Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Hard Is Teaching?

Do half of new teachers disappear before completing five years because the pay is too high and the work is too easy? You'd think so if you examined the KIPP model of working 200 hours a week and being on call for whatever remains.

However, in an unusually thoughtful education article, David M. Herzenhorn maintains otherwise:
School professionals are called upon not only to educate children, but also to nurture curiosity and civic values, and even to teach the most basic manners. Once, while waiting to have lunch with my mother, now retired after more than 30 years as a teacher in a city elementary school, I stood in her school’s main entrance and watched a teacher walk by with her class, shouting: “Fingers out of your nose! Fingers out of your nose!”

Well, I'm glad someone is offering them that advice. As a high school teacher, I might offer different suggestions, but if kids don't get those messages at home, it's our job to help out. I know kids with parents who just work, work, and work, and who haven't got a moment to keep an eye out. I'd like to think that I might help them out somehow.

Not only do professional educators have to know how to deal with children, they have to be clever about soothing an even wackier bunch: parents.

I've been very lucky in my dealings with parents. Of course, my kids come from other countries, and other cultures. I suppose if I'd dragged my kids halfway around the world so they could have better lives, I'd take calls from school very seriously (still, as a born-and-bread all-American type, I'd take it very seriously if a teacher called my home).

Chancellor Klein, in an interview, said, “I’ve got plenty of high-needs schools with air-conditioning.”

Reading between the lines, that clearly indicates he's got plenty of schools without air-conditioning.

He said he wanted to provide teachers with terrific working conditions...

That's why I'm in a trailer behind a building at 250% capacity and growing. There's nothing quite like a trailer with a busted air-conditioner. Or one where the chancellor won't permit you to turn it on because air-conditioning season has not yet begun.

“The most important thing in education is the quality of teachers,” Mr. Klein said.”

I agree. Why, then, did he go to Albany soon after being appointed, and successfully beg for the right to hire and retain thousands of teachers who'd failed basic competency tests, sometimes on dozens of occasions?

The two major ingredients are what you get paid and a combination of working conditions and job satisfaction.”

That's why Mr. Klein continues to pay among the lowest salaries in the area, and why he's chipped away at seniority rights. That's why he continues to make it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers displaced through no fault of their own to find work. That's why he suspends teachers without pay for months based on unsubstantiated allegations.

I regret such things escaped Mr. Herzenhorn's attention. But his heart's in the right place.

The daily work in schools is so hard that most educators in the system do not distinguish between the chancellor’s office and the mayor, the labor unions and state government, the teachers’ contract and the federal No Child Left Behind law when they complain, frequently, that the “system” is against them.

That's exactly how I feel, and it's probably the worst feeling I've had since I began teaching. For me, this began when my union prominently endorsed the worst contract I'd ever seen.

But when a kid comes up to me and says, "Thank you, Mr. Educator, for forcing me to read that book. I never read a whole book in English before, and I didn't think I could do it," when a kid says that to me I feel like a million bucks.

Of course, a million bucks isn't what it used to be anymore. Maybe the young teachers who leave just have more foresight than I do.

Thanks to Schoolgal
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