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Separating the wheat from the chafe in education

By Nancy Salvato
web posted May 23, 2005

I often find myself defending President Bush when I discuss NCLB with teachers. Many of them have nothing but criticism about how the goal of adequate yearly progress has impacted school policy or placed additional burdens on the teaching staff. When I explain that the changes which take place at their district are implemented at the state or local level, most don't understand what I am talking about and look at me in disbelief. They think that I don't know of what I speak.

This is because teachers usually receive the bulk of what they learn about their particular circumstances through a filter. To begin with, education law is not a required course for those who study to be an elementary or secondary education teacher. It's not even offered as an elective. Just as teachers are not usually taught how to manage their classroom effectively, record an appropriate number or representative sampling of grades into a grade book, and lesson plan in a time efficient manner, they are also kept in the dark about the major policy decisions that will effect their contracts, day to day schedule, and how much time they will end up spending in education workshops in order to maintain necessary teaching credentials. This type of knowledge is picked up in bits and pieces while on the job.

Although teachers have a vague idea that property taxes help fund the cost of an education in their district and pay their salaries, for the most part they are in the dark about how the numbers break down in terms of federal, state, and local contributions. They aren't privy to how all the strings are attached to the money in the education budget.

New teachers are formally introduced to the school board members, who must approve any hires or dismissals. These wide eyed rookies are urged to attend board meetings in the evening hours. They gratefully sign their teaching contracts, read the student/parent handbook, and soon come to realize that their success or failure is predicated on one semester of student teaching and accumulated experience of being a student.

Teachers are strongly compelled to join the teaching union. It is not presented as an option. Soon, the literature from the state and federal education associations is delivered to their mailboxes at home. Union Representatives require their presence at mandatory meetings held on institute days, and eventually they are doing odd jobs that further the cause of the union and also serve to maintain or elevate their personal job stability.

Teachers and administrators do not play on the same team when it comes to negotiating contracts. And for all their talk about protecting the teacher, contracts are often "negotiated" more favorably toward the school district. Like any bureaucracy, the teachers who are the rank and file in any education machine, usually end up doing the grunt work and having very little say in the overarching policy of a district or how it will affect them.

So when I read Credentials for Sale! by Linda Schrock Taylor in Education News, I half sympathized with her situation but was equally frustrated by her decision to blame "Bush" for all her troubles. I can assure Ms. Taylor that President Bush did not personally make the decision that she would have to be fingerprinted or take a prospective teacher test in order to teach English in her new state of residence. As a matter of fact, teaching requirements are determined by those authorized in her state to do so.

I, too, am frustrated with the bureaucratic mess that teachers must negotiate in order to placate the variety of bureaucrats who make decisions such as treating teachers no differently from one another when it comes to credentials and salary schedule. Ironically, it is these same bureaucrats that are just as quick to remind those in the trenches that one size does not fit all when it comes to teaching students. Sadly, these very same folk are lobbied by the teachers' unions pledged to protect the teachers.

I sensed what I call "burn out" in the tone of Ms. Taylor's piece. The shame is that when good teachers are subjected to bureaucratic entanglement, difficult students, the pressures of testing, and a variety of adverse conditions on a daily basis it is difficult to maintain a positive attitude toward what they are really there for –their students. It's especially distressing to see this veteran teacher who clearly has a grasp of her subject matter and a command of her job, almost lose her cool.

Let's hope she let Calgon take her away and that she can regain her composure before she faces a new set of students. As adults we must understand that life doesn't always run smoothly. It's how we learn to handle the adversity that separates the wheat from the chafe.

Nancy Salvato is the Director of Education & Research at Americans for Limited Government. She is the editor for the LEAD Action and Parents in Charge Foundation websites. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005


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