The Problem with Education

I’ve been out of the loop this week because I had to make an impromptu visit to Dallas for a funeral. It was interesting to return home and check my usual websites and listen to my regular radio station and people were squawking about Education in America. I find it interesting that the people who make the most negative claims about education are normally those who have been out of the loop or have never even been in a classroom have the most to say.

They are right, public education for the most part sucks. It is not preparing the type of future generations that this nation or world needs. Here is what I see as the “problem” with education.


There are some bad teachers in our schools. Heck, I know we have at least one confirmed bad teacher at our school. No, it’s not one that the administrators claim to be bad, but one that the kids have said is bad. Why do I listen to the kids? Because these kids have come to me to say, “Ms. we’re not learning anything in Mrs. X’s class. We have been reviewing the state mandated exam for a week now and we’ve been on the same question the whole time.” This same teacher refuses to adhere to our campus literacy plan, and she is a reading teacher. Also, she has awful classroom management. I’ve had to sub for her class and have witnessed it first hand—the lack of procedures, no “go to activity” when kids are done with work. Next year, she will still be around because she brown noses enough so that they find a way to keep her.

Then there are those who are there for the easy hours. And they truly are easy for them because as soon as their duty time is over, they are gone. Heck some of them are racing the kids to the parking lot. These teachers are kept around because their kids do fairly well on state mandated exams. And they should do well, this teacher’s lesson plans include a fair amount of test practice since it’s readily available material.

Lastly, teachers don’t use their voice outside the classroom. In our classrooms, we are the dictators. We create our own little worlds where we are the sole leaders and all must do as we say. But outside of that, we are followers. We allow those who are not aware of the ins and outs of our jobs to tell us what we need and should do. Those that do use their voice end up reprimanded or fired.

State Mandated Exams

I’m not against them. I think there should be some sort of exam that holds me accountable so that I don’t wake up one day and decide, I’d rather teach art than Language Arts. Plus, I want my kids to know how much they have learned. I want them to get their score back and know that they are capable. 

However, I don’t want my entire life dictated by these exams. When preparation for these exams takes precedence over real learning there is a huge problem. Now some people may think, “Isn’t that the whole purpose? Shouldn’t you have to teach a certain amount of standards and then kids be tested on it to make sure you’ve taught what you need to teach?”

Yes, of course. But herein lies the problem, we are not just teaching a few standards, we are teaching load of standards. Currently, our English Language Arts Standards repeat each year. It would be impossible to teach any of those things in depth. That’s not going to help our cause. If I teach say roots and affixes at a superficial depth, do you think kids are going to remember next September? Some may, but most don’t. So next year’s teacher feels like they need to start all over again because “no one has taught these kids anything,” and when it’s all said and done, that teacher is only able to teach the same concept superficially because the kids didn’t learn it the first time. This happens year after year until the get to high school or college and the student realizes they really don’t know anything.

Sometimes the answer isn’t to add more to your plate, but to take some off. That’s what needs to happen here. This would change the way we teach. We may have to say goodbye to some of our favorite lessons, but maybe true learning will occur then—the kind that forces/allows kids to acquire knowledge.

Parent Involvement

Lastly, there is parent involvement in the higher grade. I can’t tell you the number of times I have called parents to discuss a student only to be hung up on or the phone has not been answered. I’ve sat in on numerous parent conferences knowing that everything I was saying or suggesting was going in one ear and out the other. 

This week, I spent a few days with a second grader whose homework was to read 20 minutes and study math facts for 10. By the time 9 PM rolled around, she had done neither. Even if she had wanted to read, there weren’t any books around. It made me think of my students. Their parents are probably the same. 

It is the job of parents and teachers to educate children. If a kid’s home life doesn’t value education, guess what the kid will do.

