All Students Can Learn and All Teachers Get Bashed

One of my favorite things I learned in a workshop given by Bea McGarvey was when she asked us, “How many of you believe that all children can learn?” We all put our hands up. Of course we did. In a room full of teachers, if you don’t put your hand up affirmatively to answer that question then you’re scum. And for good reason. See, if you don’t believe that all students can learn then you shouldn’t be a teacher. It’s true.

But, but, what about the, um, well, you know, the kids that are a little slow on the uptake. Maybe special ed kids, maybe they have a disability or something. Can they learn?

Yes. They can. All students can learn. But, we they learn at different rates and different ways. What this means is that we aren’t all the same. And, as teachers, we need to remember this. The problem is that we don’t always. For example, we tend to expect that students will learn best the way we used to learn and using our learning modality. I like to read so I tended to assume that students will learn best by reading things. I also like to work alone so I tended not to put students in groups. I learned differently, though. I learned to use audial, visual, and kinesthetic modes of learning, sometimes all at once. I realized that all students learn differently.

We know that kids learn at different rates, too. We know that Johnny didn’t start talking right away, but his brother was babbling as soon as he hit five months and started using words by 9 months, sentences at a year. Is Johnny stupid? No, he just took a little longer. Turns out, years later, that Johnny is very methodical and analytical. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does it’s pretty good. His brother rarely shuts up, but he’s highly creative. Both are good at different things.

So, these are very well established facts. Practically every teacher will tell you that these things are true. Bea pointed these things out to us near the beginning of our workshop and I was kind of stunned to realize how simple and true it was.

So, why do we go an ignore all of that when we design schools and testing? See, first, we put kids in grades based on their ages. All five year olds go to Kindergarten, six year olds in first grade and so on. We don’t check to see how quickly they are learning various skills. We just check to see that they have met a baseline and then move them on. Sure, some kids might get held back a grade, or even two in some extreme cases. But, mostly, kids move from grade to grade year after year.

High school is even worse because we don’t even hold them back anymore. Flunk a class and you just don’t get the credits toward graduation. But, all 9th graders are expected to learn the standards. All of them have to learn, say, how to write a three part essay in a personal narrative style or how to analyze various characters in a novel. The should be able to identify setting and the kind of narrator being used in a passage.

What happened to learning in different ways and, more importantly, at different rates?

Then, we mandate testing. We say that by a specific date, all 9th graders have had the chance to learn these given standards and we are going to test them. Then, we are going to take those test results and crunch the data to see which teachers are good.

Do you see how this is an awful idea? We are going to completely ignore that kids learn different things in different ways at different times and we will say that any students that aren’t learning in that teacher’s class are an indication that the teacher is bad. Now, I know the theory is that you can look to track that kid over time and then look at kids in that teacher’s class over time. The idea is that you can see which teachers are making kids better and which ones are making them worse.

It’s not an awful idea, but the problem is that it isn’t that clear cut. You can’t just look at that data only and pass that judgement. You need to get in the classroom and see what’s happening to see the whole story. And that’s why it’s ridiculous that the LA Times then goes and publishes the scores of teachers using their Value Added Scores.

Look, I’m no fan of poor teachers. But, I just think that teaching is too difficult a job to then reduce it to some scores in a newspaper.

To me, this is just teacher bashing taking to another level by using some data to back it up.

When did it become so popular to bash teachers? I must have missed the memo when I was busy teaching, but it seems like all of a sudden in the last two years it has become all the rage to hammer teachers relentlessly. Well, the value added theory at least uses some data to say that not all teachers are bad, just some of them. But, lately, I keep hearing how teachers are lazy, how they’re overpaid, they have “Cadillac benefits” and work part time hours.

One of my thirty-eight readers pointed out that I haven’t blogged since Saturday. My excuse is that I am burnt the hell out right now. I’m whooped. It’s April, we have about eight weeks to go. I was in charge of the Powderpuff football game and acted as the announcer during the game. For an introvert like me, being an announcer for almost two hours, ad-libbing humor, is exhausting. So, getting ready for the game was tough. Doing the game was tough. And, now we have Prom this week. I’ve been doing the elections for court, planning the dance, and so on. We have the California Standardized Tests coming up in two weeks. I’m in charge of testing awareness and publicity. We have to plan the CST pep rally. And, then, about four weeks after that, graduation, the biggest of the big events of the year. I’m in charge of that two. I have been working since January to raise $13,000 to pay for graduation.

