. Over 100 years ago, John Dewey wrote, Education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. Nearly 60 years ago, in Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared, Education is perhaps the most important function of state and local government.
Today, powerful forces are destroying public education, and educators are among their victims.
My partner is one of thousands of hard-working, passionate, dedicated, excellent public school teachers in North Carolina. She loves her students, parents and co-workers. She feels fortunate to have a job and doesnt complain much. However, each year, her profession becomes increasingly difficult and demoralizing. I feel compelled to stand up for her.
Most days, she must arrive at school by 7:45 a.m. for meetings, and she doesnt leave until 4:45 p.m. She has up to 25 students in her classroom at any given time, and teaches 56 students in total. She doesnt have an assistant or enough textbooks. Her classroom budget for the year was $100 $4 per student; therefore, her students parents buy classroom supplies and snacks.
Her planning period is often replaced by mentoring other teachers, helping with behavior management and meetings. Most of her teacher workdays are spent in long, mind-numbing trainings for whatever the current fad is in education most recently Race to the Top, Common Core and integrating technology.
After school, she races off to her part-time job as a swim coach. Thats because she makes less than $40,000 a year (with a masters degree and over five years of classroom experience), has student loan debt and is going back to graduate school in order to become a principal. Next year, shell receive a salary increase of about $300. Shed prefer to have respect and time to use the bathroom during school. During the summer she continues coaching and teaches part-time.
After returning home at 8:30 p.m., she finally has time for grading, lesson planning, fundraising, updating her class website, emailing, calling parents, paperwork and report cards.
Policymakers never ask her opinion about matters affecting classrooms.
The last few weeks of school, traditionally a fun and exciting time, is now the worst part of the year for her and her students. It starts with frantic preparation for the end-of-grade (EOG) exams (e.g., reviewing material, practicing questions, recruiting proctors, arranging accommodations). Then, the stress and anxiety really begin.
During the seemingly endless hours of EOG testing, my partner witnessed a student chew through multiple pencils, another who vomited, one who cried hysterically, and a student who, overcome with nervousness, ripped out a loose tooth and then, fearing that going to the bathroom would take too much time, bled all over her shirt.
Next are the dreaded test results. Students and teachers are reduced to a single number and sorted. Many are labeled as failures. Parents call teachers crying, confused by scores and concerned about retention. Teachers explain that test results often dont reflect a students effort, knowledge or ability.
The stress and anxiety dont end there. Students who scored a II must take a retest (in hopes theyll pass), whereas students who scored a I simply have the option of retesting (no hope for them)! Students who are retested are tracked into remediation classes where theyre drilled with test-taking strategies and practice questions. For these students, the process ends with three more days of testing.
My partners situation underpaid, overworked and underappreciated isnt uncommon among educators. Unfortunately, it may soon worsen.
The market-based deforms budget cuts, merit pay, elimination of tenure, high-stakes testing, vouchers, firings, union busting currently forced on educators by the U.S. Department of Education, the General Assembly and local school boards are antithetical to what actually works to improve education, such as collaboration, ample resources, highly effective and experienced teachers, small classroom sizes and high-quality early childhood education.
Moreover, as child poverty rates remain shamefully high (25 percent of North Carolina children over 500,000 live in poverty), and other systems designed to serve children (including Heath and Human Services and Public Safety) are similarly starved of resources, schools are expected to do more with less, and are then blamed for not overcoming the effects of poverty.
If we want to protect our children, our democracy and our future, we must stop the dismantling of public education and strengthen our schools. Treating teaching as a respected profession and giving educators the support they need is a good place to start.
Jason Langberg of Cary is an education justice activist.