Thoughts From a Loser Teacher

Well, it’s official. I’m a loser. Have been since the age of 24 when I got my first teaching job. Probably longer since I was raised by a loser teacher and knew that’s what I wanted to do before I entered college. Damn. This is according to Donald Trump Jr. anyway.

I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t

Donald Trump Jr. 2/17/20 El Paso Texas

I should clarify that his opinion of me doesn’t really matter to me. But it does continue to worry me that the primary crowd motivator that the Trump campaign uses is to prop itself up by putting others down. It’s such classic strategy of a bully with low self-esteem. And yet, it is working. It is destroying us as a country.

Do I need to counter the tired criticism of “summers off” and “working 8 am to 3 pm?” Most teachers work other jobs or use summer to continue their own education and complete required professional development to keep their license current–professional development not funded by the employer requiring that professional development. Teachers in most schools spend seven hours of their day conducting instruction of a class. The time to plan that instruction, attend meetings, grade student work, communicate with parents, consult with colleagues, etc. takes considerably more time than the remaining hour. Teachers in Scandinavian countries spend about half the time conducting instruction, leaving much more time for planning and professional development. Just saying. Teaching in the U.S. is routinely a ten-hour a day (minimum) profession if done properly, not counting coaching or leading an after school extra-curricular activity. Losers.

I think what DJT Jr. is really troubled by is his perception of “indoctrination.” I suppose there is some truth to this since beginning in kindergarten we teach children to share with, and care for one another as fellow humans. And as they mature and develop more ability for abstract thought we attempt to teach them the complexities of history, the scientific method and analyzing properly collected data and conclusions, and in general, critical thinking skills. Fucking socialists.

Years ago, during the Newt Gingrich-led contract for America days, there was a push by conservatives to take over school boards and address the liberal agenda in the curriculum (primarily the teaching of evolution by natural selection). This occurred in the small town where I was a young teacher. I was appalled when one of these new board members described what he thought a teacher did (and why they were over-paid and over-appreciated). Paraphrasing as best I can he said, “All they need to do is open up the book and tell the kids what assignment to do according to the script they have to follow.” I was working way too hard apparently.

Trouble is, the accountability movement of the last 30 years has led some school districts to adopt such a scripted curriculum. Scripted lessons that are completely homogenized and one-size fits all, that can be read by an automaton to the students and then assessed with an objective, standardized test.

Unfortunately, everything we know about how the human brain works, how children learn in social settings, and how complex information and skills are committed to permanent, long-term memory tells us what we are doing is completely wrong. Ironically, while teachers are expected to get all 30+ students/class to the same point by the same date in time, they are also required to complete professional development on how to individualize the instruction for the 30+ different learners with different backgrounds and abilities. This is of course a monumental task and paradox.

It is emotionally exhausting to care for that many dependent individuals (up to 150+ for secondary teachers) day after day for months at a time. Without some extended breaks to change up what we do, either summers or extended breaks in year-round school, the burnout rate of teachers would be much higher than it is now. Currently, about 50% of teachers leave the profession during the first five years.

I was recently observing a small progressive school complete professional development discussions about utilizing thematic, project-based learning. We know that having students learn subjects integrated together and doing so through inquiry and then assessing using projects and other “performance” assessments is much more effective than didactic delivery of information and testing memorization of facts. This kind of teaching is nearly impossible to do in almost all public school settings because class sizes are too large.

Let’s do the math. If I have 30 students/class and each student completes a unique writing assignment, project, presentation, etc. as their means of demonstrating not only knowing the facts but also then application to a problem to be solved this takes considerably more time to 1) plan for, 2) conduct with the students, and 3) provide meaningful feedback and assessment. Let’s assume that each student’s completed work requires ten minutes to review and provide feedback. That’s working quickly. That means it would take the teacher 25 hours to complete that feedback. This is during time other than the seven hours working directly with his or her classes, planning the instruction, attending meetings, etc. The math doesn’t work.

There really is a simple solution. If we did these three things I believe we’d see changes in education “like no one’s ever seen before.” Oops, slipped into Trump hyperbole there.
1. Pass legislation that class size cannot exceed 20 students–and then fund it.
2. Keep the standards, but eliminate the standardized testing that is driving current instruction back to turn of the 20th century drill and practice memorization. Allow schools to conduct their own assessment, individualized for students and the setting and then report on the progress of students.
3. And then expect schools to expand instruction to curriculum that integrates subjects, utilizes hands-on, real-world, experiential learning, and assesses with more complex writing, projects, and performance assessments. This is how us loser teacher educators are training those loser teachers, but most don’t end up in a place where the logistics allow for this kind of instruction and assessment. Those that cannot do this need ot be trained or ushered on to a new profession.

Yes, this would be expensive. We are currently spending $750 billion a year on military. It’s just a matter of priorities.

I don’t think that’s actually what the current power- and wealth-holders want out of education. In order to keep working-class wages at a minimum they need to keep education designed in the factory model to train the working class to play their part. And part of doing this is to stoke anger and fear towards one another and the “others” so that anger and fear doesn’t turn on them. The GOP beginning with Reagan has been very successful with this strategy. But in the end it is not sustainable. Those voting out of anger for Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) due to frustration with being stuck generationally as working poor will eventually turn on the power- and wealth-holders when things don’t get better (and most likely get worse) for them. You think it’s ugly now. Just wait until those in charge have to resort to direct, violent oppression quell the rising anger and keep the labor class in line.

But, what do I know. I’m just a loser teacher.

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