Teachers Are Lazy, Hard-Working, Stupid, Brilliant, Indifferent, Caring, Rich, Poor, Should Probably Be Fired and Also Given a Raise… (Where Did All the Teachers Go?)

Imagine that you’re standing at the center of a room so large that you can’t see the walls and that 180 school desks radiate out from you in concentric circles.  At each desk sits a teenager.  You’re a high school teacher, and the teenagers arrayed around you are your students.  Behind each student there stand two parents.  Behind each parent stand grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the family.  Behind them, as far as the eye can see, swells an army of journalists, bloggers, educational policy experts, politicians, school administrators, superintendents, business owners, university professors, police officers, prison wardens and prison guards.

You turn in a circle and gaze in wonder at the masses of people gathered around you, watching you, judging your every move.  About twenty of your students lean forward in their desks and look up at you with bright smiles.  These students will delight in anything you might say to them.  They love every one of your lessons and you can always count on them to raise their hands to answer and ask questions.  Others, say about fifty or so, stare at you with blank expressions.  They’re bored with your lesson, but they’re calm and polite.  Still other students, perhaps ninety of them, are doing whatever they can think of to distract themselves from the learning task at hand.  These students tap their pencils, pass notes, sneak peeks at their cell phones, whisper and chuckle at the boy who is launching spit wads at you when you aren’t looking.  They may be apathetic and distracted, but for the most part these students remain under control.  A group of perhaps twenty students bicker with each other, verbally spar, curse, wail about how much they hate school, hate your lesson, hate you.  Some of them become physically violent with each other.  A few may even threaten you with bodily harm.

Your students make up a representative sampling of America’s school children.  A few of them are rich and live in mansions.  About 130 of them fall somewhere in what society terms “the middle class,” though this designation encompasses such a broad range of economic and social circumstances that it is almost useless.  Students in this category may come from families who are one lost job, financial catastrophe or medical emergency away from descending into poverty.  Others are pushing up against the boundary that separates “upper-middle class” from “rich.”  About forty of your students come from abject poverty.  Many of them enter the doors of your school not having eaten breakfast.  For some, the only food they will eat on a given day is the meal they receive in the cafeteria lunch line.  Many of these students come from parts of the city that are infested with crime.  They fall asleep at night to the sound of gunshots.  They live in apartments and houses that are falling apart.  When they’re sick they may not see a doctor because their family can’t afford it, and a working parent forgoes a day’s pay to stay home and care for them.

Whatever their socioeconomic status, many of your students come from broken homes and tense, even dangerous, family situations.  They live in fear and they bring this baggage with them to your classroom.  Some of your students are depressed, lonely and insecure. In this group of 180 students some can read at an advanced college level, others are getting by at grade level and still others can’t read at all.  Each student has a particular set of learning needs, and your district, your principal and the entire education apparatus have told you that you must tailor every lesson to each student and that you must prepare the entire group for college.  These are worthy goals.

While you try to teach your students a lesson about, say, the quadratic formula, you notice that the volume level in the room is steadily rising.  The students are making noise, of course, but it is the adults thronging behind them who are the loudest.  Some of the parents and family members are applauding you and giving you a “thumbs up.” Others are shouting obscenities.  You can read the hatred on their faces.  Every few seconds a random comment drifts over to you: “Incompetent,” shouts someone.  “Stupid,” says another.  “Lazy,” “Failing our kids,” “Doesn’t care,” you hear over the din.  Mixed in with the invective are words of encouragement: “God bless you,” “Bravo,” “Inspiring.”  Behind the parents the reporters, experts, university professors, politicians and other members of the community shout their own views.  “Pay them more,” say some.  “Pay them less,” say others.  “Education is broken,” screams one expert.  “I know exactly how to fix it,” cries another.  “Fire them all,” says a politician.  “Protect them,” insists another.  Words and catch phrases rain down on you: vouchers, charter schools, accountability, standardized testing, performance pay, school choice, home schooling, private schooling, virtual classrooms, differentiation, learning styles, class size—the deluge never ends.  The quieter parents look around in confusion and distress over the chaos they see growing around them.  Meanwhile one police officer turns to another and says, “If this teacher can’t save these kids, we’re in trouble.”

