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!!!