Therefore, I cannot comprehend those people who go into public education and then somehow fail to keep that goal as the center of their work. Why be a part of a system that is meant to develop and foster the best in our nation's children if they aren't dedicated to doing what's right for kids? Somewhere along the line, people lose their focus on students and start to seek fulfillment of their personal agendas--often agendas centered around the acquisition and wielding of power. Or, they have bought into the commercialization of education, the nation's ultimate public good, and push forward policies and practices meant to destroy the public part of education. They are pawns of those wishing to privatize and profit off of the serious and fundamental duty of developing America's children into participatory, productive and thinking adults.
There are administrators who rise through the ranks of teaching to head districts as either directors or superintendents and somewhere along the way, they lost what it really means to keep the kids at the heart of everything they do. They get caught up in power politics and their focus narrows until they can no longer see what really makes for a good system of educating children. They give good lip service to the idea, but fail to meaningfully work with all the stakeholders in public education to create environments that optimize learning.
This is evidenced by failing to respect the people who are technically the boots on the ground. Those that work on a daily basis in the classrooms, cafeterias, libraries, and labs with students should have a voice in the development of educational policies and practices. Their input should be valued, but often it is dismissed. Districts fail to acknowledge the expertise and education that teachers bring to a school system and frequently make decisions about curriculum and practices without ever consulting them.
For some districts the lack of respect goes further, and the employees are viewed as the enemy--a suspect class that is only out for higher salaries, better benefits, and the least amount of work possible. Rather than using employees as a resource to craft better educational systems, they work against them to create difficult and often untenable circumstances. They are moved from position to position without regard to an educator's preference. They are spoken to and about in a disrespectful fashion. They are told in too many ways to count that they are ineffective and that what they do doesn't matter. Any simpleton can read a script, assign worksheets manufactured by corporate publishers, and administer standardized tests. It's no wonder that teachers are retiring in record numbers and the amount of people going into education keeps diminishing. Last semester, a major university in New Mexico only graduated a dozen or so new teachers from their education program. No one wants to teach and the country is facing a massive shortage of educators.
People are being run out of the profession due to poor legislation that deliberately targets teachers with an onerous amount of paperwork, evaluates them with flawed data and methods, pushes standardized testing at mind-bogglingly frequent intervals and takes away the autonomy, creativity and joy of being an educator.
Class sizes are much larger than they used to be, vacancies abound in most districts, online or computerized classes are becoming the norm, and students are stressed beyond belief. For all these reasons and more, the US cannot keep up with other countries in reading, math and science. For example, my students at the high school where I teach have had to take five standardized tests just in the past nine weeks. When is their time to teach anymore? Where is the ability for a teacher to determine the immediate needs of her students and then follow a course of action that lets them learn? There is no time to really get into the heart of certain subjects or to create long-lasting experiences from which they will draw in the years to come. Teachers are dispirited and stressed, students are overwhelmed and feeling shortchanged. Something has got to give.
In an ideal school district, administrators, employees and the community would come together with the overriding and ever-present goal of creating the best public education system possible. Personal agendas, the monopolization of power, and the corporatization of schooling would not play a role. The input of all stakeholders would really impact the development of public education policies, and above all else, children would truly be at the heart of everything that happens.
It can be quite hard to hold onto the hope that things will change for the better, but I have always had a tendency to keep up hope for improvement. That hope mingled with motivation and organization will keep me in this profession and keep me fighting for the best interest of "my kids." Change takes inspiration and dedication and knowing this, I keep returning to the quote, "If not now, then when? If not me, then who?" The time is now and in whatever way I can, no matter how small, I will strive to improve public education. I hope there are a lot more "me's" who will follow suit as well. Let's put the public back into public education and make it the best we can for all of our children.