Over the years, I have spoken with thousands of teachers across the United States, and I have compiled a list of their most common complaints. Some are much easier to change than others. If your school does not suffer from any of these maladies, consider yourself extremely lucky (or you’re in denial).
In a future post, I will be sharing my personal views on exactly how these issues should be addressed by our schools, districts, states, and country.
Schools need more money. I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Yes…that’s extreme, but in many cases, public schools do not receive enough money to function effectively, if at all. In the private sector, it is well known that money invested = a higher return on that investment in the long run. Why isn’t that mindset being applied to our schools? We have to stop treating our schools, and more importantly, our students, as afterthoughts.
Discipline needs to occur. A frequent concern of teachers is the lack of discipline (or worse yet, inconsistent discipline) directed toward students by the administration. In order to create a safe learning environment, students and teachers need to feel safe. But kids are opportunists. When regulations are not enforced across the board, they will completely take advantage of the situation. They will text about it, tweet about it, laugh about it, and ignore the teachers that ARE trying to enforce the rules. If rules exist, they need to be enforced.
*Note* – If you are not a teacher, you may not be familiar with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), passed in 1975. Among other things, IDEA states that students who receive special education services are entitled to a “free and appropriate education” which means these students are now in all classrooms. How exactly does this affect discipline? If a student is classified as emotionally disturbed, that child can be placed in any classroom, perhaps your child’s classroom. When this child curses, throws chairs, fights with others, bites a teacher, or brings a gun to school, IDEA restricts principals from disciplining these students as they would other students. See the irony here? Parents of special education students fought for a free and appropriate education for their children, but no one said anything about it being fair. Many schools do not allow special education students to be suspended more than 10 days per school year. It is even more difficult to expel them, even if the students regularly interrupt the educational process for the other students…and your child. Therefore, these students continue to disturb classrooms across America without repercussions.
Eliminate out of school suspension. It’s an Xbox vacation. Students have absolutely NO INCENTIVE to stop fighting with another student, because in many cases, they will get exactly what they want – time off from school (that will more than likely be unsupervised because of working parents). How does that solve any problems?
In school suspensions are effective if they are structured and consistent (which includes no electronics), staffed by a disciplinarian, at an area of the school that will be free of other student traffic, quiet, and full of current or remedial work. If schools do not make the situation unpleasant for a student, no incentive will exist for students to change their non compliant behavior. Of course, if a student is an immediate threat to himself or another student, they must be removed from the school environment. But if the student does not need to go to jail or to a psychiatric hospital, they should be in school.
Spend money on guidance counselors. If the government is going to force educators to be held accountable for problems outside of their control (issues in the home lives of students), then they need to provide adequate money for guidance counselors to help these students in school. One counselor for 1000 students is simply not acceptable.
Allow principals to hire for their school. For those districts that are still governed by school boards with regard to hiring, that practice must end now. Many of these school boards are comprised of non-educators who cannot possibly know the needs of each school. Many teachers have shared that nepotism runs rampantly throughout districts that utilize this method of hiring teachers. Articles on nepotism in schools can be found here and here.
Elementary and middle schools need to provide before and after care for their students. This is a no brainer because schools need money, and this is a cash cow. Parents work, and right now, many of them are paying an outside daycare provider to watch their children until a bus picks them up and takes them to school. After school, a bus drops these same kids off at the same day care provider. Parents pay a great deal of money for this service. Wouldn’t it make more sense for schools to hire qualified day care employees to care for students in their respective schools and consequently, collect the money from parents? The money would more than pay for the salaries of the day care workers (particularly if schools were resourceful and utilized workers from local high schools and colleges that offer an early childhood major). Schools – get on this!
Stop eliminating libraries. How can we expect students to solve problems if we take away the place that can help them do so? If a librarian’s salary is just too much to handle, then schools need to transform the library into a digital media center, train teachers how to use it effectively, and give students regular access to it.
NEVER eliminate recess. EVER. Middle schools and high schools should also consider giving students a small break somewhere during the day. The benefits far outnumber the downsides. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you will give credence to this American Academy of Pediatrics article about the positive effects of recess.
Forget about standardized testing. It lines the pockets of the testing companies that create the tests, wastes valuable class time, and only teaches our students how to make patterns on the answer sheet (yes…many students have admitted to this). Employers don’t care if students scored Advanced on their 8th grade English exam. They want to know if someone can solve problems, work well with others, complete projects, and formulate new ideas. Such things are not measured on standardized tests.
These tests are primarily created by the same companies that provide textbooks to classrooms (McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson). The CEO salaries of these companies are as follows:
McGraw Hill (2009) – $5,905,317 (source: Google)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014) – $2,024,850 (source: salary.com)
Pearson (2011) – $3,955,000 (source: forbes.com)
How many people involved in public education make these salaries? These companies are FOR-PROFIT businesses who have absolutely no real investment in children. They don’t care what a child scores on their test, if teachers are reprimanded for low test scores among their students, or if guidance counselors have time to attend to students who are suicidal (because guidance counselors are usually the people responsible for guarding these tests like gold bars in Fort Knox), they just want more money.
Allow teachers to teach. If standardized testing is eliminated (or at the very least, greatly reduced), teachers will have more time to teach. I mean really teach. They can also focus on demonstrating the intangible things that cannot be measured by tests, such as motivation, creativity, enthusiasm, self discipline, compassion, honesty, integrity, and leadership.
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