As I've mentioned in previous posts, I used to teach middle school. After working for many years as a writer and editor, I enrolled in a sort of Boot Camp graduate program designed for career-changers like me, which helped me get certified to teach in a relatively short, but intense time. I ended up teaching for only 6 years before moving off into adult education, but those 6 six years were the most rewarding and challenging years of my life.
I went into teaching hoping, thinking, that I could make a change in some kids' lives, and I think I probably did. But it just drained the life out of me. It takes a certain type of person to be an effective teacher and maintain your sanity. Oh, there are plenty of people who can do one or the other, but keeping those two things in balance is a rare gift, I've found. You see, teaching can be the easiest job in the world — if you don't really care about it. But if you do care, it is the hardest job you'll ever do.
I felt an enormous amount of guilt when I decided to go into adult education: I felt I was abandoning a sinking ship. You see, the American education system is in big trouble. If you have any doubt about it, look at the level of debate in this primary season — there is none. Instead of exchanging ideas, the entire population is engaged in name calling and repeating unsubstantiated rumors as "facts." Instead of celebrating that we have different opinions, we harass and intimidate those who speak out with ideas different from our own. This has become obvious in the blogging world, but is just as true in our schools, where 15-year old Lawrence King was bullied and then finally shot because he was gay. As a teacher I always felt it was my duty to teach my students not only to accept our differences, but to value what we can learn from each other — but who has time?
The biggest reason why I left teaching when I did was the No Child Left Behind Act. I began teaching just before this legislation went into effect, and so I had a taste of what it's like to teach when you are respected as a professional and given some small amount of room to be creative to meet established standards. You see, I taught Special Education for 4 years, and that requires an enormous amount creativity. But once NCLB became law, we were expected to follow strict guidelines. Any sane person understands that teaching math to students with learning disabilities might require an extra day in, say, fractions. But our eyes were not on teaching the concepts. Our eyes were on the testing in March. We have to move on, Billy. Come after school and we'll work on it some more. Every day. Along with the rest of the class. Because we learn differently.
It wasn't any better my last 2 years when I taught computer technology to the entire middle school. You might think every student would take this class, as it seems like a basic skill they will need to be successful. But no. At my school, the administration decided that Computers, Health, and Family Studies classes would not be available to students who scored unsatisfactorily on the state assessments — those students would instead have an extra period of either reading or math. Yes, that's right. The students who were the lowest performing ones, the ones most in danger of dropping out, would not be getting the basic life skills of typing, cooking, or sex ed. But dammit they will pass that test!
The point of this rather long post is to ask you to really pay attention to the state of education of America and to call on our politicians to take a strong stand for change. One of the reasons why I support Hillary Clinton is that she is calling for a complete end to NCLB. Reforming it will not work, because the entire basis of it is misguided. We cannot have national standards unless we have national funding. And you cannot compare our national scores with other countries which do have one state-run education system. So please just stop doing that.
Education is the foundation of a strong society, and I think this election cycle is beginning to show the cracks in that foundation.