Thursday, November 15, 2007


There was a time when I used to think being a schoolteacher was the greatest job you could get. I mean you got those summers off. The school day ended at 3 or 4 PM. It seemed so simple.

I apologize to every teacher out there across America for ever thinking such a thing.

And today, being a teacher, may be one of the last jobs I'd want. Just ask the teachers in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. They'll give you an earful (see article below).

Today's teachers need more time for students, more time for planning, and more time for teaching. They're getting less.

Between the No Child Left Behind Act (which leaves lots of children and a whole helluva lot of teachers behind), all the meetings school administrators and Boards of Education members seem to think are necessary for teachers, all the email that requires answers (remember there didn't use to be email), all of the "thises" and "thats" that someone has to monitor, all of the helicopter parents that have to be dealt with, all of the violence, all of the practice exams for that Act mentioned above, all the data that now has to been collected and analyzed, longer school years, more summer programs and then, of course, teachers sort of have to an ever increasing number of students, and with no increasing compensation for any of it, I could think of better things to do.

Now, I'm not saying I'd rather be a coal miner, I'm just saying we always talk about the importance of education, and some of us keep coming up with more and more ways to "help" all the little ones, it wouldn't hurt to figure out some ways to make the job a little more attractive. Would it?

The Asheville Citizen-Times pointed out recently the necessity of increasing efforts to retain good teachers. This is something everyone says. The Citizen-Times went a little further.

The editorial concluded by noting, “Teachers who feel empowered and supported, who have time to prepare for their classes and have the resources they need and who have opportunities for stimulating professional development, are the most critical factor in student achievement...They are more likely to remain in teaching.”

Duh. But does that sound like what's going down.

Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, told a crowd at the University of Alabama yesterday too many teachers are leaving the classroom before retirement, creating problems in keeping experienced educators teaching students.

Hubbert said that 43 percent of teachers leave by their third year. That means training that was paid for by schools is lost.

“There are worlds of teachers in Alabama with a valid teaching certificate who are not teaching,” he said.

The leader of the state’s largest teachers union said inadequate pay wasn’t the primary reason teachers quit.

While salary was part of the reason teachers leave the profession, reasons that weighed heavier in the mix were workloads, lack of support, limited resources and almost no ability to influence working conditions, according to a national survey of teachers who have left the classroom.

How many "Education Presidents" have we had?

The following is from the Annapolis Capital (Maryland).

Teachers: We have too much work
Hundreds picket Board of Education meeting as contract negotiations loom

County teachers turned out en masse last night to tell the Board of Education they're buckling under an increased workload of data entry, extra meetings and too many practice exams.

About 300 teachers lined the walls of the board room, carrying signs that read "Our families miss us," "Test proctors or teachers?" and "Should I enter data or TEACH?"

"I was stunned by the number of teachers who came out," said Tim Mennuti, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, which organized the protest. "I've never seen the anger this high for non-economic issues. Teachers are burned out and they don't know where to go next."

TAAAC is beginning negotiations on the teachers' contract today, and the protest was partly to ask the board to look at teachers' workloads in those negotiations.

The workload is increasing in different ways at different schools, TAAAC representatives said.

Teachers are being asked to attend more meetings, answer more e-mail, serve as lunch and recess monitors and compile data on standardized tests.

"In my career as a teacher, I have never seen a time when teachers were so stressed," Robert Silkworth, the TAAAC representative for North County High School, told the board. "The basic problem is there are too many well-intentioned people who make demands on teachers' time. Our teachers care so much that they're willing to risk their health and family ties."

The requirements take away time that teachers need to research and plan their lessons and time they need to actually teach, they said.

Many now have to administer practice exams about four times during the school year to prepare for the state's standardized tests. Teachers who have 200 students have to grade 200 essays for those exams, which is roughly 30 hours of work on top of their usual load, Mr. Mennuti said.

"It's test after test after test, and we don't have enough planning time," said Kari Biles, a second-grade teacher at Arnold Elementary School.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said teachers' workloads are increasing nationwide, caused in part by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires more data and testing, he said.

"I know that our teachers are concerned and we plan to work with them in any way possible," he said, adding that last year he asked for more money in his budget to hire registrars and test coordinators, but that request wasn't funded by the county.

School board member Eugene Peterson said the school system's hands are tied by this year's tight budget and reduced funding from the state.

TAAAC could have taken the protest to the state government, he said, "to say you cannot balance this budget on the backs of children."

Vic Bernson, also a school board member, said he's not particularly sympathetic to the teachers.

"By contract they (work) 37 hours a week," he said. "I think this is simply a 'have your cake and eat it too' situation for many of these folks."

Mr. Mennuti said a task force on teachers' workload three years ago showed that the average teacher is working a 58-hour week. Teachers are getting burned out and leaving at a time when there's a critical shortage in the field, he said.

"Look around at the young people here - when they leave, we're toast," Mr. Mennuti told the board. "When this gang leaves, there's no one standing outside waiting." Dr. Maxwell said he would look again at the report from that task force.

Tom Tully, a sixth-grade science teacher at George Fox Middle School in Pasadena, said social studies and science teachers at George Fox are teaching twice as many students this year as they did last year - about 180 compared with 90.

"This is on top of everything else, and there's no compensation for the increase," he said. "The overall goal of this is beneficial: We need to make changes to help students do well. The old system wasn't working, but this one isn't either."

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