Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Education of a Person, Part 5

Okay, I MUST put up another post pronto and get that pathetic jumble of nonsense out of the lead post position. I must say, after that post I called my husband - bawling - and told him that I was on my way to pick the kids up from school and that I would be leaving straightaway with the children to go to St. Louis to see my family. We'd be gone for a week, so see ya. He reminded me that we had company coming in from New Orleans to see us next week. Shit. So much for my escape.

When Texan Papa got home, he sat on the couch and let me lay my head on his shoulder and he stroked my hair and asked me what I needed him to do to make this better.


Anyway, on to No Child Left Behind... part 5. This section will cover "Highly Qualified Teachers". This is a hotly debated topic. I think we all want our children to be taught by teachers who love their jobs and know their content. Besides being teachers, they also have to be disciplinarians, nurturers, money-counters, boo-boo healers, story tellers, as well as having excellent interpersonal skills with parents, other teachers, children, and the principal. They have to be able to work a copy machine, overhead projector, smart board (if you don't know what those are, click here), various computer programs, graphing calculators, ScanTron test grading machine, laminating machine, and a die-cut punch machine to make educational and entertaining bulletin boards. It is a given that they will take their work home with them 85% of the time. Their lunch break usually consists of 25 minutes of eating on-site while babysitting 50 kids in a lunch room. Teachers are expected to juggle all of these responsibilities while being paid at 3/4 rate of a mainstream job (because, after all, they are only working 3/4 of the year). They are expected to know and love every student, to be engaging and entertaining equally as much at 8am as at 2:30pm. They are expected to not make mistakes, to not have social lives, and to put the school first in their priorities.

Can you think of another profession that has these kind of requirements? Maybe a physician? Well, I'd be perfectly content earning 3/4 of a physician's annual salary. You can tell, I am a little bit biased. I have been a teacher for 5 years. I have tutored, I have worked at Sylvan Learning Centers, I have volunteered, I have substitute taught, and now I have been the parent of a child being cared for by a teacher. I feel like I've run the gamut of the teaching profession. I have seen it from almost every vantage point. I've observed some shameful teacher behavior. I've also observed some of the most amazing integrity and character from humans in teachers. I've seen people who clearly love students and love teaching. I've seen folks who obviously were only in teaching to get through until retirement, or to collect a paycheck so they could have their summers off, or even (it seemed) to enjoy the power trip of the authority they hold over students in the same way it was held over them when they were students.

Face it: to some people, teaching is a career. To some, teaching is just a job. And I think, this is what the NCLB legislation is trying to work on by getting teachers who want to teach, to be better; and teachers who don't want to teach, to find a new career path.

Under No Child Left Behind legislation, some teachers may be subject to some changes that previously allowed them to be in the classroom. I'll try to sum it up briefly:
By June 30, 2006, All teachers must be "highly qualified", which means...
  • fully licensed/certified by the state
  • Holds at least a B.S. from a 4-year institution
  • Demonstrates competence in each core subject he/she teaches
These regulations apply only to teachers in public schools (whether or not the school receives Title I funds) who teach core subject matter (English, reading, language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, social studies, economics, arts, history, geography, and kindergarten through Grade 6 (K-6)). Non-core academic subjects are those like workplace development - we used to call it Vo-Tech.

Teachers who, in the past, had licenses that were "temporary", "emergency", "provisional", etc. got those licenses because the school wanted them to fill a need to teach more cost-effectively or more speedily than the school could solve the problem by hiring a new teacher specifically for that subject. Under new legislation, all those type of licenses or certification are no longer valid and will no longer be issued. Any teacher who teaches MUST be knowledgeable (measurably so) in his/her content area. (isn't this a good thing for our children? I'm even a teacher and while I see this is a pain, isn't it what's best for our kids' education?)

