Betsy Devos was not my choice for Secretary of Education. While I support Trump’s presidency, education is a local issue. The mandates from D.C. since the Department of Education was founded in the 70s under Carter have done little to advance education but rather have added another layer of bureaucracy.
Our schools in America are pathetic. Our schools in North Carolina are in peril. And bringing it home, our schools in Durham are, for sake of a worse word, a pile. As a high school math teacher with Durham Public Schools I see our “system” in a state of emergency. Money is not the problem. The problem is the system, a system that prods our little ones through the coral by any means necessary.
I did not support Common Core. Common Core to me works in a world where all children are on grade level, have parental support and have engaging teachers teaching rigorous real world pedagogy. Even under the standards that most of my peers had as children, education received is only as good as the teachers teaching it. And yes - many teachers are not worthy of the paycheck they receive. Most of us do a great job, but the “system” needs to be shaken up. Whether you are a teacher in the utopia that is Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools or teach in some of the Tier I schools here in Durham Public Schools your children should be growing. Teachers that are not growing our children need to be let go.
The current standards that even well-intentioned teachers use are not even close to what they should be. Our K-5 children are mainly instructed in Math and English Language Arts with little attention to Science and History. Why have our schools come to this?
I demand that teachers teach and not rely on dictates from the Department of Public Instruction and local school boards. I don’t! When I looked at the standards for Math I, I decided this curriculum was not good enough for my kids so I wrote my own teaching based on what I was taught. Not tooting my own horn, but my test scores are awesome. Last year 94.5 percent of my students were proficient on the Math I. The district average was about 40 points lower. My students are not any smarter or better than any of the others in the district. I am a professional, and my students and parents should expect the best. But parents have been deceived but also are in denial, too.
What is in a grade? The grades that are often on report cards mean little to nothing. My students tell me that in middle school so much of their grade was based on classwork that they often copied from a neighbor. Don’t get me started on homework but there is a big push by many systems to get rid of it altogether so that parents and children can spend more time. Really?
Parents wonder what happens when their child who always made As in middle school struggles to keep up in high school. The answer is easy: they did not master or learn what they should have in middle school. All the system wants each year is more money. All that teachers want is more money. Good teachers deserve more money but the bad ones need another occupation. We hear that there is not enough money to buy books and supplies for schools. That is a lie. We have plenty of money for everything. Trust me! The Math I-III books that are currently used have to be purchased every year since students are able to write in them. I have never used them but rather have used the old 2004 adoption year Prentice Hall book series. I have done this for years.
As a concerned teacher I offer a few suggestions:
Parents – Look at what your children are learning and if you notice it is not rigorous, then supplement. There are lots of workbooks you can purchase as well as lots of FREE material you can download from the web.
Teachers – Do not be afraid to do your own thing. Make your lessons engaging and relevant. Control your classrooms and expect your children to learn. Some of your discipline problems are children that are bored and need a challenge.
Principals – Get rid of ineffective teachers and give feedback that will help teachers get better.
System – We need DPI to look at K-12 education and look at each standard. We need a return to basics approach for K-5 with required proficiency levels before progressing to certain grade levels. At the high school level we need to return vocational education programs. Many students gifts are in their hands.
Let’s make our schools great ... again.
Terry McCann is a math teacher in Durham Public Schools.