Today, a great number of our Indiana teachers are headed to the Statehouse in Indianapolis for the Red for Ed Action Day to rally for a livable wage, a say in the types of professional development that is required for licensure renewal, and an end to the tie between their compensation and standardized test results.
The average salary for these teachers is somewhere around $40,000, with many of them having Masters Degrees. Teacher assistants are making only about $11 an hour. One teacher interviewed, who has been a teacher in the system for over 10 years, says she has to work 2 outside jobs and that her own children qualify for free lunches.
Aligning these teachers’ salaries and sometimes their jobs with the notoriously flawed standardized testing process is wrong for so many reasons. If a certain percentage of children in a teacher’s class do not do well on these texts, that teacher may not receive a pay increase, may have a pay reduction, or even lose her position.
In Indiana, children are not even required to begin school until they are 7 years old (really!). The children of those families who choose to wait longer to enroll them may have significant disadvantages, depending on what they were experiencing while at home. They have often spent their preschool years in poor quality daycare. Or, economic constraints or cultural tradition may have led to many being left in the care of an elderly relative, watching television for most of every day… some until the legally mandated school-age of 7 years. They will be in classrooms with children who have attended more than several years of preschool and have had enriched experiences with their families and outside the home.
Teachers understand these disparities and the resulting dilemma. They will be compelled to spend the entire school year “teaching to the test,” trying to help the children who are behind catch up enough to fare well on the standardized tests. What follows is an endless amount of pre-testing, documentation, and paperwork required by the school districts.
This results in no room for teacher creativity, enrichment activities, or the joy of teaching. Teachers begin to feel as if each year may be their last and their enthusiasm dwindles. This is something the children can feel, as well.
There have even been a few schools in which teachers have set aside their ethics and morals, in desperation to maintain their jobs. They have altered their students’ test scores, were caught, and ultimately prosecuted.
I spoke with several Kindergarten teachers recently. They said that given the wide ability diversity of children entering school, they always felt significant pressure to make sure all of them would be able to do well on the tests. But, despite their best and most diligent efforts, this was usually a nearly impossible task. Some children had not been to preschool, had never been read to, had minimal language stimulation, few opportunities to interact with other children, or experiences outside the home. Some of them, of course would not be successful enough. This translated to a poor mark for the school and would jeopardize their pay and contract renewal.
Since it is apparent that substantial pay, respect, value of creativity and initiative, and reasonable expectations are not part of the job description for the teaching profession any longer, there may come a time when it may not be a viable choice anymore.
As an educator of teachers, I see the excitement and passion they bring to their first job, but I can also foresee this being smothered or extinguished by disillusionment or burnout within a few years.
My own daughter-in-law, who is completing her MS in elementary education, is so excited about becoming a teacher and her enthusiasm and drive to excel is inspiring. But, will her spirit and passion be broken by her State’s expectations and mandates?
I certainly hope not. Every child deserves a teacher just like her.