Blame the Teachers!

  • by Bryan Wetzel - Wed, 12/14/2016 - 11:56


Every since my kids entered kindergarten and officially became students of the public education system, I started to notice that any discussion about the problems with education began and ended with teachers.  Nineteen years later and it does not seem that the debate has changed much.  The teachers are always at the center of what ails the education system.  I used to go along with this notion because I did not have information to tell me otherwise.  However, I now see things differently.  I must, in full disclosure, tell the readers that I am a business man, who married a teacher and now runs an education company.  While this may lead some readers to the notion that I am biased, think again. I now have more information, and I can see education from a more informed point of view than before.  I also see the inner workings of the education system, which allows me to compare what I hear and read with what I see.  For instance, I have spoken with more than 400 teachers and administrators since 2011, and we have over 100 teachers in our network for Skubes across four states.  I am going to focus specifically on what I have learned as it pertains to teachers because an article on what's broken or dysfunctional about public education, in general, would turn into a small book. 

While the teachers do bear some blame, the problems with education are largely not their fault.  Teachers are quite simply doing what they are told and are often hamstrung by policies and rules that are not their choice.  It is not hard to figure out why so many have reached the opposite conclusion.  Teachers are the face of education.  They are the people that the parents see and interact with most of the time.  Another reason I believe they have shouldered the blame is that political leaders and sometimes administrators at the top have thrown teachers to the wolves in an effort to divert attention away from their decisions, making teachers, to borrow a mafia term, the patsies. 

So why should we not blame teachers?  First, let's understand that teachers are at the bottom of the ladder of bureaucracy.  Teachers do not make the rules or policies, nor do they have any say in what's taught.  If you compare education to a corporate structure, teachers are the worker bees, doing all the task they are told to do while getting yelled at by their customers because of the company policies.  In essence, you are focusing your ire in the wrong place.  Teachers have too much pressure these days.  From the administration above them to the parents of the children they teach.  The teaching profession is one of the few that still comes with a pension plan and full benefits.  Even with the benefits, more and more teachers are finding that the indifferences they feel from the parents, administrators, and society, in general, are not worth the time needed to earn their pension.  On average 50% of new teachers will not last five years in the profession.  We should be alarmed that we are losing good teachers because they simply have decided that it's not worth it.  I have seen it time and time again, as I visit schools, teachers who are burned out and not sure if they can go on teaching.  The number one question I get when talking with teachers should be a question related to our products/services, but it's not.  The most common question I am asked is “Do we have any job openings.”  Overall, most teachers I know or have met are proud of the job they do and are very proud when they make a difference in a student's life. Teachers are often blamed for situations that are completely out of their control.  Let's take a look at some of the situations that produce a work environment that is counter-productive to the expectations we have for teachers.  

A mountain of paperwork is now a day to day necessity if you are a working teacher.  It is needed to refer students for special services or any number of school programs.  Speaking with a teacher who is head of the RTI program for her school, she told me that she has almost become a part-time paralegal.  Keeping the minutes of any meeting, paperwork, and official documentation before and after any meeting with parents.  She does this along with her regular teaching responsibilities.  That is just one example among many academic or disciplinary programs in schools.  One reason for the increases in paperwork for teachers is budget cuts, which eliminated some jobs specific to handling programs in the schools.  A teacher who has an inclusion class will have to do the paperwork that the special education teacher once handled.  Many teachers I have spoken with tell me they just want to teach and be effective in the classroom, but they are continually distracted by paperwork.

Teachers must manage curriculum that is always changing with little to no resources to help prepare the students for the changes.  In the past school systems purchased textbooks that came along with teacher versions of the textbooks, and also included workbooks with homework sheets that could be copied that matched the work in the textbook.  The textbooks matched the state curriculum, so all was in tune, and in sync.  That is not the case today.  Many schools now tell teachers to look online for their resources or create their own or buy resources themselves.  Which means there are no textbooks, the worksheets are either created by a teacher or found online and are not exact matches for what the students will see when they get tested.  Teachers today have fewer resources than ever before.  Some would argue that the internet offers a teacher more educational resources.  However, internet resources are not aligned with each school's needs and are not always reliable.  I surveyed teachers with 10 or more years experience, and 100% said they have fewer resources now than when they started teaching. 

