copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert
Sadly, our schools and districts mirror the shortsightedness that permeates our society. Solutions are simple and never novel. We, as a people, rarely learn from our mistakes. We repeat what was done, even if it did not work well in the past. New York City Schools are an example of this.
Today, the New York City School District offered “experienced” educators a gift; they are giving those that are willing to teach math or science in the inner city schools, a home, or at least the down payment on an abode. New York City schools are in crisis, and are taking action. Actually, they are reacting. For I believe that actions are expressions of love, we react when we fear. New York Schools, the Teachers Union, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are running scared. Thus, they seek solutions, shortsighted as these may be.
Currently, New York City schools are experiencing a shortage of trained teachers. Science, Math, and Special Education instructors are badly needed. The lack is greatest in the city’s most challenging schools, those in the inner city. Trained personnel considers urban institutions far less appealing, therefore they go elsewhere. Mayor Bloomberg is trying to change this. He, the District, and the Union agree, offer trained personnel money and they will teach in our schools.
As parents, we learn bribing a child does not work. Children do not grow greater when rewards are superficial, financial, or external. Enticements might excite a child, an adult, or an educator initially; however, ultimately reality sets-in. What was once a bonus becomes a burden. Expectations are tied to these and they do not feel good. Early on, we may be willing to do what we disdain for a dollar; later we will not.
As educators, we witness the short-lived stimulation of an external incentive. Some of us realize that intrinsic rewards are authentically valuable. Nevertheless, society teaches us tokens are attractive. Even teacher education seminars spew this “truth.” Vouchers may be appealing for a moment or two, and then the novelty wears off. We conclude if we must suffer to receive a reward, it is not worth it. If our minds, bodies, and hearts are overwhelmed while doing as we loathe, then any prize is not enough.
However, in a district that spends $15 Billion a year, money may seem the only answer. This district may be as an absent parent. They offer material possessions to their offspring to compensate for the fact that emotionally, they are not there for them. This District, as many if not most, is not there for the teacher; nor is it available to the students. Education no longer considers genuine learning; it focuses on administering, teaching to, and the taking of tests.
Requirements for President Bush’s infamous, No Child Left Behind program amplify this. These have taken a toll on scholarship. Mr. Bush speaks of accountability. In determining this, he and his comrades have created a structure that is void of learning and ignores the parameters that exist within our poorer and better schools. Memorization, rote, and rules are the agendas in a kinder and gentler, benevolent Bush school. In most educational establishments, students and teachers no longer experience a joy in teaching or learning. City schools suffer more severely. Nevertheless, this strategy persists. However, I digress, somewhat.
No Child Left Behind is magnifies what we as a society have done to our schools. We have made them into prisons. We corral our students into a “classroom” and then discourage them from learning. Curriculums are “standardized.” School buildings are often locked down, computers locked up, pupils and instructors are locked in. Creative, productive minds are left with little stimulus.
Books are often outdated, dry, and not readily available. Learners rarely relate to the material or the mentor. Teachers tend to be remote; some feel they have to be. In truth, a genuine relationship between student and teacher is frowned upon.
In “good” schools and in those that are not, classrooms are crowded. Discipline might be merely a concept. Chaos is all too frequently the norm; some call this cooperative learning. Individual learning styles are usually ignored. There is too little time; teachers must teach to that basic skills test. Success on these is vital. Teachers’ jobs are on the line.
Parent involvement varies greatly. To educator, administrator, and pupil, it can feel as too much or too little. Instructors do a delicate dance and students’ needs are often lost in the shuffle. For an empathetic tutor, this only adds to his or her frustration.
Resentment, dread, antipathy, apathy, and antagonism fill the schoolhouses. Everyone inside is on edge. Staff, students, and teachers long to be free; they desire the luxury of thinking, feeling, and doing what brings them pleasure. Ultimately, they are liberated. They pass their classes, dropout or burnout. All are outcomes of a system gone awry.
An estimated 50 percent of all new teachers nationwide leave the profession within five years. According to the Teacher Support Network,
“In a survey of head teachers by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in May 2000, 40% of respondents reported having visited their doctor with a stress-related problem in the previous year. 20% considered that they drank too much and 15% believed they were alcoholics. 25% suffered from serious stress related health problems including hypertension, insomnia, depression and gastrointestinal disorders.”
“Stress impacts greatly on teacher retention. A study conducted for the Times Educational Supplement in 1997 found that 37% of secondary vacancies and 19% of primary vacancies were due to ill-health, as compared to 9% of nursing vacancies and 5% in banking and the pharmaceutical industry.”
A career as an educator is a dichotomy. The respect is little, the responsibility great. American society shows its teachers little understanding. This profession is interesting to say the least.
While it is nice to think as the New York Times article espouses, teachers are finally being honored and valued for their worth, this is not the case. The incentives and stipends have strings, three years of service. In other districts that have tried the same, monies must be paid back. Service might be considered the same. If the New York teachers leave before their contract is up, there are repercussions.
This plan will cost the New York City Schools have a $15 million, a drop in their $15 billion budget. I can only wonder why they never think to spend their dollars on improving conditions. Physical structures remain in a state of disrepair, more importantly; effective educational practices are not adopted.
Every endeavor in this District as in most seems a Band-Aid. School districts, Administrators, Instructors, and parents focus on symptoms, short-term solutions and do not consider what truly caring for their progeny might look like.
I believe that a thoughtful education considers the love of learning. This is not encouraged or promoted in most classrooms. Advancement is to the next grade is the goal. We do not train our young to progress from factual repetitions of rote; nor do we allow our teachers to evolve. We, as a society, and within our schools do not applaud the creative, productive, and imaginative mind. We do not reward independence or innovation in our educators or pupils. We want these bodies to just exist and do as they are told, even if we have to bribe them.
Do I think that these “experienced” teachers that New York is now recruiting for their inner-city population will work effectively, will be happy in their new positions, or will serve the students well? No, I do not.
Just as the student population, the teachers will want to fly, to feel fulfilled, and to grow. They cannot do this in a system that is stuck in what does not work. People are as plants; they do not grow healthy, wealthy or wise when they are locked in, locked down, locked up, and rarely see the light of day. Money cannot motivate an instructor or a student more than a moment or two. Three years in a school or a system that imposes improbable standards, isolates, and insulates intelligence is a very long time!
We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards–gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys–in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else. –John Holt