On a normal day you teach your students for about six hours, thirty students per hour.  You spend three to four hours at school planning and preparing lessons, creating PowerPoint presentations, cutting out manipulatives, making copies, writing rubrics, rearranging desks, organizing papers and records, attending meetings with administrators and other teachers, responding to e-mails, contacting parents, supervising the halls before and after school. . . After nine to ten hours at work, you return home, grab something to eat, kiss your spouse and play with your kids.  Then, after about an hour of family time, you sit down and you grade papers for a couple of hours.  Since students benefit most from specific, constructive feedback, you write helpful notes in the margins of their papers.  You write a short paragraph at the end of each paper in which you explain the grade you’ve given and offer suggestions for improvement on the next assignment.  By the time you’ve finished grading papers for the night, you have concluded an eleven or twelve hour work day.

At school you look around at your colleagues and notice that every year a few don’t return and a fresh new crop of college grads shows up to eagerly take their place in the classroom.  You know that five years from now about half of the school’s faculty will have abandoned the teaching profession entirely, and you wonder what would happen if every five years half of all doctors hung up their white coats, or if half of all civil engineers decided to stop designing bridges.  What would American technology and industry look like if every five years half of the country’s engineers, software designers and scientists left their professions and never returned?  If any of these disasters were to occur, would we question the competence of the people leaving their respective professions, or would we wonder if something about the professions themselves drove them away?

The vast majority of teachers care about their students.  They take every kind of kid from every slice of society and work their butts off to give them a good education.  Clearly, most of them don’t last for long.  They love teaching, most of them make enough money to live comfortably, yet within five years about half of them leave the thing they love.  They need society’s help, not its scorn.

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About atomsofthought
Teacher. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

44 Responses to Teachers Are Lazy, Hard-Working, Stupid, Brilliant, Indifferent, Caring, Rich, Poor, Should Probably Be Fired and Also Given a Raise… (Where Did All the Teachers Go?)

  1. pattisj says:

    Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom. So much has changed since I was a student. When we moved our daughter from a private to public school, we could see a vast difference in the environment of where we came from, and where she had been. I haven’t really kept up with the goings on of the educational system since then, though I can’t help but hear or read the words of the many voices you speak of sprinkled throughout the media. When did it change from the way it “used to be?” And what caused that change?

    • I was a student just over a decade ago, and I can see that some things have changed. The basic structure of the system is more or less the same, but the teacher turnover rate has continued to increase. Also, I really can’t say yet that our increasingly interconnected society has done harm, but students certainly face far more distractions in their lives and do more things outside of their parents’ supervision. I wonder if maybe our culture as a whole has changed…

  2. You have created an image that will live with me for a long time. If I knew what the answer was I owuld be carrying it out but at the heart of my concerns is the number of bright, capable and caring people who have been forced to give up on the profession. Part of the dialogue in the UK is that schools are failing; they are not, through a great deal of hard work and passion they are succeding in ways that we can’t even begin to measure. However if a politician can persuade the public that we are failing and that he or she has the answer if only they could get elected. And if that politician can create a measure for success that will allow them to turn to the electorate and claim to have solevd the problem, no matter what the impact on the education of our children then they will do it. Time to harness the creativity and expertise of teachers everywhere!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I don’t really know the answer either. To tell you the truth, I think our problems with education are a manifestation of a much bigger dysfunction. I’ve long wanted to travel the world and experience other education systems first hand. I don’t quite understand why in the U.S. we’re so good at lamenting how badly we stack up against most other wealthy countries, yet we seem to have no interest in adopting policies that work well elsewhere. I’m not without hope, though!

  3. The system seems quite broken and I don’t know how to address the problems. As a parent, I watched my kids come home with ever lowered self-esteem. Much of the hazing they received actually came from their teachers! The administration was no help. It almost seems like a three-way war is going on between parents/tax-payers, teachers, and school administrators. The kids lose. Yes, there were some terrific teachers and I made sure to thank them and show them support. But both of my kids asked if they could be home-schooled because of what they were experiencing at the schools. By the time I realized how bad it was for my son he was a senior and had more or less “survived”. I pulled my daughter out and have never regretted that decision. I do wish I had pulled both of them, much sooner. And we live in a “good” district, much touted and sought after, not to mention expensive!!!! So, while I hear your pain and frustration, I wonder whether anyone hears mine, or that of the kids?
    When I went in to talk with teachers, I was called a “helicopter mom”. Thanks.

