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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Education blame game: Teachers made scapegoats for our society's failings


I'm the wife of a 20-year veteran middle school teacher. I've sent three sons through the public school system, and I have a question: What's a "failing teacher"?
I assume a teacher is failing when his students don't do well on standardized tests. Nobody wants children to fail tests, of course. We all want our kids to know how to read and write and do math and go to college and be productive. But when an increasing number of children get to middle school not knowing how to read and half of our teenagers are dropping out of high school, something is very wrong.

But what -- or who -- has failed?

Are you a failing teacher when your class has more than 30 students, many of whom, for a variety of reasons, have trouble concentrating? What about those classrooms where many of the kids' parents are working two jobs and don't have time to oversee homework? How about when you're known for your strong classroom management skills so your principal gives you a disproportionate number of kids with learning or behavioral problems who require most of your attention? What if you have students whose parents can't read to them in English? Are you a failing teacher when your students can't pass a test that wasn't designed for them?

These are situations my husband faces every day in Portland. I've watched him struggle as his classes have grown larger and support from a cash-strapped district has diminished. I've heard his frustration when his students from troubled and financially struggling families act out in class. I've tried to be supportive as his workday has lengthened and he's brought his worries home. And I've been disheartened to see his chosen profession be disrespected.

NBC News recently reported that the best school system in the world is in Finland. I watched the story, and here's what I got out of it: There are 5 million people in the entire country of Finland, and everybody comes from essentially the same socioeconomic background and ethnicity. Health care is free, and so is education. There are two to three teachers in every classroom, and the classes are small.


I bet it's easier to be a teacher in a class of 15 students who have enough to eat and whose parents aren't worrying about how to pay for their medical care. I bet it's a snap when you have another teacher to help you work with each child individually each day. I bet it feels good to work at a profession that's well regarded and financially supported. But we're not in Finland. And when the so-called "failing schools" of Portland are almost all in the poorer areas of town, what does that tell us?

So before you call my hardworking, dedicated, brilliant husband a "failing teacher" because too many of his students and their families are struggling, think again. It just might be our society that's failing. And the person who chooses to teach kids in poor areas might really deserve the so-called "merit pay" we keep arguing about.

Only we should call it "hazard pay" instead.

Sandy Poole Keiter is a Southwest Portland writer.

Taken from Oregon Live:

1 comment:

  1. Sandy: Dar and I read your Oregonian article today and we so agree. Take care, Bob & Dar