Moral Compass (August/September 2015)

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By Shirley Jones-Luke

Teaching is a profession that requires great skill, patience and sacrifice. Teachers need to be presenters, facilitators and content experts. We need to be able to handle multiple personalities, provide advice and manage people, content, and more. We spend long hours preparing lessons, grading tests and researching ways to create an engaging classroom environment. Unfortunately, in today's high-stakes, high-tech world, teachers are being treated as the problem rather than the solution to society's obstacles and ills.
There is more talk in society about firing teachers than helping them deal with the growing demands of colleges and employers for skilled workers. Millions upon millions of dollars are spent on creating national education standards, such as the Common Core, and producing increasingly challenging tests such as PARCC. But every year, teachers are fired for being "bad" and many more simply leave the profession out of stress and frustration. In other countries, such as Japan and India, teachers are not only treated as respected professionals, but are revered for their knowledge.
In the U.S., teachers encounter vendetta prone administrators, disinterested parents and apathetic students. Teachers suffer from verbal and increasingly physical abuse in their classrooms.Schools often make their own rules when it comes to disciplining students leaving teachers feeling doubly victimized. Academics can be seen as a two-sided coin - schools need to show progress on standardized tests but some of the neediest students still struggle with reading, writing and mathematics.
In my nearly 13 years of teaching, I have witnessed the effects of meeting state and federal testing goals and the struggle to improve the academic abilities of students. In the classroom, creativity is on life support. Teachers are focused on testing strategies rather than holistic learning. Students have turned to their cell phones to escape the lack of engaging lessons. Teacher morale is low, but no one cares.
I have seen too many students not reach their academic potential. There are many reasons for this. Some is due to a lack of motivation. Achieving success often takes more work than it did 20 years ago. Some is due to attitude. Many students see education as being in the way rather than being a way to something better. Some is due to skill. If you are a senior in high school and cannot write a sentence or spell elementary-level words, that is a problem. It is an even bigger problem if the student does not care!
What can be done? The answer is complex. There needs to be a change on multiple levels. Testing can no longer be the focus. Districts need resources to help academically challenged students. Teachers need more autonomy in the classroom. No one knows better about how to reach disengaged students than a teacher. Teachers need to be able to have flexibility to adjust curriculum to meet their students' needs. Parents need to be more involved with the schools. Students need to recognize their strengths and focus on improving their weaknesses. If everyone works together, education in America can have a better future.

Shirley Jones-Luke is an educator in the Boston Public Schools.