Monday, January 20, 2014

American Teacher: A Personal Perspective

So, below you will find sound bites from the documentary American Teacher, below each sound bite is my personal perspective or, I don't think these sound bites are in order. I think this documentary is more about what teachers do every day in the trenches and how the agenda of others politicians, local governments don't really matter when it comes to the lives of students and those who teach them.

If you haven't seen this documentary I suggest a view, if only for the fact that it's narrated by Matt Damon.

I have watched it 3 times.

I've also read all the comments on IMDB, I'm probably sorry that I read all the comments on IMDB. I don't really think this documentary had an agenda. I think the six words on the cover say its agenda in a nutshell. Teachers are dedicated, brilliant and inspiring. They are also underpaid, misunderstood and scapegoated. I promise you those comments are evidence of the latter.

"Reading is not something that you either do or don't do well. You can actually transform and do it better. Helping [students] transform from considering themselves non-readers to considering themselves readers was like a high better than any drug I've never tried."
I find it interesting that all teachers from little people up until high school graduation are in some way responsible for the literacy of the children who come through their classroom doors. And, it is fun when you find that hook that shows students that it isn't the fact that they don't like to read, it's the fact that they haven't found something interesting to read. It's fun to use that hook to help students to reach their full potential as readers. No book is too low, as long as the book is seen as a gateway to bigger, more complex reads that expand the minds of the readers. Oh, and I've never tried drugs. 

"It really felt like a calling."
"Felt" is the key word...

"Having great teachers is the very key thing."
The 'very key thing' to all things...everyone, at one time, had to be taught what they know now, the person doing the teaching deserves recognition and praise. 

"Without great teachers we do not have a democracy. Our students cannot be successful without having great teachers in front of them."
True. What is a great teacher? If you are a teacher, are you aspiring to be great?

"Teachers in the United States are routinely undervalued that's the problem in the American education system..."
I know that we are undervalued. How do we get others to see the value in teaching? I have a friend who started teaching as a second career, she said she didn't know how hard it was to teach until she started doing it. Sure, there are other jobs that are hard, teaching is hard too.

"We still struggle to provide the status, the salaries the respect and the training that teaching as a full profession requires and deserves."
Why? Is it because our values, as a nation are out of whack? Is it because teaching used to be just a woman's profession?

"Anyone can teach a kid who gets it right away."
True teaching comes in teaching those kids, who because of their situation, need to be taught. They are the most difficult to reach.

"A lot of people think that teachers go into the job because of the vacations or the short hours or because they like kids and I don't think they understand that it's the intellectual rigor that's involved in presenting information in such a way that a child can understand it."
While those may be reasons initially, good teachers stay because they love the challenge of reaching kids on a daily basis. 

"Teachers are constant active decision makers. They make thousands of decision a day and they don't do it about an abstract idea they do it about the life of a child in that moment."
I read somewhere that the only people who make more split second decisions are air traffic controllers. I don't know if this is true, but there are some day when it definitely feels true.

"By the end of this year, I don't care who you are, this is what you need to do, this is what you need to learn..."
What it all comes down to is this! Who cares if it's written down or typed out or put in it's proper form if it's not conveyed to the students who are doing the learning.

"Nobody would question a lawyer getting paid, or a doctor getting paid, or a consultant getting paid and I think that skill set required to be a teacher is at least as complex, if not more complex. I think teachers are quick to get defensive about that because we are professionals."
I know I am. I know that I am intelligent enough to have done something else, but there is freedom in being a teacher, even with all this baggage.

"When you have high teacher turnover it creates a chaotic situation where kids don't have continuity, where the knowledge base of the school is continually flowing out like a leaky bucket, where the school is continually pedaling just to stay in place because it can't build the system of education that it needs to have to really ensure that kids are learning from year to year."
Yes, but how do we retain good teachers? Especially when we can't pay them what they deserve and it takes about five years before teaching becomes less of a challenge.

"It was like a $20,000 raise for me to go into administration after being in the classroom for 25 years."
I don't care how much of a raise I could ever get. I never want to go into administration. I never want to be in charge of anything. I don't see myself staying in this profession after 25 years anyway, if I make it to 25.

"They're not asking to make $300,000 they're asking to buy a house, to own a decent car, to live in a nice neighborhood, to have some comforts to maybe take a vacation every once in awhile and when you have teachers who have to have second jobs, when you have teachers that are living at the poverty level, then I think there's something wrong with that. And, as a society we really need to change that culture we need to flip it around to say that being a teacher is the most important job in our society."
Someone I teach with said to me that she only made ends meet after she got married and had two incomes in her household.

"The best anti-poverty program is a world class education."
Yes, yes, it is.

Some numbers and fast facts from the documentary:
  1. 20% of teachers in urban districts quit every year.
  2. 46% of teachers quit before their 5th year...this cost 7.34 billion dollars a year.
  3. Teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms.
  4. Many who don't understand teaching want to tax and vilify it.
  5. Newest teachers get the most difficult and largest classes.
  6. Teaches don't have a lunch hour.
  7. Teachers work straight through.
  8. Teachers stay late and come to school early.
  9. None of these are enough.
  10. Women who now become doctors et cetera could only become teachers or nurses.
  11. Very few top graduates want to be teachers.
  12. A good teacher has a $400,000 economical impact per class.
  13. There are very few teachers of color.
  14. 50 hours at school +15 hours a week grading (that's if you only spend 5 minutes per kid per assignment)=65 hours a week; for some teacher's recess is the only prep period.
  15. For many years people assumed that the teacher in the family was female and she, yes, she, was the 2nd income and was not really needed.
  16. Many teachers have to work a second job (31%; counting extra teacher duties for pay that's 64%).
  17. Many teachers are single, in unhappy marriages or divorced.
  18. 70% of college freshman would go into teaching if money were no object.
  19. The problem with teaching compensation is that the starting salary is the ending salary.
  20. A man can't support his family on a teacher's salary and now only 16% of the workforce is male versus 22% in 2002 and 34% in 1970.
Finland, Singapore and South Korea are tops in education, why?
  • They make it tough to get into the teacher program, the governement actually recruits top college students.
  • They pay for teachers to get trained.
  • Purchasing power of 2.5 times the USA.
  • Teachers buy nothing out of their pocket.
  • Teachers have prestige.
  • Teachers assume it will be their career.
  • They rarely leave the profession.
  • Teachers think of school as their family.

One answer, according to the documentary
Increasing teacher compensation lowers teacher attrition and raises graduation rate.

One model
TEP School
$125,000 a year using public funds that have been purposefully reallocated

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