Heather Wolpert-Gawron

I’m Confused. What Am I Fighting For? Who Am I Supposed to Be Fighting?

By on July 3, 2013

I find myself confused about my profession and, as a result, confused about my path within it. I entered teaching with a feeling of pride about my purpose, feeling the system was working with me to help prepare students for their future. But it seems now that, like the Roman Empire, education as I grew to love it, is set to collapse. And frankly, I haven’t decided whether this is a good or bad thing. Perhaps a little of both, and that is what becomes so confusing. I don’t know which side to root for and which side to take.

I say education is like the Roman Empire because due to a number of reasons:

1. There is infighting. The teachers find themselves on different sides of the fence from their own colleagues. They can?t seem to agree on some of the key points of what makes a good teacher and how they want our profession to evolve. The Badass Teachers Association is a good example of this. Legitimate barking, venting, and railing are happening alongside condemning, arguing, and blaming. When those voices turn in on each other, when quality of debate is sacrificed in order to be the loudest yell, that’s when a legitimate cause collapses.

2. There are those attacking from the outside. Many businesses and politicians clearly have other agendas when peering over education’s walls. Now, I’m not whole-heartedly against some of their reforms, but I do question some of the intentions of those who seem so interested in education’s great, next chapter. That doesn’t help make their involvement palatable. I don’t have a problem taking the advice coming from some folks outside education, but clearly not everyone at the table, or making the buck, has our students’ learning (or this country’s future) at heart.

3. Our currency has fallen. We must acknowledge that those in our profession must be differentiated. In teaching, our street cred, our clout, and our expertise are no longer respected. Some of that is due to a targeted attack on that which we hold so dear. However, some of that is our fault as teachers and as union members. Teachers deserve to be differentiated; yet we have fought fiercely for our own standardization. We deserve to be paid fairly, but that doesn’t mean everyone is paid the same. And we deserve to be let go when mediocrity is not enough. Until we as a profession, fight to develop a system that promotes our finest and differentiates between teachers who are learning and those who will not learn, our value will continue to plummet. The fact is, that our current system makes for an easy target. In this economy, with no many out of work and struggling, our protections must be earned more than ever before. On the other hand, our expertise should not come this cheap. Our unions fight for contract and not quality. We are paid less than a babysitter, yet are given the tasks of professor, role model, doctor, counselor, nutritionist, emergency responder, and many times, a parent. By fighting to standardize ourselves, we succeeded in setting our bar far lower than we deserve. We have a protection not many others have, sure, but what was once necessary is now working against us. Standardization always devalues the product.

So frankly, I’m confused. I’m not all-or-nothing. I’m not anti-all-of-this and pro-all-of-that. Yet it seems that if you jump into a group, a discussion, or a forum, you had better have an elevator speech supporting which side you are on. Well, I can’t.

In terms of teacher quality: I believe very strongly that teachers come in many different levels, and I think our union could shift some focus to represent quality over contract, and play a part in helping to develop a new professional contract that promotes both. On the other hand, I am grateful for my current union’s existence, and its protection as I continue to improve. I also appreciate the protection it affords us all that allows me to be honest and straightforward in my assessments and evaluations of students. Additionally, we need to develop a means to evaluate teachers; and it can’t come from test scores. There are too many outside variables that affect these scores that have nothing to do with the dedication or talent of the teacher being evaluated. However, we cannot continue to fight some level of subjectivity in our evaluation process. We leave admin and policy-makers no choice but to use test scores if we don’t allow them some modicum of opinion.

In terms of testing: I am not anti-testing. I think there’s a need to understand the levels of students and to require certain basic information to be taught across the country, not just at the state level. On the other hand, the current tests stink. Really, truly stink. Sure, they are being changed. But the future is uncertain under the Common Core, and I don’t know yet if it will be that different, even while I am hopeful about the quality of content. Nevertheless, Testing is necessary, I think. Over testing, however, has killed and is killing kids. I don’t get it. We can see the damage it is doing, yet aren’t paving another road leading to another future. It could be that not all stakeholders share the same goals. The bottom line to me, however, is that testing as teaching is killing this country. We have lost multiple generations of learners and workers in this over-tested environment, and we don’t seem to be on a road to reclaim it.

In terms of stakeholders and decision-making: Teachers need to have a say in policy. But teachers also need to understand that a failing system, regardless of the reason behind the failure, must be overhauled, and teachers are a part of the system. Poverty, the most important reason for education’s failure, isn’t being addressed as a cause. I agree. But that doesn’t mean that teachers also don’t need to step up their game. On the other hand, other stakeholders need to step theirs up too or there’s no game at all. Poor intentions will not translate to achievement, and society must develop some suspicion about every eager helper in this debate. If schools are truly failing, then it’s indicative of trends in society, in the economy, in parenting, and in the political/business bedfellows more than in any other reason. However, if teachers can’t take ownership themselves in how we’ve contributed to this current state of affairs, then we have no business teaching about reflection and life long learning.

Many teachers aren’t admitting our own role in education’s struggles because it scares us. It scares us to death that we will make admissions about the needed changes in our profession, while other stakeholders, ones who frankly have more influence than we do, will back away and leave us standing to take all the blame.

It is our fear that keeps us fighting as a profession. It is our fear that keeps us from moving forward in our own development as professionals. And I have deep concern that it is fear that will, finally, aid our adversaries in our own collapse.




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