I’m tired. I wish to God that I worked part time. I would love me some part time hours these days. In fact, there are few teachers who start work at 7 a.m. and end it at 2:17 p.m. when the last period lets out. What the…? Um, since the students have left, does this mean I don’t have to work any more? I don’t have to lesson plan? I don’t have to grade any homework? I don’t have to straighten the desks and pick up some trash? I don’t have to put up some new student work and take down the old student work I was displaying? I don’t have to prepare the next day’s “bell work”? I don’t have to make any calls home?

Awesome!!! I love teaching now! It really is easy! /sarcasm (That’s a nerd joke, if you don’t get it. It means I’m turning off my “sarcasm mode.”)

I love the bit about how teachers only work part of the year. Yes, we only work ten months. But, and here’s the part that is gonna blow your mind, we only get paid ten months of the year, too.

Shocker! But, it’s true! We get paid for the time we work, only! Can you believe that? So, those summer months where I’m kicking it on the beach, a cool, frosty, tropically flavored drink resting close at hand, I’m also not getting paid for them. Last time I checked, most full-time professionals get “paid vacations.” Can you tell me about this idea of “paid vacations?” I’m pretty interested in this idea of getting paid for not being at work.

My favorite criticism of teachers lately though is the idea that while we get paid, say, $55K a year, our $30K benefits program really makes it more like $80K a year. Okay, I would be willing to go with that method of calculating my yearly pay if…

IF

… if we all calculated our salaries that way. But, nobody does that. I don’t know anyone who looks at their tax return and says, “Well, yeah, it says here that I make $75K a year, bro, but you have to remember that I have a $25K benefits program so that’s six figures, baby!” Oddly, the federal government does’t take our benefits into account when calculating our tax rate. So, I’m wondering why the teacher-haters get to do it when suggesting we really make more than we do.

Know why we get such good benefits? It’s because we all have college degrees with post-graduate education to get a credential that qualifies us to teach. Further than that, we are required to continue our professional development by going to workshops and conferences to stay current on the latest teaching theories and techniques. Many of us have masters and doctorate degrees. The only other professions that require these levels of basic and continuing education are ones like lawyers, doctors, and so on. I’m not good at math but I think lawyers and doctors make more money than public school teachers.

So, there you go. I hope this post made up for my taking Monday off. I’m not always going to blog on the weekends. And, sometimes the posts might be short. I will make an effort to keep a regular schedule. At least one of you is reading every day and enjoying her coffee over the blog. That’s kind of a lot of pressure, suddenly. But, I am honored by the interest and want to make good on it. But, sometimes, this job gets to me and I’m tired. It’s not my fault, I’m a lazy teacher.

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5 thoughts on “All Students Can Learn and All Teachers Get Bashed”

  1. I know it's a long post. Thanks for reading as much as you did. I'm thinking of doing an section for each post called TL;DR for those who don't want to read the whole thing. Anyway, glad you enjoyed what you did.

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  2. The reason everyone bashes teachers is rooted in narcissism. They think “Hey, it worked for me. I'm a well-educated person, and I turned out OK.”

    Well, there are a couple things wrong with that. One, so many less people are OK that think they are. Ted Bundy thought he was OK. Two, the fact that one third of the population believes the president was born out of the United States because they keep hearing it on the radio with NO PROOF AT ALL proves that no, you, sir or madam, are NOT a well-educated person. You, person who thinks they can bash teachers as a whole, are a dumb-ass and a fool and one who simplifies things so much that clearly the education system didn't work for you, as you are unable to do any higher-level critical thinking than a 9-year-old.

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  3. And Glenn, I'm burned out, too. I took over for a 6th grade class in January that was already behind, and they've fallen further back. And we haven't even had our Spring Break yet. That's 10 days away.

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  4. Hi Greg! Good to hear from you. It really has been a hard year to be a teacher. I'm not burnt out on teaching, i'm just burnt out on these couple of weeks LOL! That sounds like a very tough situation with that 6th grade class. It's amazing how many awful situations we just get handed sometimes. Hang in there, brother!

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