    • Hi Melissa,

      It’s a complicated problem. There is no excuse for what happened to your kids and it disgusts me. I’m sorry that you and they had to go through that. I’m glad you pulled one of your kids and I understand why you wish you had pulled the other. Not only will I never defend teachers who are gratuitously cruel to students; I will condemn them. Irredeemably bad teachers SHOULD be fired. That is not debatable. Also, I know that you’re a loving mom, period.

      The situation varies widely across the country. Teachers in Texas are in a situation that is nothing like that of teachers in a state like New York (to take two examples), where powerful unions have a say in everything. I think the unions have messed up royally on all kinds of issues (one of those being that it really can be hard to fire bad teachers), though I can’t say that the basic idea of unions is at the root of our problems. If we use test scores as our criterion, then students are underperforming as much in union states as they are in non-union states. Something deeper is going on.

      All of the debates we’re having about education are important. There is a place for testing. Accountability for teachers, schools and districts is obviously essential. I like the idea of paying teachers for performance (how to do that is thorny, but surely we can work it out). I’m SO happy to see all of the anti-bullying initiatives popping up across the country. What saddens me, though, is that none of this is enough. Put into place every one of the most popular solutions being floated, open charter schools, allow students to choose where to attend, give them vouchers, fire bad teachers, pay great teachers more and mediocre teachers less, track student performance and progress. Do all of that and we’re still drawing teachers from exactly the same talent pool, about half of all new teachers will continue to quit never to come back, the ones who are fired for incompetence will not be automatically replaced by some superman or superwoman waiting to swoop in and save the day. Why? Because there’s something about the job that most people either can’t do or aren’t willing to do for longer than five years.

      The education system cannot retain talent, which means it can’t effectively accumulate best practices and build on successes. That’s the fundamental problem. Pay for performance alone won’t solve it because even if it is implemented perfectly, you’ll end up with a bell curve at one end of which mediocre teachers will make very little and at the other end of which great teachers will make a lot. The current average salary for teachers in a state like Texas is something like $40,000 a year. That’s plenty of money for a person to live well. The problem is that if we instituted performance pay, the overall average would HAVE to stay the same because there’s no way that new money would be pumped in, which means that if we distributed money based on performance, mediocre teachers (somewhere near the low end of the bell curve) would make substantially less than $40,000 per year and great teachers would make substantially more. Probably the worst consequence would be that beginning teachers would start at the bottom of that pay scale, somewhere in the $20,000s, which wouldn’t do much to attract the best and the brightest. I said I was for performance pay, and I am, but we have to design it so that the job is attractive to the kinds of people we want in our classrooms and so that an average teacher can make a decent living and have reason to believe that they can make more by improving themselves over time.

      That half of all teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it is a total catastrophe and guarantees that millions of students will continue to drop out every year, yet we’re barely talking about it. How can any system function, let alone improve, when it can’t hang on to the talent it needs just to stay in one place? I’ve seen soooo soooo many wonderful, caring teachers burn out and leave for jobs that pay far less than a teaching position. It breaks my heart because we need them DESPERATELY, especially in the schools that are struggling most (and that tend to experience the highest rate of faculty turnover). In my time as an educator I saw more grown adults cry out of frustration and helplessness than I had seen in all of my years prior to teaching. It is a hard job and any teacher with an ounce of humanity suffers with the knowledge that even their best efforts aren’t enough to save every kid who walks into their classroom. The hours really are long and the press lately has been merciless in its broad vilification of teachers. It’s great not having to work summers and therefore not being paid for those months (though I really wish they would extend the school year by a month–everyone would benefit), but the reality is that very few people end up being able to hack it in the teaching profession, even with the significant perks that come with it. My primary plea is for the whole of society to get directly involved in education. Visit schools. Volunteer. Tutor. We ALL need to help each other, and I’m sick of people creating enemies where none should exist. We all have the same goals. We want what’s best for our children.

      Last I’ll say: There are bad teachers. No doubt about it. But there really are wonderful teachers, too. Most of the ones I had as a kid (in the 80s and 90s) were magnificent. I think about them and what they did to ensure a bright future for me almost daily. I really and truly would not be who I am were it not for the magic they worked in their classrooms. The majority of teachers I knew while I was teaching also were wonderful. I wish we could focus on attracting more of them and keeping them around, in addition to purging the system of the bad ones.

      I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings or offend you. I know you’re a wonderful mother. My broad point was that the whole conversation has become toxic, chaotic and counterproductive, not that any one group is at fault. I’m afraid we aren’t truly fixing anything at the moment, and it breaks my heart. Meanwhile the clock is ticking and kids’ futures are at stake. I hear your frustration and that of your kids, and so did/do most of my colleagues. I hope you believe me.

