it started out as a fabulous friday evening. my first day of summer, jazz in the sculpture garden, sangria, good conversation, sunny weather. of course, in this town the innocent question, "so how was your day?" can frequently lead to discussions of politics and policy. my husband's co-worker began telling us about the education speech he gave to visiting interns and i noticed my husband start scratching his head and trying to distract me.
"really? what did you tell them about?" i asked, innocently.
"um..., darling, let's get more sangria?"
i completely ignored this and kept asking questions until i found myself in the midst of a heated education policy debate that was about to ruin the fabulous evening. ruin for everyone else with us at least, the debater and i seemed to be enjoying it equally.
actually, it was a debate i wasn't enjoying as much as i usually do. i found myself frustrated and having difficulty arguing with the basic beliefs of his debate. his policy initiatives seemed to be founded in the ideas that:
~public school teachers go into teaching for the summers, to have babies and get married
~public school systems are not interested in student achievement
~public schools have failed everyone
~private schools are inherently better than public schools based on test scores and graduation rates
~teaching programs and teacher education is a waste of time and do not result in improved academics in the classroom
in trying to debate the issues of bad public school teachers and bad public school systems i kept being written off since my school and county are so fabulous. "you don't know what its like outside your school/county" they argued.
yes, i have unbelievable co-workers and i have a county that does a lot to support quality instruction. but i student taught in the poorest county in my state and i know that despite the crumbling school building and lack of resources there were still fantastic teachers at that school. i hadn't met anyone who got into teaching for the summers.
my frustration with these basic beliefs is that they are not true, but they are backed up with data from other right-wing voucher-supporting programs that do their own research. yes, test scores may be better in private schools, but you have to look at the quality of parent involvement in the school, the students accepted into the private schools, and the tests given themselves. the test scores they are comparing are not the same tests the public schools have to take. they are comparing apples and oranges.
my largest frustration is the belief that teaching programs and teacher education is a waste of time. it is this belief that brings about programs like NCLB because it believes that we only teach because we aren't qualified to stock the shelves at walmart. teachers just need to follow a scripted curriculum and everything will be ok. "anyone can teach" seems to be the attitude, but those who go into teaching do so because they aren't qualified to do anything else.
can you see my white knuckles??
i was relaying this incident to my friend in grad school (during lunch this time, not during class) and my professor overheard us. she had fascinating insights to add. she has been teaching teachers at the graduate level for about 10 years now and she said that she has been amazed and frustrated to watch teachers struggle through their first 2 years of teaching and then quit to go into administration or policy. she described them coming to her with pride for their new standing in life, and her thinking, "what do you know about education? you had 2 awful years! you don't learn anything those first 2 years other than how to survive!" she said her best advice to us is to teach for years and years, getting as much experience in as many different fields of education as possible before going into a policy or administration job.
but that doesn't happen so much. in 10 years she said she frequently has seen the 2 year teachers off to make top-down decisions about something they didn't really enjoy doing anyway.
thinking about all this exhausts me. it feels like we're fighting an uphill battle with our arms tied behind our back.