Teachers become "highly qualified" after passing a rigorous test for their content area (Elementary, Middle, or High school) or by having an academic major in the content area, or a graduate degree in the content area, or National Board certification in the content area (Middle or High school only). For schools in rural areas, where many teachers must teach multiple subjects due to low enrollment and smaller class sizes, the Feds have allowed them some flexibility. However, by today's date, every teacher in every school across the USA should be "Highly Qualified". For more answers about HQT, check out this website. And, if you're a teacher, check out this very cool tool by the NEA (National Education Agency) to take the quiz: see if you're "highly qualified"!

What is the consequence if a teacher is not "highly qualified"? Well, simply, they lose their job. Of course, that is up to the local district to enforce.

But my feelings are, why is this a big deal? I am a teacher - not currently but I do have a current license - and I would expect that any school I work at would only hire me if I were qualified to teach in my subject area. And as for the teachers who have taught a subject for many years, and therefore have experience but not the necessary credentials to match? Well then, I say, just take the state test and if you really know your stuff like you think you do, it will be a snap and then PRESTO! You will be highly qualified! I mean, who wants their kids being taught Algebra by the History teacher? Or History by the Driver's Ed teacher? Or literature by the Algebra teacher? I could tell you how to find the difference of squares, how many radians are in a full rotation, or how to calculate the lengths of the sides of a right triangle. But ask me to thoughtfully discuss a poem? I probably couldn't do it if I wanted to win a million dollars. I don't know Charlotte Bronte from Charlotte York. Do you really want me reading "The Grapes Of Wrath" with your child-student because I had an extra free period in my schedule and the school had one extra class full of English students?

I'm just going to say this, then we'll call the matter of NCLB closed: This legislation was put together to benefit children. To benefit families. To benefit the future of our country from being run by people who are of less intelligence. Down the line - 20, 30, 40 years from now - on whom will the blame fall? Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not even the individuals. The blame will fall where it always falls - the one group who is always ganged up on - the government. GOD FORBID the people who are in control actually try to control us. GOD FORBID the people who we elect actually work to make our schools a better place. And, GOD FORBID those people make us do something which is inconvenient, the tiniest bit hard, or possibly every once in a while not to our liking. It is so amazing that in this country of millions and millions of people, the government can't just get it right and make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time.

Do I think the NCLB legislation is perfect? Definitely not. There are holes. There are some biases. Does that mean it should be thrown out? Absolutely not. Again I say Absolutely not! The folks who put this legislation together did so to make our teachers be the kind of teachers we want for our children. They did it to make our educational system the type that other countries will look to as a model of what an educational system should be. They did it to serve the majority of the students in the majority of the schools. They obviously cannot account for every specific case in every school. Undoubtedly there will be some students who will suffer because of this legislation. I believe that the Federal Government has done much of what they can to fill the gaps and even out the biases. They've done this through amendments and new legislation and with some accepted flexibility. Looking ahead at any situation and ascribing it to a whole society is really a gamble: you can't tell ahead what will happen. In retrospect, of course, it is easy to look back and say "Oh, we forgot to account for that" or "Oh, we really missed this" or "Well we didn't think this would be a problem but it sure looks like we misjudged". I am just SO tired of people bitching and complaining about how NCLB is a pile of trash and needs to be thrown out. However, I do LOVE the people who are pro-active about a solution and get involved with their local, state, and national teachers organizations to work toward improving legislation so that it IS more equitable to everyone and IS more beneficial to our teachers and our students.

I think that, nowadays, many people just aren't happy unless they are complaining about something. I swear, complaining seems to be the common thread of communication nowadays. Listen to a conversation to the group ahead of you in line at the movies, or walking around a mall, or on the sidelines at a soccer game. I am willing to bet that for every positive comment you hear, you will hear at least 3 criticisms, put-downs, or items of gossip about someone else. NCLB, of course, has not escaped this trap. If you are truly angry about this topic, I would encourage you to let your anger fester inside of you, until you are SO mad that you are spurred into action! Because talking about a problem does nothing but make the problem worse. Working toward a solution not only ends the cycle of non-productivity, but it can also be an example to your children of how our government works - led by the people, for the people.

(I hope that comment is right. See, I shouldn't teach history or civics either).

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