      Thank you for commenting,
      Nick

  4. yearstricken says:

    This is an excellent post and conversation. I am on the other end of the system at a two-year college. Many of our students must take college prep courses before they can enter a program because they have poor reading, writing, and math skills. Most of these students started formal learning at a very young age, as early as age 4 if they went to a preschool. They start out strong, but along the way, they drop out while still in school. What is happening?

    Like you, I don’t believe that teachers are to blame.Yes, there are a few people who should not be educators. Unfortunately, they are usually not the ones who leave the profession. We need to find ways to help them find other work. Maybe the breakdown is happening in the larger society, maybe our technology is changing the way kids’ brains work, or maybe the environmental pollutants we are awash in are affecting their ability to learn. I don’t know. We see the effects, but it’s difficult to pin down the cause(s).

    Education and educators have always been strongly supported here in Wisconsin until recently when there was a political change. Many now accuse educators of growing rich while everyone else suffers due to the economic slump. Thankfully, a good number of people still support teachers, but it’s been sad to see the change.

    I know that teachers and parents have to work together to help our children succeed in school. I know, too, that society at large needs to value education and be willing to invest in it. How to make that happen? That I don’t know. It seems that so many of the ideas about how to address the problem come from politicians or educational theorists who are far removed from the classroom. Maybe we need more grassroots solutions developed by the teachers and parents of the students

    • Hi! Thank you for stopping by! I know you face a gigantic challenge at a two-year college. My new focus in the last few years has been higher education, which, as you know better than I do, is facing its own (related) crisis. I can’t say exactly what is happening to your students before they get to you. Correction: I guess I could come up with TOO MANY things that go wrong for them as they move through the school system, which is why it’s so hard to remedy the problem and why I think the first and most effective solution is to focus on attracting and retaining the best teachers. There are so many variables we can’t easily control, but nurturing and hanging on to quality teachers is something we could orechestrate on a national scale. Recruit and train the best workforce possible and suddenly everything becomes a little easier (this is a relative term!). I could be wrong, but I suspect that the military values effective training even above acquiring the most advanced weapons technologies. An army can’t anticipate every eventuality, but it can prepare itself to respond with flexibility, discipline and intelligence to contigencies it never expected.

      We’ll never be able to pinpoint all of the causes of our dysfunction, but we can create an environment more conducive to countering and compensating for their effects.

      I lived in Wisconsin for a while and attended the UW-Madison. I saw first-hand the support for educators you speak of! What a great state. :)

  5. very very well written. Kudos to you for expressing this so well. I am one – of those who left – it was due to burn out and illness. Years later when I had the opportunity to return, I turned it down. The teachers are NOT the problem well except that maybe for the fact that too many of them are way underpaid.

    • Thank you for the comment! I’m glad you taught for a while in the first place. I’m one who couldn’t quite last beyond five years. I may return eventually because I love aspects of the job. Nothing I’ve done has felt more important or rewarding than teaching, yet nothing has been more trying. I wonder every day where my students have ended up and what future still awaits them. I got into teaching in the first place because I was one of those naive college kids who wanted to change (and fix) the world. Turns out it’s easier to dream about saving the world than to actually do it! :) And to tell you the truth, if we’re depending on naive and delusional college students like me to rescue education, then we’re in trouble. We need people of all kinds–the dreamers, the pragmatists and the cynics. Teaching should not depend on charity. It shouldn’t be akin to joining the Peace Corps (which I’ve heard people compare it to–that is, as something you should do for a few years out of the goodness of your heart). It should be a job that educated people want to do.

  6. m lewis redford says:

    Nice. A relief. I teach in the UK. I recognise all of those 180 pupils, each with their cadre of shadows behind them. I listen too much to all those voices, boucing off the walls and ceiling of that huge classroom – I can’t even hear my own lessons anymore. How did something so noble and beautiful as TEACHING come to this?

    • Good question. There’s still a lot of respect out there for teachers, but the national debate has grown toxic. I think a lot of people don’t understand what teachers do. I certainly didn’t understand the challenges of teaching until I actually became a teacher. If I had only my experience as a student to go on, I might mistakenly assume that teaching is a pretty easy job. Only when I got my own classroom did I realize how hard my teachers worked to make their job look effortless.

