My husband and I had an interesting conversation last week. An innocent question about teacher trust quickly snowballed into something I’ve been thinking about ever since. It went something like this:
Me: What do you think of teachers getting fired or gaining income based on the outcomes of their students’ success? Do you trust that our kids’ teachers are doing a good job?
Husband: I’m not sure, I want to know what our kids are learning and what they should be learning. I want to have some sort of standard; something to prove that they’re accomplishing what they should in the classroom. Standardized testing seems to solve some of that problem.
M: I agree that I want to make sure that our kids are getting quality education, but at what expense? I suppose that we’re not with them all day at school and it’s nice to know what they’re learning.
H: Do you remember some of the teachers that our kids have had? We’ve had some amazing teachers, but we’ve also had a few truly awful teachers.
M: That’s true. We’ve definitely had teachers that were awful. But what do you think of teachers losing jobs if they work in a school where the student population is struggling with issues that are bigger? Like poverty or homelessness. Can we expect teachers to be miracle workers?
And do you trust your dentist, accountant, and doctor more than a teacher? They’ve all been educated; they’ve all had professional training.
H: I trust my dentist, lawyer, and doctor because there’s an outcome that I can see or experience. I don’t always have that with a teacher. Plus, I get to choose my dentist and accountant; we’re assigned a teacher.
M: Does it make a difference if you knew that those standardized tests don’t even make it into the teacher’s hands until a year after students have left that classroom? And that they can have a huge margin of error. They seem useless to me. What a waste of time and money. Why don’t we trust the judgment of teachers? What message are we sending to parents and administrators?
I continued to prattle on for the next few minutes while my kind husband listened patiently. I’ve never been one for an injustice, but an injustice involving teachers and children—the horror! How do we as a country decide what indicates “success” for a teacher? Data driven outcomes at a macro level seem to be what policy makers and parents want to see. And yes, there are terrible teachers out there. But there are also terrible accountants, doctors, lawyers, and cameramen. But teaching is the only profession that I can think of where success is determined by client outcomes.
Are students being inspired by being forced to do months of test prep? I doubt it. Does inflammatory educational reporting fan the flames of concern among the nation’s parents? You bet it does. If data becomes the only way that we will trust what our children are learning, it’s time to rethink things.
Many of us are studying to become teachers and we will work hard to become the best at what we do. Until our nation’s values about education changes, we will need to support and advocate for ourselves and other teachers. Good teaching was never easy, but it has certainly gotten harder. Teachers are bogged down by paperwork and other administrative tasks and they have less time than ever for lesson planning and preparation.
Folks certainly don’t become teachers for the excellent pay and flexible hours. They might do it because they love it, feel it’s their calling in life, or simply enjoy seeing kids succeed. We need to hear more teacher voices, we need to teach our own children to appreciate and value teachers. Non-educators need to understand what a good teacher does so that they can understand and appreciate their expertise. And finally, we need to find consistent methodologies to interpret and measure teacher performance outside of pure student outcomes.