Our teachers are already gone.

17 04 2011

For some reason, there is an absurd amount of good material about secondary school teaching on my Google Reader and Twitter feeds today. One of those items sent me to a post entitled “No more teachers?” From there I found this. I’d never realized that things had gotten this bad:

Having worked in a school where instruction was more or less designed by the teachers, I had naively assumed I would be doing the same at my new school. Instead, I was horrified to discover that my entire day was scripted. Reading, writing, math, science, and social studies all had their own stacks of teaching manuals and supplies, dictating every utterance and activity for teachers and students. I distinctly remember a line from a four page script in one of the math lessons wherein the teacher was supposed to rap multiples of 10 to the students. “After each verse, say ‘unh’ two or three times in rhythm,” it directed. Three large plastic tubs held hundreds of worksheets and assessments to be distributed to the masses. The worst was the reading program, which aside from scripted manuals was also accompanied by sets of basal readers and phonics workbooks, forcing students to engage in choral readings of monosyllabic stories about Fat Cat and Zig Pig. The level of boredom and disinterest during instructional time was palpable. Teachers had to email weekly lesson plans to supervisors no later than 8pm on Sunday nights, filled out in complex electronic templates that detailed everything from what questions we planned to ask during a read aloud, to what page number of the manual we were on. I asked my supervisor why everything was scripted, and she informed me that this was a way to ensure teaching consistency across each grade level. In the past, she explained, some students had been getting quality instruction, while others were getting less quality instruction; scripts were a way to eradicate that inequality and make sure that everyone received the same thing. Mediocrity, evidently, was acceptable, as long as it was uniform.

No more teachers, indeed. The Internet hasn’t taken over everything yet, but clearly nobody was doing any actual teaching in that school. It seems strange for a teacher that not being a robot is a form of rebellion, but alas it’s true:

I bitterly resisted, sneaking in differentiated instruction, supplementing whenever possible. It was an exhausting challenge. Teachers were required to have the same objectives, lessons, and activities as their grade level colleagues at all times, regardless of what our students might need, and discrepancies were always questioned by administrators. Furthermore, we were informed that we should not design any assignments or response sheets ourselves, since it was all provided and prepackaged for us in the curriculum. Anything we did design was supposed to be approved by our supervisor prior to using it.

The poor woman who wrote this was baffled as to why this was happening. I’m not, because I actually wrote about this process ten years ago:

The best example of Frederick Taylor’s ideas at work in education today are high-stakes standardized tests — tests which have a significant effect on funding for schools and the careers of individual students. Although these exams can create enormous tension for students and administrators, it is teachers whose lives are most affected by them. Thanks to mounting pressure to get students to score high marks, teachers must concentrate on teaching the curriculum chosen by test-designers rather than local school boards or themselves. Furthermore, because preparation for multiple-choice or short answer questions that make up these tests require only a superficial understanding of complex material in order to answer them correctly, they provide no rationale for teachers to reinforce more complex concepts that take additional effort for students to understand. Since teachers do not need to teach or themselves understand abstract concepts that cannot be measured on standardized tests, creative pedagogy is not rewarded in this new regime and the quality of learning among students inevitably suffers. Like skilled workers in industrializing America, teachers’ prerogatives are disappearing and the talents that they once utilized daily are increasingly no longer called upon.

And of course, if your workers are unskilled you can get away with paying them less, which seems especially relevant these days. For example, if you have any of your twenty NYT articles left this month go read this revolting piece about online high school courses*:

Memphis supplies its own teachers, mostly classroom teachers who supplement their incomes by contracting to work 10 hours a week with 150 students online. That is one-fourth of the time they would devote to teaching the same students face to face.

Starve your teachers with poor wages so that they can provide the rope for their own hanging when the entire school district (apart from the schools in rich neighborhoods) moves online. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

* On second thought, I just Tweeted it. Save your article and visit through teh link on the left.


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18 04 2011
Aaron Barlow

Thanks for the link. It’s sad, your comment from a decade ago, for it shows just how far we haven’t come.

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