  7. You wrote: “Since students benefit most from specific, constructive feedback, you write helpful notes in the margins of their papers.” During the years that I taught I always did that because I felt it was my duty to do so, but eventually I came to doubt that it did much good—and it took up a lot of my time. I suspect that only the best students paid any attention to my marginal notes. I don’t think the others could have, or else they wouldn’t have kept making the same mistakes I wrote marginal comments about. Sorry to be so cynical.

    • Haha, I actually agree with you. Eventually I became more selective about when I would give that kind of detailed feedback. Grading still consumed a lot of time even when I started using a more efficient system of symbols to mark up assignments. It all comes down to cost-benefit and balancing time spent grading with time spent planning effective lessons. Grading helps only so much.

    • I should clarify that I definitely think that constructive feedback is important. But to your point, it does no good if the students don’t see it or use it. I learned over time that for some students the windows for the best learning were pretty brief and sporadic. The key was to be alert to opportunities for feedback whenever they presented themselves.

  8. Thank you for this post – it starts a whole range of crucial conversations.

    I am a high school teacher, newly started in the profession after 15 years teaching at tertiary (college) level. A close friend of mine left our school this year, and although part of the reason she left was that she was looking for new challenges, the relief rises off her like steam because she now has a life. She can go home and leave her work at work. She can work 9-5 and not have to work on the weekend. She still works hard, but she has work life balance.

    I am only part time, but my work life balance is at serious risk. I put everything I have into my job. It is certainly true that there are weak teachers out there who do their hours and walk away, but the good ones pour so much of themselves into their jobs, that they have very little left (and a huge numer of hours of work outside “working” hours, even if you factor in the holidays). I don’t actually want better pay, I’d like a lower teaching load so that I can teach better. I’d like better resources, more admin support. I’d like better support for the students, especially in terms of counselling and access to psychologists when things go bad. None of these things are things that my union campaigns for (I know, I know, ‘change the union’ – give me time! :-). They’re hot on pay, not so hot on the things that matter.

    The friend who left is an exceptionally talented teacher. If the system had been able to keep her, students would have benefited immeasurably. Instead it damn near burnt her out.

    • Hi!

      Thank you for the comment! You said a lot of things I’ve felt for a long time. I was always perfectly happy with the pay I got. In Texas any teacher who works for a large urban district earns far more than a typical American worker. What I always wanted most of all were the things you mentioned: support for teachers, a manageable teaching load, better resources (though to be honest, I was not usually lacking in this area), fewer interruptions for sports and other miscellany, and more support for students. We always had too few counselors. The ones we had worked day and night, but they had very little time for counseling students because they had too many responsibilities (chief of which was scheduling). Psychologists are non-existent at most schools I’ve been involved with. Social workers tend to be around only if a school has won federal or state grants to fund them. Oh, another thing I think we need desperately is a dedicated mentor program staffed with proven master teachers who do nothing but work with first, second and perhaps third year teachers. Most existing mentor programs are insufficient. They provide new teachers with mentors who are only able to meet with them sporadically, and these mentors themselves tend to be busy classroom teachers who have only so much time to devote to mentoring. Anything that could make the job more sustainable would be just great. I would have taken a pay CUT to get most of these things. It’s good to hear from someone who feels as I do!

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  10. Barbara Backer-Gray says:

    Hi,

    Reading your post makes me feel guilty for ragging on education. Yes, a lot of you work your tails off. But the system makes no sense. In Holland, where I come from, we have about five different tiers of high school, which starts at seventh grade. The lowest levels prepare kids for jobs in retail and such and for trade schools where they can learn to be car mechanics, house painters, the lowest level nurses, etc. This high school level lasts until age fifteen or sixteen, after which they can go to a trade school where they work on the field four days a week, already making some money, and they go to school one day a week, learning skills and background information germane to their field. The second level prepares them for one step higher, the third level prepares students for college that in Holland is called higher professional education. It’s not called university. There students can study library science, engineering, teaching, physical therapy, etc. And then there are the two highest levels of high school, which prepare students for what we call university, where they can study medicine, law, the sciences (at a scientific level, not at the teaching degree level), etc. The third level and up of high school last through seventeen or eighteen years of age.