If anyone is going to truly do anything about education, they are going to have to read the research, employ some of the good theories out there, form a council of real teachers that are still in the classroom, and most importantly, not be so quick to judge. Good teachers bust their butts every day fighting an army of giants while answering 30 e-mails, grading papers, attending meetings, serving on committees, and delivering rock star performances to their students. 


Chanclita Divina said...

i'm glad you vented about this. i appreciate hearing your teacher insight. you are the kind of teacher your students need.

La Brown Girl said...

Thanks Chanclita. Sometimes, I feel like an utter failure for days or weeks, and then, I get that one kid who makes it all disappear when they have a break through.

Joel said...

this is a really good topic, and one that you obviously can speak from firsthand knowledge. I on the other hand, can only provide uninformed rambling and observations...

One thing that I've noticed about most (but not all) of the teachers or aspiring teachers that I've known is that they all say they want to do it for the right reasons... they want to shape the lives of their students, make a difference in their communities, etc.

but then they're all trying to get teaching jobs out in suburbs or rich areas where the schools are better and the pay is good... this never made sense to me. if your goal was really to help kids, why not go where the kids really need the help?

who needs the really dedicated, talented teachers more, some kid in the suburbs with a good family, or some inner-city kid being raised by his grandmother?

I think that type of teacher, the one who seeks the most comfortable jobs, is probably the same ones you're talking about when you say they're racing the kids to the parking lot to get home.

also, this is more of a question than a comment... when I was in school, I always had an issue with teachers saying I didn't give my full effort or wasn't fulfilling my potential... but in reality, I retained the lessons and information better than anyone in class. So I never saw the point in doing repetitive homework and class work if I had already grasped the concept. I remember being in the 6th grade and looking around and thinking, "half these kids are going to get A's and B's, but because I didn't do my homework I'll get a C, but a year from now, none of them will remember what we talked about and I will." It frustrated the hell out of me... So anyway, my question is: why do we put so much emphasis on repetitive tasks, and busy work, when what should really matter (IMO) is whether or not you "got" the concept?

La Brown Girl said...

They either want to work there or be high school AP teachers.

I work at a Title 1 school. The majority in our school is Latino. Our principal will be quick to tell you, if you so as much hint, "we have 65% free or reduced lunch." Once she said this during open house and we all thought it was dumb because the parents obviously know.

Anyway, I love working with "those types" of kids because I was one of them. I get them. But not everyone does and we have a lot of teachers at our school that don't. I think currently, we have 5 Latino faculty members. All the other Latinos that work in our school clean, cook, or are some kind of aid.

We have one person that said, "I never wanted to teach minorities." I'm glad I wasn't around or I would have told her to get the hell out. She's one of the ones that races the kids to the parking lot. Recently she got busted, but that won't stop her.

I absolutely thing the most important thing is for students to get it. The only answer that I can give you is either your teachers were lazy or didn't know better.

I hardly ever grade papers. Most of my students grades come from participation, group projects, occasional quizzes, and their novel projects. When I want my kids to learn something, I introduce and babble about instructions for 10-15 minutes and then I let them loose. I almost always design some kind of project for them. Most recently, we studied the world of William Shakespeare. They had the option of preparing a Talk/Quiz Show, Baseball Cards, Tour Guide, or a Poster. Their grade came from their presentation and what I saw as they worked. They did turn in any notes, scripts, etc.

The couple days that the worked were down town for me because I wasn't presenting anything, but I cruised around the class all day. A lot of teachers like to use the working time to catch up on grades or what have you. But the time that those kids are in my class is their time, and I need to give it to them. My work at the computer (e-mails, grades, etc.) builds up, but I won't know if they got it if I just sit down at my desk.

My projects take a while to prepare because I usually type up directions, change things up for the kids who are smarter or need more help and sometimes I have to create my own materials. But seeing the kids enjoy themselves and learn is what gives me my high.

I'm anxious to see how my kids do on the exams. I was told earlier this year that all these theory based craziness is not what "these kids need."

Michelle Cantu Wilson said...