I am annoyed. More than a little, too. I am tired of people accusing the wrong group of people for the ills of the public school students. On an almost daily basis (on message boards, with parents, with general people) I find myself explaining again and again how little control the school have over anything anymore. The principal has very little to do with these decisions you despise. The teachers have even less to do with it. Hell, I'm lucky they still let me do anything. Pretty soon they'll start handing me lesson plans (and everybody else) and saying here it is, now teach this. I can hear you out there too. You're laughing because you think I'm kidding. I'm NOT.
What are these battles about you ask? Here are some examples: A mother is angry because hse gets a form letter from the principal of her child's school informing her that a vacation is not an excused absence, parents asking me if we HAVE to fill out the required paperwork because their chid is not meeting a standard at this point in the year, people talking about how all teachers think learning only happens in a classroom, people complaining that their child has to much homework, people complaining that their child doesn't know basic skills like multiplication... the list goes on. Do you know what all of these things come back to? It's not the teachers or in most cases even the principals. We have standards that we need to meet and those standards come from the state and federal government (you know, No Child Left Behind?). Everything we do goes back to trying to meet those standards and pass the tests that the powers that be set down for us.
We don't get a say in what the test says. In most cases we can't even SEE the test EVER. We don't get a say in what the kids learn, or how fast they learn it. We are required to cover a set amount of material in a set amount of time. If the kids don't get it, I'm sorry but we have to move on. The name of the game is exposure. Why do you think we have elementary school teachers trying to instill the concepts of algebra instead of multiplication tables. They don't test the multiplication tables. They test the algebra. If your school wants money, if you want to keep your job, those test scores better sparkle. If the kids don't actually learn anything, well, we're sorry but that no longer seems to be the point of education.
Are these exceptioanlly gifted teachers out there who can do all of this? I'm sure there are. There's a Bill Gates in every profession. Does that mean that we can all do it? And does that gifted teacher really follow the rules? If you've ever seen Dangerous Minds (the movie) then you've seen one of the examples of an exceptionally gifted and dedicated teacher. Did you know that she doesn't actually teach the curriculum for her given grade level in her classroom? That's right - if her state decided to start testing her students on that curriculum they might not pass. Did they learn? I'm sure they learn a lot from her. The state wouldn't agree though. Problem is, most of us don't have that kind of leeway. Could I take the science curriculum and teach it in a radically different way? You bet I could, but I wouldn't be able to cover all the topics that the kids are tested on and my ass would be in BIG trouble. With a whole lot of people, including my colleagues who wouldn't get a bonus check for meeting the standards the state set for us.
So, here's the point of my rant. If you're reading this and you're unhappy with something your school has done in the form of instruction, form letters or general other things then please gripe to somebody who can DO something about it. That person would be a congressman or senator for your state or your state's education department. Talk to them. They make the bloody rules. Not me.