Student and parent behavior has increasingly become a problem.  The proliferation of helicopter parents or parents who believe their little angels can do no wrong has created a situation where tension and sometimes confrontation are more common. If I wrote about all the incidents I have witnessed while in schools, or the stories teachers have told me, it would make the average reader sad.  Sad for the amount of disrespect many students come to school with these days.  Teachers are virtually powerless against the abuses that students and parents heap upon them.  Teachers can no longer use any meaningful forms of punishment, and the students know it.  Teachers are taught to take the high road when dealing with tough situations involving parents and students, which often means biting their tongues to avoid losing their jobs.  I have heard elementary students calling their teachers names that we do not allow on our website.  Schools do what is necessary to avoid complaints escalating above the school level and schools are also afraid of being sued.  So in most cases, an elementary student that has called their teacher the “b” word, will be sent back to class, after spending an hour in the counselor's office, with a lollypop. Today teachers who discipline a student or send a note home are more likely to get pushback from the parents who want the teacher to know that their child said: “they didn’t do anything.”  The parent's behavior is simultaneously undermining the teacher's authority and respect while giving a pass to future bad behavior.

The latest teaching strategy.  Every year teachers are told that the next great idea for how to teach has come along.  In most professions, a veteran in the field would be asked to spill their knowledge to the newcomers about what works best for them and how they have succeeded year after year.  Not in the teaching profession.  The new way of teaching is something that changes every other year and is a great frustration to many teachers.  Since teachers are reviewed and observed they must implement the latest teaching strategy that their county or state has decided will save the students grades and test scores.  To be fair, most teachers I talk to are interested in learning new strategies.  It's when the strategies are forced on them as if there is one teaching method that works for all kids in ever situation.  A seasoned teacher knows their class and typically adjust their methods to the class and/or different students.  That is how it works in most private schools.  Instead of helping a teacher be a better teacher when they are struggling, teachers who are successful are routinely being asked to change to fit the new way of doing things.  That makes no sense.  Teachers who have a high rate of success should be asked to help other teachers by showing what they do and how they do it.  Teachers need the freedom to use whatever method is bringing results.  The strategy of choice should fit the students.

Political and public bashing of teachers have become commonplace in our overly news’d culture.  I have sat in front of the television on many occasions with my wife and watched people, with little or no education experience, tear down the job she and other teachers do.  Cries for more teacher accountability and oversight are telling the teachers and the public that teachers can not be trusted to do their jobs effectively. In the past, the public held the role of a teacher in high esteem.  A job that doesn’t pay as much as other professions with the same demands, but whose applicants are doing yeomen work.  Now teachers are sometimes regarded as slackers who do not know what they are doing or how to do their job efficiently and have taken the job to have their summers off. 

Given the list above, why would anyone want to be a teacher today?  Keep in mind that the list above is a top 5 list.  I could have added my other reasons. More importantly, why would we blame the teachers?  They are simply navigating a minefield of distractions that take away from their original job requirement…teaching.  The teachers I know do care deeply about the success of their students.  They want them to go on to do well, and they love seeing their former students years later and seeing how they have turned out.  Teachers who are starting out in the profession get very little pay.  Especially when you consider the work they put in on nights and weekends.  Many decide to do it for the same reasons that someone would choose to be a nurse.  To help people!  There is an altruistic side to many teachers that stick it out. Anyone who is getting into the teaching profession for the summer breaks gets weeded out by the time they finish their student teaching or their first year as a teaching professional. 

We are quite simply losing good teachers, and I hope it's not too late to do something about it!  One place we can start is by giving them some credit for the job they do.

"I love education and I love kids, and if it weren't for politics, I might still be in K-12 education.”

Dr. Roderick Sams

If you are a parent in Georgia you should read Does Georgia now have a teacher evaluation system only a sadist could love? from the AJC for more incite.