Friday, November 23, 2012

The Differences Between a Good School and a Bad School

A 2007 study by California State University's Center for Teacher Quality found that teachers driven from the state's classroom most often cited bureaucratic frustrations like excessive paperwork, too many meetings, and frequent classroom interruptions. Satisfied teachers most often pointed to having a meaningful role in school decision-making, collaborative relationships with colleagues, adequate planning time, sufficient classroom materials, and supportive principals. (Teaching in NC)

Bureaucratic frustrations are part and parcel of the public school system. In reality, the public school system is not "public" except for the money that it wastes yearly on inane curricular innovations and frivolous politicking. Government education inevitably invites bureaucracy, which invites unaccountability and inefficiency.

Teachers are forced to plow through more paperwork every year. As a teacher in South Gate, I had to write out a bunch of pacing plans which were ideal, unreal, and surreal all at the same time. I was expected to get students through a year's worth of curriculum in one semester, even though  I met with the students for an hour and a half every day. The demand on the teacher to get test-scores up and to get students to learn was near-impossible. The four-by-four block  scheduling made it almost impossible for a student who feel behind to catch, whether because the student was sick or simply did not grasp the material that he was supposed to learn.

Frequent classroom interruptions -- this ugly scenario takes on many faces. The students who frequently disrupt the class, the administrators who walk into class and displace the focus of the students. The frequent announcements over the loudspeakers. I can count on every digit on my hands and feet, along with the thirty-six students and growing the number of phone calls which I had to contend with while going over a lesson.

Then there are the latent and blatant interruptions, the ones which parents engage in, whether calling the classroom for information or pestering the teachers by email to demand more information about the status of their children in the class. The emotional baggage which students bring into the classroom, whether from parents distant or non-existent, creates another barrier for teachers to overcome. Not just educator, but counselor, social worker, and parent define the growing responsibilities which teachers are expected to take on.

The expectations of "satisfied teachers" depend on factors falling out of the teachers' control:

1. Decision-making: Oh, that administrators and district officials would spend more time getting teacher input. Alas, that is simply not the case. Now math and literacy coaches are all the rage, holding teachers in check with abstract guidelines which limit the resources and resourcefulness of teachers to implement new lesson plans or reach challenged students with different methods.

2.Collaborative relationships with colleagues. If teachers spent less time going over paperwork of furrowing through the dizzying number of notices and threats from administrators, then perhaps teachers would have more time to meet and greet with other teachers, get new ideas, and share them with their students. LA Unified set up "banked Tuesdays" in order to impress on teachers more collaboration. Instead of getting together to plan better ideas, teachers under the displaced tutelage of the department chair spend more time going over the incessant problems laid out by administrators. Problem students take up more time for discussion, as well. Often, the opportunity to collaborate turns into another block of time to berate one another as individual teachers stress over empty learning goals outlined by district officials in these meetings, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with teaching.

3. Adequate planning time: this is a structural issue, to say the least. Changing the bell schedules from traditional to block scheduling does not alleviate the growing pressure that teachers face, as standardized tests, learning curves, lesson plans dictated by bureaucrats instead of teachers, are crowding out the remaining time that teachers no longer have.

4. Sufficient classroom materials: Schools budget poorly as a rule. They have no incentive to use the dwindling tax dollars in an appropriate manner.

5. Supportive principals: This complaint tops them all. Most administrators are craven and cowardly,  refusing to stand up for the teacher and stand up to the parents or other interest who frustrate the goals of the teacher. Most administrators have no tenure to begin with, so they will gladly throw colleagues, teachers, or anyone else who impedes their quest to raise test scores across the board at a school site. A good principal is hard to find, and teachers have fewer options in their quest for good leadership, as schools are cutting back on staff, resources, planning times, and decision-making for the staff in the schools.

More often than not, teachers are just not happy with their jobs. Usually, they stick through it until retirement so that they can collect their pension. Most of the time, though, they are watching the clock for the end of the day to toll, just like the students who have to suffer though abysmal circumstances in second-rate public schools.

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