Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Government Hates Teachers

Harsh title? I don't think so. Sure, politicians love talking about teachers and education, but only in the same way that it makes a good photo opportunity to kiss babies. Voters care about their kids' education, but the politicians really don't.

Just try to follow the money if you don't believe me. How many programs are mandated by federal or state government? How many are fully funded? Of the funds that schools do receive, are they adequate to do the job according to what we know from years of research to be best practices? Are the funds safe when government squanders revenues, gives away lavish tax cuts to businesses, and is "forced" to make cuts in education spending down the line as a result? Can anything be counted on from a government that will break its own laws intentionally?*

The truth is simple: the people we elect care most about being elected again. Whereas that appears to be progress on the outside, it is often nothing more than political game-playing to win the hearts of the voters. But when the going gets rough, policy makers are quick to say that schools waste money and are inefficient. In reality, it is frequently the government-mandated programs using up resources and time. It makes sense: when you don't have what you need to do a job well, but you are required to do A and B, where do you spend your time? Not on C and D. In this simple scenario, C and D could be technology, staff development, teacher pay or benefits, programs, clubs, maintenance, or whatever. Schools are set up to fail from the beginning; being given far too much to do without the means to do it. Is it any surprise that someone would stand up and say, "This isn't working!"?

Rather than protect teachers, or work to improve compensation that more closely matches the prestige of the job they do, politicians are on the attack. They are cutting their collective bargaining rights, cutting pay, cutting jobs, cutting programs, and the list goes on and on. To justify beating up on heroes while they are already lying bleeding in the street, they blame teachers for things research has shown to be due to systemic flaws.

Politicians like to talk about how schools are one of the biggest ticket items on budgets, so that the uninformed believe it makes sense to go after them. Just one question: shouldn't educating our youth to lead our future be one of our top priorities, if not THE top priority? Isn't it worth the money to ensure that our kids can compete with the rest of the world? Isn't it worth any price to ensure our success and survival in the future?

Politicians need to wake up; quick fixes or things that look good in the short term for reelection are not going to solve our long-term economic woes. It isn't fair to today's youth, who didn't cause this mess, to be cheated of an adequate education. Doing so just might jeopardize politicians of the future...when there isn't a country left to lead.

*In Kansas, legislation was passed mandating funding for public education. Instead, payments from the state to school districts were frequently late, and the state did not live up to court mandated funding requirements.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Who has time?

Whenever I ask teachers what they need most, they all tell me the same thing. Resoundingly, they echo each other in saying that what they really need most is time.

I haven't been out of the classroom too long to remember that I scarcely had time to breathe. It seems like there are new things to try, new initiatives, new tests, new somethings every year, but nothing ever goes away. Things are added but they are never (are hardly ever) taken away. It is easy to understand the sentiment, then, of the teacher who throws their hands up whenever they have to invest more time to learn something new. They don't know if their time will be worth it. The initiative may not last, the idea may not produce results, or there may not be enough support to fully implement whatever it is they are doing in the first place. When it comes to technology, it is inherent that whatever it is will change. This is one of the frustrations of those who try to stay current with technology trends; they are always going to have to learn, unlearn, and relearn the latest tech tools.

When I was teaching, if there was something to learn that was important, I would have to take the time, or often make the time, to learn it. It is our job, our duty, as educators to always be on the top of our games collectively and individually. We owe that to the students we serve. No matter where I've been, there has always been the attitude that we do whatever it takes to do the best job we possibly can for our students.

Lately I've been frustrated with what appears to be an unwillingness on the part of teachers to do this. Let me explain.

I know that time is the number one factor that teachers say they need in order to learn about new technologies. They need time to learn about it, time to try it, time to make mistakes with it, and time to be able to ask questions about it and how it can be utilized in their classrooms. What I am finding, however, is a growing number of teachers who won't put in the time necessary to learn these new tools. This is in spite of the fact that they are the same people who say that they believe they NEED to learn, and WANT to learn how to utilize 21st Century tools in their classrooms. Something doesn't fit.

As an example, I did a survey at the beginning of this school year asking what the most pressing needs were for teachers. Also in the survey, I asked about their preferences for when and how this learning should take place. The two biggest answers in these two categories were learning about Promethean software after school. Yet, when I have open sessions to learn more about Promethean software after school, hardly anyone comes. I spread the meeting locations around so that it is convenient for participants to attend, and there are usually only one or two people who come besides the person whose room we are using.

Am I wrong to assume that teachers aren't willing to put in the time they said they wanted to spend?

Another survey, taken by all but two teachers district-wide, found that the number one priority as seen by teachers in my district is 21st Century Teaching and Learning. This just adds more to my confusion. Here is evidence to support the idea that learning about technology is rather high on the list of many teachers' priorities, yet when time is provided for this to take place, they aren't taking advantage.

Do they not mean what they say? Is it just an excuse, saying that time is needed when really they have no intention of learning new things? Is it a resistance to learning new things in general, or just technology? Is it me?

I tend to think that what they really mean is that they need more time in the day to do everything they are being asked to do-a 25th, 26th, and 27th hour added to the day. The amount of things on a teacher's workload is quite frankly ridiculous. I think that, for whatever reason, technology is just not important enough (in their minds) to bother with it when there are so many other things that HAVE to get done daily. There just isn't time left at the end of the day for anything else.

Teachers-I really need you to weigh in on this one. What prevents you from spending time learning new technologies for use in your classroom?