Schools have a mystique about them among many parents because teachers accomplish things with children that non-educators can’t fathom or even grasp the degree of their influence on their children. Teachers, some believe, have techniques and skills with which they work wonders on children, much as surgeons work mysterious wonders in an operating room.
In order to maintain the myth and mystique, school boards remain quiet about matters that parents should know about. Teachers, concerned about maintaining their primary source of income, stay mum as well.
Since, legally, teachers function with authority similar to that of parents (teachers act in loco parentae), it makes sense that teachers and parents should be on the same page with respect to the development of the children they grow.
As a parent, grandparent or community-minded citizen, you deserve to know situations and conditions that may exist in schools in your neighborhood.
While the following are generalizations, meaning that there are many exceptions, there will be far more denials and claims of exceptions than real exceptions. These are some harsh truths about education.
- In general, teachers do not work well together, in team teaching situations, for the collective benefit of students. Teachers traditionally have been sole masters or mistresses of their domains. They join together as team players for special events, but most prefer to work independently, with one teacher and one class of students.
Working together in team teaching situations requires teachers to each give up some of their autonomy, and to expose themselves, as professionals, to the scrutiny of their peers. In general, teachers don’t like that. Though they may be confident and competent, they dislike being judged or compared to other teachers by their peers.
Despite the fact that children might benefit from exposure to the strengths of two or more teachers in a team teaching situation, most kids experience both the weaknesses and the strengths of one teacher in one classroom at one time.
Teachers working together to pool their strengths benefits children. A teacher working as the lone adult in classroom makes teachers feel more secure.
- School boards often do not give teachers enough training in new curriculum for the teacher to function competently and confidently. With an already heavy teaching load, teachers find new curriculum for which they are not well prepared added stress. Sometimes new curriculum arrives as a thick book just before a school year begins or even in the middle of a year.
Communities expect teachers to work wonders with the development of children in their charge. School boards expect teachers to become instant experts on curriculum that the boards have not thought out far enough in advance to produce months ahead of time and train their teachers appropriately.
Often, new curriculum is added without removing old curriculum, meaning that teachers must force-feed children at an unsustainable rate for children to learn. This stresses both children and teachers.
- Teachers often receive no new resources or money with which to purchase supplies or resources to support new curriculum. Sometimes new curriculum does not even include places where new resources may be purchased.
Commonly, old curriculum has poor resource support within a school, so teachers may use out of date materials, now-inappropriate stuff available in the school from times past, or they must scour the internet for material to provide for the curriculum needs of their students.
When they must resort to using the internet, legal considerations regarding copyright of material may not be accounted for. To secure material without infringing copyright, teachers may resort to a lecture style–teacher at the front, children listening at their seats–which young children find difficult to follow, meaning that some will miss the core of the lesson.
- School boards assume that teachers who must teach multiple subjects, such as in the lower grades of elementary (grade) school, can be competent and effective with all of them. This doesn’t make sense. It stands to reason that each teacher will have subject weaknesses, such as the inability to carry a tune in music, underdeveloped art skills, a poor understanding of skills needed for physical education or even a lack of understanding of how children learn mathematics. Neither teachers colleges nor curriculum address these deficiencies. Teachers are not taught enough.
School boards and districts make assumptions and presumptions about both teachers and children that simply could not be supported by evidence with real people in the classroom.
- Teachers find discipline uncomfortable because they feel at risk from parents who disagree with whatever methods of punishment or retribution they chose. Traditional forms of punishment such as beating with a strap, standing in a corner facing the wall, shouting abuse or wearing of a dunce cap have no place in today’s schools. Yet neither do bullying, drugs, students abusing teachers or students carrying weapons.
When parents hear how one errant student has been disciplined, they may incorrectly assume that all misbehaving children are treated alike. In practice, methods of discipline vary with the child and with the offence, as they should.
How to manage an errant child creates stress and even fear in some teachers. Panic attacks and hyperventilation among teachers, events unknown to students of the past, show themselves more often in today’s schools. No teacher wants to have to discipline a child. Discipline puts the teacher at greater risk than the student being disciplined.
- Too often, school boards treat children as commodities on a production line, where the success of the teacher depends on the proven progress of the child in matters of intellectual development. What is best for a child (in total) may take lower priority than the child passing certain tests to determine progress against an arbitrary scale on which there may be little agreement among professionals. Quantity, rather than quality, dominates methods of evaluation in many jurisdictions. Final marks may be adjusted according to a scale, rather than being recorded as raw data (actual marks on the tests).
- Many teachers leave the profession within a few years, not because they dislike teaching, but because the stress is too much to bear. Stress breeds fear. For example, some school boards require teachers to administer medications to children with allergies or hyperactivity disorder and the teachers may be held legally liable for any errors that may occur while they also tend to the constant needs of 30 other children. The average teaching career in the United States lasts five years.
- It’s not easier to manage 25 to 35 children in a classroom than two of your own children at home. Teachers don’t wield magic, they use techniques they have been taught or that they have learned through experience. If those techniques are not in line with what children have learned at home, the kids may falter or even fall back in their development. Standards of expectations of children at home may differ from those at school, in which case the children tend to favor the one that enforces less responsibility and costs less work. While children lose in those circumstances, teachers suffer frustration because different children in a classroom choose to work by different standards from each other. Teachers find themselves in a losing struggle to provide a level playing field for all children. Equality, yes, but by what standard?
- Curriculum is set not according to the capacity of each child to learn, but according to how good the topics will look to other adults. Learning styles of children vary greatly, as do the speed at which they learn and the amount of new information and skills they are capable of absorbing in a given period of time. A child who learns slowly or not in a style that is compatible with the teaching style of the teacher, thus garnering low marks on class tests, may gain more knowledge and skills over a long period of time than the “average.” Yet the child may suffer humiliation while in school due to an undiagnosed disability and may endure accusations of laziness.
- One of our basic needs is the need for touch. While touch is very important for people of all ages, it is especially important for the smooth development of children. Through touch, children can feel secure in an ever changing world. By the very nature of schooling, children’s lives change constantly. Touch allows them some comfort to know that they have a solid and dependable adult they can count on, someone who is with them throughout the day.
Parents can provide the soothing and comforting touch that children need while they are at home. Many school boards forbid teachers from touching children, for fear of litigation accusing their teachers of improper touching of children.
For fear of litigation, school boards insist that children fail to receive touch they may need at any given time during fully half of their waking hours. Some children thrive in this insecure environment. Some don’t, especially if they don’t get enough loving touch at home.
These factors each play a role in the dynamics of education in your community. Your children, grandchildren or neighbor’s children may survive and thrive in such a convoluted learning environment, but not all children do. Some can’t cope. In years to come, they become inmates in our prisons, residents in our mental hospitals, patients for a proliferating profession of therapists or gobblers of mood suppressing drugs.
No one denies that our children deserve the best possible education. It’s necessary that schools provide positive and helpful conditions for children who may be at risk of having problems coping with life later, as well as for well-adjusted children.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about real and inexpensive solutions to personal and community problems most people think are inevitable evils of modern society. They aren’t. We just have to look in the right place.
The Writers’ Collective (publisher)