Tag Archives: Seeing things through teacher’s eyes

Walking in another’s Mocassins

There is an old Indian proverb that says, in effect:   ” Never judge another person until you have spent a day walking in his moccasins.”     A recent update of that appeared in Facebook  as a sign saying:   “ Be kind to everyone, you don’t know their story.   And Ellen signs off The Ellen show each day saying:   “Be Kind to each other”!!However, it seems a lot of us have more of a built-in  tendency to judge than we do to be kind to each other.

For example:   We see someone in dirty clothes, carrying all he owns on his back in a plastic sack, unshaven—-and we judge in many ways:    We judge that he is dangerous; we judge that he’s probably an alcoholic or on drugs;   we judge that he is ill educated and uncouth; we judge that as a human being he is a drag on society.    Who hasn’t exhibited one or another of these judgments?

Another example:   There are few teachers who haven’t had to endure the insult of this little rhyme:   “If you can’t do, teach.   And if you can’t teach, teach others to teach.”    As one who both taught and taught future teachers I find this highly derogatory and insulting.   Society has seemed to always look down on teachers as failures who can’t do anything else—as evidence that they usually make very little money, which is the way we judge success.    They are people who must be closely watched by administrators and the state to make sure that they are “held accountable.”   We chide them because they have the summers off.  (they are usually working another job to make ends meet during the summer).   They are at the mercy of school boards and administrators because they no longer have tenure protection.

Now let’s spend a day walking in a teacher’s moccasins—–This person gets up at 5 a.m. so he can make it to work by 7 p.m. with a 30 minute commute.    He arrives at work, makes some coffee for his colleagues and then walks back to his cubicle where he begins to get books and supplies and graded papers  together and carefully goes over the class plans he has for the day.   He has a class to teach in American History, one in European History, and three freshmen English classes (English is outside his major)  Five classes in all with each class having an average of 30 students.   He teaches each class in a different classroom—one of the Freshmen English classes is taught with computers and the other two are not.   His classrooms are located in different spots scattered over a large high school campus.   He must prepare carefully because after each class he must run by his office during a 10 minute passing period to collect materials and books for the next class.   At the end of the day he is exhausted, but today there is more.    He rushes home and changes into a Park Ranger uniform, straps on his 38 revolver, and drives to the San Diego Wild Animal Park where he will work from 4 p.m. until midnight.   He arrives home after midnight and goes to bed and gets up at five the next morning and begins it all over again.   The next day  will be a good day—-he doesn’t have to work the second job—-but he does have a huge pile of papers to grade and prep to do at the end of that day.

This was a day in my life as a teacher at a high school in California. At the end of the school year I had to look forward to working my second job full time during the summmer.     It was during the economic period where inflation was surging and wages were not, and I had a family to support—-two children, one in high school and one in college.  So I had no choice but to work two jobs.

Things have not changed that much today!.    Prices still are going  up.    Teacher’s salaries are not.   Schools don’t receive the money they need so teachers do more with less and teach multiple subjects, some outside their area of expertise.   They teach them to students who have been told that teachers don’t know what they are doing.   That  if they “had it” they would be in “real jobs” amaking “real money” and therefore be successful.  .    The governor doesn’t trust teachers nor do the state legislators in Kansas.   Teachers  have no security from administrators who do things to them to get rid of them like my administrator did to me that year that I just described above.   The Kansas legislators and governor got rid of the tenure law last year.

WALK IN THESE SHOES FOR A DAY OR A YEAR  AND SEE IF YOUR CRITICISM OF TEACHERS IS STILL THE SAME.

I am retired now and sitting at the check-in-table at the Lord’s Diner here in my home city of Wichita.   The Diner is open 7 days a week to feed the hungry in Wichita and usually there are over  500 people eating each evening, including many children.    Many of them are carrying all their belongings on their back.   Look in many of their eyes, even their children, and there is a deadness, a loss of hope in many.

My wife sits alongside me and since I am diabetic, before we are finish I need to go get something to eat.   I reluctantly leave her and sit inside on the other side of a glass wall as I eat so I am able to keep watch on her.   (There’s my bias—-I think she is in danger because she’s dealing with homeless people.)   As I watch, a very tall, black-headed “motorcycle dude” with a scraggly beard and a handkerchief on his head came in.    I took one look at him and thought “that is a mean-looking dude”.    He came in and got his food and sat at the end of the table where I was eating.    I was surprised to see that the first thing he did after being seated was to fold his hands, bow his head, and I saw his lips moving in prayer.

We got to talking and he shared some of the story of his life with me.   He told me how blessed he was because he had just found a place to stay in a warm garage (it was winter) and he was better able to do what he liked to do.   As we talked his story unfolded that what he liked to do was to rescue homeless people who were on the verge of committing suicide..    He recounted the number of times and some of the ways he had reached out to homeless persons who were ready to end their lives.    He took them in, made sure they got something to eat, let them stay with him and tried to talk them out of suicide.  He said he was usually successful, but lost some.   He said he felt that was his ministry and I assured him that it was indeed a ministry—-a God given one.   He had found a way to put his faith in God into life-saving action.

HOW MANY OF US HAVE A LIFE STORY TO MATCH  THIS?

Do you still think that this man is a “drag” on society?  That he is dangerous and uncouth after hearing his story?   How many of us can say that we work at saving lives every day?   KNOWING HIS STORY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

 

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Where have all the teacher’s gone?

Today’s newspaper reported that the number of teachers retiring, quitting teaching for other work,  and moving out of Kansas to teach has accelerated alarmingly over the past two years.   Meanwhile enrollment in Education Courses in colleges in Kansas has dwindled.