    My point is this. Trying to get every student ready for college is unrealistic. It shouldn’t be the goal. Not every kid is cut out for a life in academia. I don’t wee anything wrong or snobby in saying that. Different people have different levels and different types of intelligence. Why force a kid who would love nothing more than to get his hands dirty under a car hood to sit through algebra until he’s eighteen? If kids could go different routes, many of the kids who start text messaging or throwing paperclips would actually be interested in what they’re learning. And universities could focus on actually teaching what’s supposed to be taught in universities, instead of having to cater to kids who have incorrectly been told they can do anything and that university is what they must all aim for.

    There’s this misguided idea that giving every child the same education and aiming to get all of them into university is somehow more democratic than differentiating between kids’ abilities and organizing education accordingly. But it’s a myth. America is not the number one country as far as upward mobility is concerned. It’s number six or seven,. last time I checked. Some western European countries with tiered education, including even jolly old England, have a higher upward mobility than America. Because in these countries it’s not a matter of all or nothing, college or failure. And if a kid wants to move up in school, he can. In Holland, at least, You can go from the highest grade of the lowest level of high school to the same grade in the next level, and work your way up. Being in school until you’re nineteen or twenty is not unusual. Not only because of this stepping stone schooling, but also because when kids have bad grades, they fail the year and have to do it over. So that their high school degree actually means something when they get it. But that’s another matter.

    • gahrie says:

      The difference is, this type of vocational system in the U.S. would result in “inequitable” demographic outcomes. Much of the problems in the U.S. education system stem from efforts to “mitigate” any demoraphic differences in outcomes.

    • Jamie says:

      This makes a lot of sense to me. I teach at the college level, and my students and I are often both frustrated with requirements that force everyone to learn the same things, even in the first few years of college.

    • Jennifer says:

      As a high school chemistry teacher (15 years in, in a “good” suburban district that actually does fire/release poor teachers- not because of a poor union, but because of a strong administration who fills out the papers necessary to document and then be used to remove poor teachers, unlike in many districts,) I would LOVE a tiered system. I think one of the fallacies we in the US system perpetuate is that we can differentiate instruction for all students, but that we should have heterogeneous classes. Which means several levels being singled out in one room, rather than having to teach only one level in each room. And this is where other countries do better than us. ONE of the reasons the US does so poorly in comparisons of education to other nations is because we teach every kid to the same level (or at least attempt to). I think this is a problem. But other issues stem from lack of respect for the teaching profession and social issues that are way beyond what a teacher can do in a classroom. A teacher can not teach a child who is not present, either in body or mind. Kids who show up to school with a litany of personal issues really aren’t fully invested in being able to learn. One can argue that a good teacher can serve as shelter from those problems for time, and then maybe the child can let go of those pains for a while and embrace school. I think that is a pile of crap. Your try working with a load on your mind, and see how well you handle things.

  11. Please don’t feel bad. You’re telling things as you see them. I’m sorry for being so verbose and defensive on your site.

    “Trying to get every student ready for college is unrealistic. It shouldn’t be the goal. Not every kid is cut out for a life in academia. I don’t wee anything wrong or snobby in saying that. Different people have different levels and different types of intelligence. Why force a kid who would love nothing more than to get his hands dirty under a car hood to sit through algebra until he’s eighteen?:

    I agree 100% with this quote. We should not expect that every single kid ought to attend a four-year university. It makes no sense. Also, I love the way Holland organizes secondary education. I’m not sure we ever had an abundance of great vocational/technical programs for secondary students, but whatever we had was mostly phased out, so that now we have almost nothing. I think that many European countries get secondary education about right, giving students of all types the opportunity to make a decent life for themselves, whereas here we graduate (or don’t graduate) millions of students and dump them into the world with few marketable skills.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • In the United States we used to have vocational schools and normal schools, as they were called. Until the 1960s, blacks and Latinos—even those who were of above average intelligence—were disproportionately channeled into vocational courses. Unfortunately, in an attempt to remedy that injustice, the politicians and the people in charge of education went way too far in the other direction, pushing students of below average ability into courses that they had no aptitude for or interest in. That has led to today’s absurd notion that everybody should go to college. What’s worse, in order to give the appearance that that was happening, the bureaucrats in charge of education kept lowering standards for decades, so that many college “graduates” now are ignorant even of things that sixth graders once had to learn, like geography, history, grammar and arithmetic (and yes, I really mean basic arithmetic, not higher mathematics). Just look at what so many people write on the Internet and you’ll see. It’s appalling, and not only am I appalled, but I’ve gotten very cynical.

