A recent story in the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” focused on the fates of the 4 finalists for 2016 National Teacher of the Year…
Nate Bowling was the 2016 Washington state Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year. There were three other finalists who were the winners in their states that year: Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Shawn Sheehan of Oklahoma and Daniel Jocz of California. Hayes won the national title that year.
So what happened to the four in an era in which teachers are striking and speaking out about low pay, unfair evaluation methods, disrespect from policymakers and insufficient funding of their schools?
Are they all still teaching? The answer is no.
Given the current dishonest and deeply cynical narrative around “failing schools,” “poor scores by US students on international assessments,” and “the evils of the powerful teachers unions” that’s been promoted by none other than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos–who is allegedly responsible for supporting and encouraging these schools and teachers–this really shouldn’t come as any surprise.
But the question remains: what can we do to keep more great teachers in the classroom? Here are a few suggestions for strengthening public education, and making teaching great again…
- Create more space and room for growth for teachers: Give teachers more responsibility for creating curriculum, designing assessment tools, and determining school, district, and state policies.
- Lower class sizes and make teaching assignments reasonable and manageable: An elementary music teacher with 600 students is educational malpractice just as much as a Kindergarten teacher with 40 students is.
- Open up the curriculum, making sure kids have more choice in the courses they can take, and the opportunity to study music, art, drama, literature, history…not just math and science.
- Get rid of standardized testing–there’s nothing “standard” about children, or teaching.
- Pay teachers more, and ensure their benefits are fair and guaranteed.
- Pay for teachers to attend professional development conferences–it’s the “R&D” of education, and teachers shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to spend their weekends and summers getting better at their jobs.
- Restore teacher tenure where it’s been eliminated.
- Strengthen teachers unions where they’ve been weakened: Teachers’ working conditions = students’ learning conditions.
- Fund infrastructure initiatives so urban and rural schools have the same quality of buildings, facilities, and equipment as suburban schools enjoy.
- Stop the attacks from billionaire-funded corporate reform groups, like Education Post, The 74, the Fordham Institute, and Democrats for Education Reform, on public education. Public schools educate nearly 90% of the nation’s children. Instead of trying to demonize these schools and teachers, why not work to strengthen these important public institutions?
Teachers don’t leave the classroom because they don’t love their students or teaching.
They leave because of a lack of administrative and community support.
They leave because they don’t believe their work is respected or valued.
They leave because their salaries have stagnated, even as the demands and expectations placed on them have skyrocketed.
They leave because their evaluation systems are based on antiquated business models that treat “workers” as disengaged drones who can’t be trusted to give their best effort, rather than qualified, dedicated professionals who are already working as hard as possible because of their commitment to their students, schools, and profession.
While our teachers have always been great, we’ve allowed the profession of teaching to become diminished through attacks from “reformers” who see schools as nothing more than “educational ATMs”–new “profit centers” that can be exploited in order to siphon billions of public tax dollars into private pockets.
And the teacher workforce has been degraded by the influx of unqualified, uncertified recruits from fast-track teacher preparation groups like Teach for America and Teachers of Tomorrow, which has created a two-tiered system of professional educators in traditional public schools, and short-term, temporary “edutourists” in charter schools.
If we truly want to Make Teaching Great Again, then we need to support policies–and elect candidates–that will work to strengthen our public schools, improve the working conditions for our teachers, and learning conditions for our children.