Let’s Change Education

It's time for American educators to come together to work to change education. The education in the United States fails to meet the needs of both teachers and students, and something needs to be done about it. Read my open letter to the president and to the Secretary of Education, and then sign the petition I started, if you feel so inclined.

Mr. President and Ms. Secretary of Education,

Imagine a day in a teacher’s shoes. You arrive to work early – two hours early because you have so much to do. You head to the copy machine because you need to make copies before class starts. You arrive to discover that there is already another teacher there making copies. It’s no big deal; you’ll just wait. When she finishes, you approach the copy machine to begin your copies. The copier makes two copies, and then it’s out of paper. You sigh and put paper into the copy machine. After a few minutes, the copy machine jams. This happens all the time, so you’ve become a bit of an expert at un-jamming these time-sucking events.

After you make your copies, you shake your head in disgust at just how much time has passed already. You head back to your classroom and look over your plans. You gather everything you need for the day. You feel confident you are ready, so you sit down and decide to check your email. Great, an email with a change in the schedule for the day. That’s all right, too, because you are flexible. In fact, that’s a major requirement of this job.

As students come in for the morning, you greet them with a smiling face and try to excite them for a day of learning. You notice that one of your students is wearing the same shirt from the day before, and it’s looking a bit ragged. Another student’s hair is clearly not combed. Your heart hurts at the thought that these poor children aren’t always getting the care they need. You want to help them so badly, but in all honesty, you can’t afford it yourself because your salary is extremely low, and you often have to buy your own supplies.

As you try to teach throughout the day, a dark shadow hangs over your head. It’s a huge amount of pressure and stress. You feel that you must, absolutely MUST, find a way to get each and every child in this classroom to learn. But often, no matter what you do, you feel that it’s not good enough and that you need to do more.

You see, your classroom size has grown, and you can no longer give each child the one-on-one attention they each deserve. Sometimes children will even act out because of this and call out for that attention. That creates an environment of stress, tension, and distraction.

Then, you have students in the classroom who just flat out don’t care about learning. You know, deep down inside,  that if you just had the time, you could figure out why and could help that child more.

You have students in your classroom who are extremely gifted. These children make your heart smile each time they ask questions that are top-notch. You just know they are the ones who will go somewhere big! But then you think… What if they don’t? What if my inability to challenge them enough will keep them from reaching their full potential? You often end up not giving them the attention and the challenges they need because you spend so much of your time trying to help those who are several grade levels behind. Or, even worse, you spend your time working with the children who are defiant, disrespectful, angry, emotionally unstable, or something else.

And you know that those students who are several grade levels behind are behind for a reason. It’s not because they are dumb or lazy; in fact, you know they, too, could reach their full potential with the right amount of time and effort. It’s because they are being taught too much too soon. You can only get a sponge to soak up so much water. You know from experience that once they are ready, they’ll learn it. You remember that from all your academic studies and training. It doesn’t matter what approach you take. You also know that because of how much needs to be taught each year, there often isn’t enough time to go in-depth and be concrete with each concept, which is also contributing to each issue.

Toward the end of your day, you have a student who picks up his chair and throws it across the room. Luckily, it doesn’t hit anyone, but it scares everyone, and the class chatter begins. You immediately call administration. Administration sends down the school secretary to get the student, while you try hard to get everyone focused again and the class under control. He is gone maybe 20 minutes and returns to the class sucking on a lollipop. You start to feel furious and unsupported. You also start to wonder if you are being paid enough. Then, you wonder if you should look for a different job, as you have heard other districts have more supportive admins.

When your students go to gym, you have 40 minutes to go to the bathroom and try to get things done. However, this time gets shortened very quickly by moving through the hallways, using the bathroom, and completing all the documentation paperwork for the chair throwing incident. Before you know it, your planning time is over, and you got virtually nothing done.

You return to class with your students and calmly let them know they will be tested the next day. You try to reassure the students that it’s okay and not to stress about it. But most start to feel worried and stressed, and some even begin to cry. It breaks your heart to see the students feel this way over testing. The worst part is that you also feel a bit worried because, in your district, your evaluations are based on it. You don’t feel this is right because many times, outside factors can influence the outcome of the test, such whether the student cares, if their parents are divorcing, how often the child attended school, whether the child is safe and secure at home, and so on (in addition to the other factors mentioned above).

When the day finally ends, you just want to go home and collapse on the couch, but you can’t just yet. You still need to complete more paperwork, attend meetings (so many now!), plan lessons for the next week, and so much more. You notice that your email is starting to fill up from parents who are upset over the chair incident earlier in the day. While you love your children’s parents, some can make your job difficult. Some even call you names and are disrespectful toward you.

You often end up carrying your work home and try to plan there. Your lesson plans often need to be documented in your district with which standards you are addressing. Some districts have a curriculum for you to follow, but yours doesn’t. This makes it challenging for you, too. Your district also can’t afford a lot of materials, so you are often either searching for materials or creating your own. This is very time consuming. You have to make sure your materials are meeting each child’s needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all version. You also have to make sure it’s engaging. Students live in a world where things are always entertaining; that makes it difficult. Lesson planning is tough, no doubt about it.

And then, you have to grade papers and other activities your class completed. You often spend most of your evenings or weekends completing these tasks, along with other tasks, like creating newsletters, preparing Friday folders, and so on. Sometimes your family starts to feel ignored. It puts strains on relationships with your spouse and children. You end up unbalanced between work and home.

But… You don’t quit your job. You know you could. You know others who have. But you don’t, because you LOVE working with children. You LOVE teaching. There are good things about it.

You see, Mr. President and Ms. Secretary of Education, teaching is a wonderful profession, but it has been slowly ruined. I’m asking you to change education. To make it better for us teachers. To make it better for the students!

Somehow, education was placed in the hands of people who aren’t in the classroom. Somehow, education stopped being about the children and became more about competing with the world. This needs to change. We need to change education.

Right now, the teacher turnover rate is higher than it has ever been, especially among new teachers. And there is a reason for that. Teachers are not getting the respect they deserve. Teachers are not being paid enough, do not receive benefits, and are often overworked. Teachers are beyond stressed out. Teachers spend more time working than with their families. Teachers spend more time doing other things than teaching. Teachers spend more of their money on their own supplies (definitely more than $250 a year, tax deduction!). Teachers are placed in an over-sized classroom full of students that are a wide range of unmet, diverse needs. The standards are developmentally inappropriate and too much! We face a society that often doesn’t value educators or education. Students are OVER-tested and don’t need to be tested at such young ages. Things need to change! We must work toward our goal and change education!

If you are a teacher reading this and you agree with any of this blog post, please sign my petition to change education. Please also consider sharing this post so we can get more people to share and sign! We need to work together as a community of teachers and take a STAND for our students to change education.

Working with you–

P.S. If you are a person who is quick to say, “But teachers get their summers off,” I want to clarify that with you. First, teachers work well over 40 hours a week during the school year. It’s closer to 60 hours (or more). If you factor our average salary and divide it by those hours, we are earning close to $12 an hour. (So, imagine if McDonald’s employees earned $15 an hour – they’d earn more than a teacher with a degree or two!). Next, teachers do NOT have their summers off. They have to attend professional development multiple times during the summer to keep up with the changing curriculum handed down from the government. We are also required by law (to keep our teaching certificate) to have continuing education so we are always up-to-date with our education (so we attend schooling). Some teachers also teach summer school or get other jobs to supplement their poorly paid salary. We also prep for the upcoming school year.