Something scary has been happening during the last ten years or so as we teachers have been dutifully working hard to nurture, encourage and educate our students: Schools have slowly merged into businesses. Why did most of us choose education as a major in college while many of our friends went the business route? It was not for the money, which may have been a source of contention with others who called us crazy for not choosing a more lucrative career field. It was certainly not for the Christmas bonuses nor the expensive business trips. No. It was for the chance to work with kids, it was for the chance to be creative and to develop lesson plans, it was for the chance to see struggling students find some success and to learn new ideas, it was for the chance to work in a profession in which you have the sacred opportunity to help change someone’s life. I knew going into this that there would be many lean years and I’ve never been bitter about the fact that twenty years later, I am only now making as much as some of the business majors made upon graduation. We all make our choices and I love my job; to me, that is worth it.
What I am a little bitter about is the fact that now businesses, politicians and others are swooping into our schools like the proverbial superheroes to fix all that ails us. They are donning their capes and opening charter schools and touting the benefits of online schools, they are creating standardized tests with the help of big-business publishing companies which do not truly reflect a student’s ability and knowledge and they are begrudging teachers our benefits and unions. I do not want to get into a huge political debate – that is not my intent here. But I do want to point out the fact that I’ve always been bothered by those who are not educators claiming to have the knowledge of educators simply because they, too, went through the public school system. Really? I’ve been to a hospital many times, but never would I claim to have the wisdom to run a hospital. I’ve visited Washington, D.C., but because of my time spent there, would I have the expertise to take over the capital, or for that matter, the country? Of course not. I respect what others do as well as respect the time and schooling which went into their working at that particular job. I personally have no desire to cut people open for surgery, but you can be sure that I am so happy there are people who have the expertise and the know-how to do just that! I would never want to run our country, but am grateful that Mr. Obama is willing to do so. My point: Educators are trained professionals as well and should be treated as such.
However, there is another and perhaps, more important, entity at stake with the intrusion of business and politicians and that would be the students. The following video called “Kids for Sale” prompted my writing about this. It was eye-opening for me and made me think about the ramifications to students, to teachers, to administrators and to parents if education continues in this direction. I feel for these students and as a parent myself, I have witnessed the stresses these kids experience under the stifling weight of testing. My youngest daughter spent weeks this past school year studying for the OAA’s (which I do not even know what that stands for nor do I care). She would come home from school and spend countless hours filling out packets of worksheets to help her prepare for the upcoming tests and as I read the many notes from her teachers about the tests, I could read between the lines and feel the pressure being put upon them. These test scores were not only an assessment of the students, but of them as teachers. These scores would be calculated into their Value-Added score and would by some mathematical formula magically compute their value as a teacher and to the district. Really? How about the fact that my daughter’s teacher allowed some of the quieter students to eat in her room at lunch to avoid the chaos of the cafeteria because she knew how frightening that can be to some students? Was her empathetic nature put into her Value-Added score? How about the fact that my daughter’s teacher allowed her complete freedom in creating book projects to nurture her creative side? Was that in the magic formula? No. But those test scores were and I really feel for her and the pressure she is under as an educator.
My daughter did not pass the math section of these mysterious OAA’s. And truthfully, the only reason I cared was because of the reflection on her teacher in her Value-Added score. I know my daughter struggles in math; she will always have to work harder than most in learning math concepts, but she is a proficient reader and passed that section with flying colors. My husband and I haven’t even told her yet about the score and we are not sure if we will since it will only serve to make her feel badly. But one bad test score does not a poor student make. My daughter is creative, imaginative and loves to write stories and make up plays with her friends. This is what I want to see nurtured in her as a student, not her ability to take standardized tests; creativity and strong language skills are what will serve her well in her career and life. Dear Big Business, when interviewing prospective employees, have you ever asked them how well they did on their math section on the OAA’s? I think not. Please remember that as you line your pockets with taxpayer dollars as you “fix” our ailing schools.