Letters: Class Action
A teacher's frustration with the public school system sparks discussion.
Credit: Mark Wagoner
I find many of the reasons teachers leave the profession resoundingly similar to those that cause school administrators to leave the profession ("School's Out: The Crisis in Teacher Retention," February/March). I have seven new teachers this year in a teaching staff of twenty-one, plus twelve instructional assistants and six additional support staff. How does one administrator support seven new teachers and manage everything else on his or her plate? One of the main reasons I got into administration was to support teachers, and, sadly enough, it's usually one of the last things I manage to get to.
Joyce Lee Yang
Claudia Graziano's soul-baring account took courage to tell. A teacher's effectiveness in the classroom is largely the result of the students who walk through the classroom door. Even super teachers can do only so much. If a teacher gets a classroom of future felons, that teacher is not going to be successful in educating them, and that teacher is not going to be content. In her brief career, Graziano saw the difference between hard-to-teach students and Talmudic scholars.
Claudia Graziano didn't get to experience a career in one of the most rewarding professions out there. My teaching career offered so many daily rewards that they can't be counted. Sure, I griped every Sunday when I looked at the piles of journals and tests to be graded. Sure, I wished I had received more pats on the back from administrators, but hey, that was just the way it was! Inner city, suburbs, middle school -- I did it all. I even became a high school principal! But the best part of my thirty-seven-year career was the twenty-six years I spent in the classroom. Now, as a consultant coaching principals in underperforming schools, I still miss the daily interaction with kids.
There is simply no constituency (and no funding) to support proper staff development and a reasonable induction schedule for new teachers. Districts would have to set a policy for a "half schedule" for newcomers (something taxpayers might object to), or states would have to mandate a lighter schedule for inductees (and everyone would wonder who was going to pay for it).
Mary Ellen Levin
Credit: Mark Wagoner
I can relate to many of the anecdotes about Claudia Graziano's first year in the classroom -- lots of stops at Kinko's, emotional and physical exhaustion, disgust with a broken system, infuriating bureaucratic nonsense and paperwork -- but "School's Out: The Crisis in Teacher Retention" was neither constructive nor insightful. It was simply a list of complaints and excuses. I am not saying our profession, training, and administrative structures don't need dramatic improvement; they do. Public education is in a sad state. However, there is only one good reason to enter this profession: to serve students. Because Graziano left in the middle of the year, her credibility is, in my mind, questionable. Please let teachers who have fulfilled their commitments to students comment on the challenges we face.
Not everyone is meant to be a teacher. Not everyone is meant to be a doctor, a priest, or a Green Beret. I see a number of new teachers who really shouldn't be anywhere near the education of children. I also see teachers who were meant to be in the classroom. I don't mean to sound harsh, but it's probably better, for Claudia Graziano and for kids, that she quit teaching. This profession is both an art and a science -- with the emphasis on art. You really can't learn it from books and classes; it has to be a part of you. I'm sure that she has a more positive impact as a journalist.
The Road Less Taken
I completely agree with your editorial about children learning from structured versus unstructured learning ("Editor's Note," February/March). Kids today have a hugescreen TV, yet no hand lens; computers, but not a simple set of magnets; an elaborate electronic game system, yet no flashlight to take apart and figure out how it works. Important life connections can come from unstructured "Aha!" moments. Parents need to allow time for kids to putter about with simple what-used-to-be-everyday materials.
I have been teaching for seven years, and every year I am inundated with the same words about making the content of what is taught relevant while still fitting the state standards and covering our testing guidelines. I always make sure we cover what is mandatory. I will now also make sure we can continue to enjoy learning and, when possible, follow kids "off the track."
Though "A Textbook Example of What's Wrong with Education" (November/December) was informative and very entertaining (in a perverted sort of way), I found the responses to the article ("Letters," February/March) to be even more enlightening. It appears that almost everyone believes something needs to be done to bring high-quality curriculum to the students, yet there is no real direction to the solution. Presently, teachers are "creating" customized curriculum by taking selected lessons from many textbooks and the Internet. This misses the point: Somebody had to create the lessons in the first place, or, at the very least, host them on the Net. Without the purchase of the "text," the creation of the text will cease. My solution? Work with the publishers! If you see something you do not like, contact them and offer to help. The last thing we need is for teachers to continue to ignore copyright laws and expect others to develop materials from which they can harvest as they see fit.
Kosmo Kalliarekos's letter to the new education secretary ("A Computer on Every Desk: Each Student Can and Must Get Wired," February/March) rests on a number of faulty assumptions. Kalliarekos speaks of the outstanding success of distance learning. However, in many schools and districts where I work, the distance-learning facilities either stand empty or have been dismantled, a testimony to their rather poor results.
He speaks of the many children who have grown up digitally literate and are comfortable with technology. He needs to visit the many, many, many schools where the majority of children come from homes where computer technology does not exist. That may be a good argument for providing more computers, but just providing them will not educate those children.
The author also likes to make international comparisons. He needs to investigate how many of those nations that lead the United States in educational achievement are trying to educate all of their children, rather than just the elite.
I do not defend education in the United States as it exists. There is a great deal wrong with it: bad teachers, lack of parental support, underfunding, overcrowded classrooms, deteriorated and limited facilities, poor use of technology, lockstep programs that fail to understand or link to how children learn, failure to use art and music as teaching tools, efforts to inject religion into science courses, and lots more. The concept of making a computer available to every child is not a terrible one, but it will not solve education's overall problems.
Assigning one computer per student misses the great advantage in peer learning: Students acquire knowledge by interacting with other students.
We did an experiment many years ago at the University of California-Irvine to determine the ideal number of students working together at a computer. Groups of three or four produced the best result.
Furthermore, money can best be spent not on hardware but on producing better learning materials. We are not going to improve science and math education with the software and Internet facilities available today. Rather, we need materials that adapt to the needs of each student.
A decade ago, the science department at Littleton High School, in Littleton, Colorado, abandoned textbooks in creating its two-year Integrated science curriculum. The result has been a richer, more authentic program of study for students. Even more important than moving away from a textbook approach to science was abandoning the canned labs that accompanied them. Our science teachers have embarked on a mission to allow students to design their own investigations focused on common guiding questions. This approach has forced students to think more critically about variables, forming hypotheses and analyzing raw data. It has also required our teachers to stretch themselves and create real studentcentered classrooms. Although they were initially uneasy, they would agree that now our students are much more actively involved in the scientific method.
In "A Computer on Every Desk: Each Student Can and Must Get Wired" (February/March), an editing error in a reference to Margaret Spellings, the U.S. secretary of education, incorrectly implied that she used to be a teacher. We regret any confusion.