The Value of Teachers

Once, on vacation a friend asked me why teachers always seem to complain.  He knew I loved teaching and the question seemed to come from nowhere, but it stung.  “If you only knew,” I thought.  A million responses rang through my head; lack of support and resources, ridiculous evaluations for teachers and students, massive workload without compensation, but instead I said,

“I guess because they feel undervalued.”

Today, a teacher’s value revolves around accountability and data; It’s formulaic.  Teachers are expected to teach a specific way, using a framework chosen (and paid for) by their state.  If they don’t use this framework, they receive low evaluations which not only affects pay but public shame by being published on the internet.  They are given standards to teach, often scripted using resources also paid for by the state.  Finally, students are given tests, chosen and paid for by the State, which are supposed to align with those standards.  

Let’s put aside the validity of these tests and evaluation measures; who makes them, who edits them, who scores and derives data from them.  Let’s even turn our heads for a moment, to the politicians and stock owners who have found a way to profit off the intended failure of our students and teachers.  Instead, let’s focus on what happens to the value of a teacher under this model.

Do you remember the teacher who sat at her desk while you completed scripted worksheets?

Do you remember the teacher who kept a sterile classroom?

Do you remember the teacher who facilitated test, after test, after test?

Most people remember the teacher who brought lessons to life with passion and enthusiasm.  Who went off script and got them to care about issues outside of the classroom walls.  Most people remember the teacher who was well liked by current, former and even future students for being involved in clubs and activities that enhanced their school experience.  Students remember teachers who had warm classrooms, who cared for them and helped them, not because they were told to, but because that’s why they became a teacher.  It’s who they are.

You can’t tell a teacher to care less about her student’s individuality and more about standardizing them.  You can’t turn their passionate lessons into scripted workbooks.  You can’t take them away from their students just to redesign curriculum that inspired, changed, or motivated them to believe in themselves.  You can’t turn classrooms into testing labs and teachers into robots.  You can’t turn their students into numbers.

A teacher’s value lies in her students. Teachers are complaining to defend our nation’s kids, not their jobs.  Under the present model of profit through evaluation and data driven results, our schools become factories, our teachers become robots, and our kids become a product.  A numerical value resides where individual worth, importance, and usefulness once did.

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