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A conservative teacher in a Blue State

By Nancy Salvato
web posted December 5, 2005

Briefly, while driving to a parent teacher conference for my son this morning, I had the opportunity to listen to recently slandered, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett discuss a great business idea; that someone should open a conservative coffee shop and call it “Warbucks”. A portion of the proceeds would go to help the US soldiers charged with defending freedom around the world. Many listeners called in to say they really liked this suggestion.

Now I’m not really sure if he was serious or not because I didn’t get a chance to listen in long enough but it got me to thinking. It sure would be nice to go where conservatives could comfortably hang out and to have some good intelligent conversation over a cup of java. Sadly, living in a blue state in a metropolitan area, I often find myself dominated by liberals who disdain conservative beliefs and ideas.

Walking into my son’s school I felt like an imposter; there for him but acutely aware that my conservative ideas about education would make me unwelcome in any other circumstances. Try and imagine, then, what it is like for me as a teacher seeking employment in the liberally dominated field of education. Lately, I’ve been thinking this must have been what it felt like for blacks seeking employment in traditionally white dominated occupations or trying to integrate into white neighborhoods in the years following the civil rights movement. What did it feel like for black children entering desegregated schools?

The application process has been simplified in that after filling in all the questions for one school district you can import most of your information to fill in another district’s application, provided they are using the same program. The essay questions basically read the same.

When you think about your students, in what major ways do you want to influence their lives? What two core teaching strategies do you use most to achieve this result? Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.
How would you address a wide range of skills in your classroom? In your opinion, what are the most significant factors that influence student learning? In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing our profession presently and in the future? In the space provided below, indicate any information relating to your capabilities and qualifications for teaching, including technology expertise and experience/training in working with multicultural and diverse student populations. Briefly describe your professional beliefs and principles. How do these values exhibit themselves in the position you are applying for and in your career development?

As you can imagine, for new teachers fresh out of schools of education, writing the essays for a teaching application is just another homework assignment. They go back to notes taken in classes like Philosophy of Education and they write about what their professors tell them are the best ways to set up a classroom, meet the needs of their students, or communicate with administration and parents. They gather three letters of recommendation, provide information about previous employment experience, have their transcripts mailed and begin the process of waiting for a response.

For a teacher who has been around the block but never received tenure in a district, the application process is a minefield. For one thing, the above questions are designed to find out if the job candidate is likely to tow the line or has a mind of his or her own. They are also set up to determine if the potential teacher will implement teaching strategies geared toward cooperative learning, multiculturalism, and tolerance or if the teacher considers their job to provide subject knowledge using explicit teaching methodology. The latter is not in vogue even though it has been proven invaluable in making sure all students make adequate yearly progress. The former strategies are taught in schools of education even though they are not based on grounded scientific research and often do not hold the students responsible for their own learning.

But it is even more complicated than that. In my case, to complete an application process, I must have copies of my transcripts mailed from no less than four institutions at my own cost before I will be considered for an interview. I must fill in pages of employment experience explaining why I no longer work for each school I’m required to list on the form. For each year of prior teaching experience, I’m more expensive to hire. For each additional credit hour in education above my BA, I’m more expensive to bring into the district. Nowhere in the process will I be expected to offer any evidence to show whether or not my actual teaching was effective with students. There are no pretest or post test scores to show potential employers…yet.

Although I would be willing to waive the steps I’ve reached on the pay scale to get hired in a good district, union contracts disallow that possibility in a public school. Although I can offer evidence that explicit instruction, homogeneous grouping, and subject knowledge have been proven to contribute to effective teaching, it is politically incorrect to embrace these particular elements as important considerations. Here is the clincher. Some districts now require prospective teachers to complete a teacher style profile by taking a timed multiple choice test to determine whether a potential applicant is the right fit. The results are not provided to the applicant.

Being a conservative teacher in a blue state is really hard. Having my education writing recognized by a former Secretary of Education for a republican administration doesn’t score points. And believing in NCLB and being anti union for reasons like I listed above doesn’t score points. It doesn’t matter that I’m a really creative, hard working instructor or that I have a good grasp of the subjects which I’m endorsed to teach.

I really miss the students. And I just can’t quite resign myself to the hard cold reality that it was just not meant to be. I keep hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is a school preaching tolerance for conservatives somewhere in this blue state metropolitan area. If there is a principal out there who appreciates a teacher who employs a common sense teaching style combined with valuable experience, my number is…

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005

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