      • yearstricken says:

        Many of the people who fail or barely graduate from high school end up at the technical college. These schools usually have excellent programs, provide remedial classes, and train people for jobs that actually exist. My college has something over 90% employment rate for graduates. Many of our students require remedial classes. Just as you said, Steve, some cannot write a complete sentence; something any sixth grader should be proficient at. Instead of letting these students languish in traditional high schools, we should have technical high schools where students learn marketable skills the last two years, so when they graduate they can find work. We don’t seem to have a problem having technical colleges; why should we have a problem having technical high schools? I’m all for the European model as long as students have the option of changing tracks. Going to university is great, if you can afford it, if you enjoy the academic focus, and if you can handle it.

  12. afrankangle says:

    Very realistic view of the classroom that teachers see and deal with each day. A teacher’s list of things to do is endless – no matter if it from one’s on job description, a student’s responsibility, a parent’s responsibility, a state mandate, an administrator’s desire, or just good ole CYA.

  13. sameskiesabove says:

    I know many teachers and marvel at how much is expected from them. Most people I know have had a mix of great and awful teachers throughout their school years, but the wonderful ones make such a difference for the children they teach.

  14. Donna says:

    Lots of comments on your post. I wonder how many are teachers or former teachers.

    Teaching is an art and the most difficult job I can imagine. It takes years to master. I am mentoring a former lawyer turned teacher who is swamped with the responsibility and nightly work.. Imagine that! No secretary to keep you organized. No colleagues to help with research. Few, except the diehards understand.

    Thank you for the vivid picture of life as an educator in America.

  15. I, too, was one of those teachers who finally had enough and left. I willingly gave 20 years to teaching, and loved most of those years, but the time came when I wanted my life back. Like you, I went in to teaching wanting to change minds and better the world. I like to think I made a difference, despite what politicians may say about the current state of education. It is interesting to read the comments from the U.K. readers stating that their politicians are saying the same things about education as ours are over here. Even though the problems are horribly complex and not easily solved, it is sad when teachers are made the scapegoats for everything wrong. Thanks for reminding us that they should be valued.

  16. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 120 « A Frank Angle

  17. Wow. This summed up how I felt as a classroom teaching in New York. I was one of the casualties. I left after 5 years as a classroom teacher in the South Bronx. I went back to corporate America for a few years. Now I am back in the classroom but in Asia. There are challenges here too, but different sorts of challenges. Looking forward to making connections with other passionate educators. – John Chew

  18. jeffeverhart says:

    This was a very accurate portrayal of the often overwhelming cacophony that faces the American educator. People so often think that a student’s performance is directly within our control,but you do a good job of highlighting the many SES factors that impact the lives of many underperforming students. I do, however, think that you address an interesting problem facing the education system that is often overlooked: teacher attrition.

  19. Pingback: Teachers Are Lazy, Hard-Working, Stupid, Brilliant, Indifferent, Caring, Rich, Poor, Should Probably Be Fired and Also Given a Raise… | CamanoCommunity

  20. Coming East says:

    Excellent view of today’s classroom. Great post.

  21. barbaraelka says:

    This is a well written piece…I also want to point out that education begins at home… Generations of parents are too quick to damp responsibility of learning on schools. They are in denial. It takes two to tango.

  22. Marilyn Dryden says:

    Bravo! You must have been watching when I quit the profession after decades and went into business. Thanks for summing it all up so elegantly.

  23. pursuingthemuse says:

    I’ve been away from your blog (and my native Texas) for too long! Thank you for writing the most eloquent treatment of the challenges in education I have ever seen. Every parent, every taxpayer, every politician, every person who touches our educational system needs to read it. I am sharing the link right away!

  24. Dawn says:

    I have been teaching for eight years, but I can’t imagine sticking with it 20 more years until I can retire. Though I have great passion and love for what I do and the kids whose lives touch mine each year, the workload continues to grow each year, to the point that there isn’t a healthy balance between work and home life. In my opinion, the best teachers at my school have the heaviest workloads. They are team leaders, committee chairs, instructional coaches, and mentors, all while having the same expectations in their classrooms and earning the same pay.

    I don’t have a solution for the problems in education, but if they aren’t fixed soon, our nation is in trouble.

  25. Pingback: Teachers Are Lazy, Hard-Working, Stupid, Brilliant, Indifferent, Caring, Rich, Poor, Should Probably Be Fired and Also Given a Raise… (Where Did All the Teachers Go?) | A College Senior's Reflections

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