Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

Hooper: Wake up to teachers' laments

On a blustery day best suited for curling up in bed and listening to old school Prince while rain pelted the roof, more than 60 teachers trudged through the storm for a daylong, "Content Literacy Mini Expo."

Did I mention this was a Saturday morning?

Yes, instead of nodding off with Pink Cashmere or If I Was Your Girlfriend playing in the background, they got out of bed and made their way to Memorial Middle School.

Did I mention they volunteered to attend the seminars?

Yes, instead of rolling over and dreaming about pay raises and attentive students, involved parents and serious legislators who actually understand their daily rigors, they showed up to learn how to be better teachers.

Like every teacher, they deserve our praise. But to be honest, mere praise falls short.

They need our advocacy.

It's no longer enough to give them shiny apples and tell them they're great. We have to push superintendent Jeff Eakins, the School Board and, perhaps most importantly, our state representatives to make their lives easier.

The public school system's complexities make change a difficult task. Policymakers, particularly at the state level, hand down edicts without a full grasp of the impact it will have on the daily teaching effort. But we know morale takes a hit every day, and instructors have grown weary.

What kind of changes need to occur? I asked some teacher friends, and the common themes did not surprise.

One idea: less testing. One teacher said the district needs to give fewer tests, and others want the state to curb its seemingly never-ending need for assessments. It's a universal lament among teachers who worry about how testing impacts students.

"It hurts to watch kids think they are stupid because they can't answer questions that most of our own teachers can't answer," a teacher told me.

Another idea: change the teacher evaluation process. Testing and evaluating go hand and hand, but using high-stakes testing results as a measurement remains fraught with shortcomings. One of its most devastating impacts links to the basic challenge of teaching. Teachers worry so much about helping students pass, and so much time is devoted to test preparation that teachers can't teach.

"How about letting learning be more fun like it used to be," one teacher said.

Third idea: make planning time sacred. Too often, factors outside the classroom encroach on the time teachers need to prepare lesson plans.

Fourth, improve morale. Like learning, these changes stand as building blocks, one on top of the other. The morale suffers in part because of the testing, the flawed evaluative process and the time demands.

Yes, students need to behave better and parents need to hold their kids more accountable. But teachers also sense a disconnect from administration and a lack of support. They're not only asked to teach, they're called upon to advise, listen, parent, counsel, coach and police students. We ask the school system to improve every aspect of a student's life, including diet, dress, physical health and mental health.

When teachers run into challenges trying to fulfill this teeming menu of demands, they need to feel comfortable asking for help. They need to know their supervisors and administrators have their back.

"(The district) needs to promote an environment of trust and collaboration that is genuine and begins with the principal," a teacher told me.

I doubt Eakins will find these observations surprising. He held a series of town hall meetings in December with teachers and heard similar laments. But the most important aspect of bringing about change involves letting teachers have a voice in the decisions.

We have to push our leaders to hit the alarm.

We have to wake up to the fact they are under duress, soldiering through a storm.

It's time to stop sleeping in.

That's all I'm saying.

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