2012-03-23 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

By Jamie Fidler

Jamie Fidler has been teaching first grade at P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for 10 years. She is in the movie “American Teacher,” a documentary about the importance of recruiting and retaining the best teachers. Her article first appeared in the New York Times.

Most teachers I know went into the profession because they wanted to bring about change. They wanted to work with young people and help them realize their full potential. They wanted to influence students by exposing them to resources they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Teacher Data reports, the contents of their lessons are completely driven by tests, there have been massive lay-offs and, as a result, teacher morale is at an all time low.

This dissatisfaction became abundantly clear upon the release of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. The survey found that teacher morale is the lowest it has been in 20 years.

Experienced teachers are readily accepting of thoughtful change in our educational system. But all of the ideas that teachers have put forth as reasonable reforms, ones that support teachers and improve teacher and subsequently student performance, have been squashed as ineffective.

Reforms like peer review, smaller class sizes, reforming teacher preparation programs, ensuring that all schools have recess and exposure to the arts, hiring more teachers as well as experienced principals and creating teacher leaders, do not fit into the reformers’ plan. Thus they are deemed ineffective and pushed under the rug.

Instead, we are stuck with reforms created by people who have never taught children, but have decided that teachers cannot simply continue teaching as they once did.

Instead of listening to teachers, and welcoming our voices and years of experience, we are stuck with education reforms that are making everyone, including children, miserable. In the next breath, we hear how important teachers are and how valuable we are to society.

It has become abundantly clear that reformers don’t value longevity. They want the public to believe that “bad teachers” are the root of the problem, so they don’t have to acknowledge all of the other components that are getting in the way of student learning, like poverty, building infrastructure, class size and elimination of special education services.

If they convince the public that teachers are the most important component of a student’s success, and the sole reason for student “failure,” then none of those things matters.

The agenda to push out tenured, higher paid teachers became even more transparent when a new job listing was posted by the New York City Department of Education. They are seeking managers to recruit and hire uncertified teachers to place in turnaround schools.

In the meantime, thousands of teach- ers will be excessed from these very same schools (no more than 50 percent of the teachers in closed schools can be rehired), only to be replaced by uncertified teachers with no experience.

Statistics show these inexperienced teachers will probably last no more than three years in the classroom. It seems that this is exactly what reformers are looking for — a revolving door of inexperienced teachers.

While this goes on, American students are spending the first two decades of their lives mastering skills that have nothing to do with things that matter most — being a contributing citizen, a judicious learner, a compassionate community member, a creative writer or a critical researcher.

One must ask why we are setting the education of our young people up as a race — a race between states, a race between teachers and a race between students.

Is that really how we want students to view their education, or themselves as a learner? Furthermore, does demonizing teachers, making their lives more difficult and removing all of the joys of their job, help anyone?

As experienced teachers are plagued with a scarlet letter, and driven out of the classroom, we will be reminded that some things are worth paying for. I think our children’s education is one of them.

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