Where have all the teacher’s gone??

That is not difficult to determine if you have been paying attention the past two years!  Low salaries might be part of the problem but that has been true for a number of years, so the source of the present problem is deeper than just low salaries as teachers have never been paid what they are worth.

At the core of the problem is the state legislature, the governor, and the state Board  Education.  They have continued to de-value the worth of teachers at every turn..

They have taken away the right to appeal dismissal by removing tenure rights for teachers,   leaving good teachers at the mercy of administrators who are on power trips and are threatened by anything but blind obedience to their dictates.

They have tried to abolish teacher’s rights to bargain for anything but salary—not to be able to bargain on classroom conditions, etc.

They have voted out the funding formula for schools  that has been developed through the years and frozen funding in block grants—-largely to avoid having to carry out the Kansas Supreme Court decision that they are acting unconstitutionally.    They have lied about the block grants to the people of Kansas,  not telling them that much of the money in the block grant is going to makeup for past legislative failures to adequately fund the teacher retirement system and that the money going to classrooms has actually been cut.

They have threatened to pass laws to allow teachers to be charged with felony offense, if they teach something the community doesn’t approve.

As a final blow, they have discounted the preparation and education that teachers possess by now trying to meet the teacher shortage by  allowing any college graduate to get a teaching credential—-even if they have never spent a day in the classroom and know nothing of how students learn or how to teach.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a teacher and think what all of the above means to him or her.  As a teacher who spent over thirty-five years in the classroom let me try to show you what the above looks like through a teacher’s eyes.

When they take away tenure it causes me to remember a high school principal who visited my classroom to “evaluate me”.   I was teaching a civics class and the students were in the midst of a great discussion which I was leading with many students participating and all engaged in listening.    I thought, “What a great time to be visited”.  Wrong!!!   This principal sat for a few minutes and listened to the discussion and then got up and walked out, telling me on the way out that “I’ll be back when you are teaching!”    I was being evaluated by someone who did not recognize great teaching when he saw it!   I needed protection from the kind of administrators who if you crossed them, as I had done, will try and get you fired unless you have some protection.  Most administrators I knew were not educators.   They were  paper shufflers—and had escaped the classroom a.s.a.p. because they disliked teaching.   They were on power trips, and were excellent in playing the school district political power games.   In all my years of teaching I had one high school principal who I felt was a true educator!

When I see the right to negotiate anything but salary, and the accompanying inability to strike, it brings to my mind the powerlessness that I felt as a teacher.  Those making policy decisions about education were uninformed school boards and uninterested administrators.  And then I think of my home and family and the low salaries that I received, which practically always dictated a summer job and also a part-time job during the school year—taking away time with my children and wife.  And I remember the way I used my sick leave to catch up grading essays for my Advanced Placement American History classes that were too large but needed to learn to write if they were to pass the exam.  I had a high rate of passing the A.P. Exam—I don’t remember ever being congratulated for that.    I remember class sizes of 35  X  5 = 175 students to deal with each day and plan for,  grade papers,  maintain discipline. etc.    Powerlessness to do what you know needs to be done in the classroom is not a good feeling!

I remember the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 in California where I taught in a high school and the apprehension that I might lose my job because of the drop in educational funding due to it.    That’s what lack of sufficient funding means to teachers.  Teachers have families.   They have college debts that they incurred in getting the education needed to be teachers.   Lack of school funding  also means to teachers that there will be a lack of basic materials to teach with, lack of support for special education students mainstreamed in our classes,  and it means more students per class.

When I see no education requirements except a college degree for licensed teachers, I think of the education classes I took at the University of Chicago and time and money I spent in acquiring the needed education to meet the requirements for a teaching credential.  I also remember the many student teachers I supervised as a Master Teacher through the years, who came to me with no experience and no idea what teaching classes day after day entailed, and the ones who succeeded under my tutelage and the ones who did damage to students learning.     And I think of the student teachers who were not good in dealing with 150 to 175 students on a daily basis  and decided after their  student teaching that they would seek other careers.   And then I read a statement from our Kansas State Board of Education that in lifting the Education requirements for teacher licensing that they are putting the students first—not the teachers—-and I gag at the lack of knowledge about education that these political hacks who set educational policy for the state of Kansas are showing.  They seem to view teachers as just warm bodies that are in the classroom—unimportant to the educational process.

Teaching subject matter is just one of the tasks that a good teacher does.   A teacher is the one that sees the students every day—sometimes spends more time with them than their parents.    A good teacher is one that students feel confident in coming to for advice and help with the stresses of being teenagers.   Good teachers inspire their students to explore and  develop their potential.   Good teachers show care for their students.  They celebrate their accomplishments and cry with them in their failures.   In my career as a teacher I found my high school students were more likely to come and confide their problems to me than they were to their school counselors.

Teachers are the backbone of the education system in Kansas—-from Kindergarten through college.   They deserve respect.   They deserve support.  They deserve thanks for the often thankless job they do every day.  They deserve decent salaries.   They deserve protection of their jobs which are often hazardous these days due to lack of funding for schools and lack of tenure.     They DO NOT DESERVE THE TREATMENT THEY ARE RECEIVING FROM THE KANSAS LEGISLATORS,  GOVERNOR BROWNBACK AND THE KANSAS BOARD OF EDUCATION.

Where have all the teacher’s gone?

They are taking their talents and skills elsewhere to a place where they will be valued, respected and appreciated.   And our students in Kansas are the real losers!!!

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