Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!

Here's a great e-mail from Sarah, a future teacher with comments on my post about how to attract great teachers. I'm going to have to put off my comments until tomorrow, because I'm knee-deep in an excel spreadsheet right now. (I'm developing a ridiculously complicated system for ranking the blogs.)

I am 24 years old and recently graduated with my masters degree in Art Education (my bachelors degree is in Art). My masters degree also certified me to teach in the state of Florida and I am beginning my first job this fall. I can't wait!

I agree with you that money is not everything to teachers. Sure, they are under-paid and overworked, but I think that payment is a small piece of the puzzle. One of my art education professors told my class, "If you're in this program because you like art and want your summers off, I suggest you get out. You won't be happy in this profession if those are your reasons for being here." Though I'm not a veteran teacher, I have been through my student teaching internship and have some teaching experience, and I know this is a very true statement.

When you suggest that teachers become more "white collar" rather than "blue collar" I couldn't agree more. That "professionalization" is abundantly more than payment or hours clocked in. I know there are bad teachers. Teachers who punch the clock, who don't put in the extra hours. I personally worked under one of these teachers. It was obvious that she wasn't happy and that the kids weren't happy and the artwork coming out of that classroom was very mediocre. Sad.

Many teachers (I wish I could say most) arrive early, stay late, sponsor a club, take on extra work, and devote virtually all waking hours, not just to school their students, but to educate them. Paying teachers more or less will not change bad teachers into good teachers. Some people go above and beyond. Others don't. This follows through in all fields. However, it means more to everyone when teachers do it because they are directly influencing childrens' lives.

I think that paying good teachers more is a nice idea. The problem within that is the question of how to measure that. With the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and teachers are being held accountable; however, they are being held accountable with standardized testing. We are moving close and closer to teachers being paid for performance, which may not be a bad thing, but to assess this, we are using these standardized test scores from standardized tests that are unfair to many students and that only tell part of the picture. As a result, teachers are teaching to the test. Students are learning that there is one right answer A, B, C or D. Relying on this method is creating students in the US public schools who find one right answer. We are not creating students who are free thinking or can think outside the box. In 5-10 years, the repercussions will start to be seen as these students enter college and eventually the job market. We need all kinds of students to serve this country and this world. Creating students who are good at taking a standardized test won't facilitate this.

I know I am probably preaching to the choir with this, but I simply bring these points to show that politicians and those in educational leadership positions are attempting these things. They are just attempting them the wrong way. If anyone has any insights into how to assess teacher, they should speak up.

I think that perhaps more the issue of getting good teachers lies in changing the attitude of the American public about teachers. More often than not, the attitude is that teachers are teachers because they aren't good enough to do anything else. Sort of the, "Those who can't do, teach" mentality. I've seen this attitude in everyone from the highly academic and educated to the adolescent 6th grader. It exists and is very real and is a very real detriment to recruiting good teachers.

I know this to be a fact because I deal with this every day. I have completed college and a masters degree. I have always been at the top of my classes throughout high school, college and graduate school. I did well on the SAT and GRE. I am a high achiever and always have been. I choose to be a teacher because I love teaching and because I know that the best person I can be is a person who is an art teacher. I see my peers around me turn up their noses at the thought of becoming a teacher. Especially in the art world, teaching is definitely a second rate job. I considered it the highest compliment ever when someone said, "Sarah teaches young children to make things and I can't think of anything better to do than that."

I try not to allow the turned up noses and snotty attitudes towards teachers get to me, but it is something so socialized within the average American, that I can even see it in myself. With a sister just graduated from West Point, and a sister at the top of her classes at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, it is easy for me to feel overshadowed by accomplishes that our society considers great. I do not feel that way and wouldn't change my life choices regarding my career, to switch with my sisters for anything. I absolutely feel privileged to be an art teacher and can not wait to do so. I know it is the profession for me. Not just a profession, but a vocation.

This is the sort of reason good teachers enter the teaching profession. This is the sort of attitude academia and society need to foster to ensure good education in the future. Without it, people like me, who have been at the top of their classes along with future lawyers, doctors, politicians, engineers, ect., who choose to be a teacher for all the right reasons, will not choose it. Our children, our society and our future are injured.

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