Teacher Tuesday: Good news for Texas students

This week Governor Rick Perry signed into law House Bill 5, which reduces the number of tests students have to pass to graduate from high school from 15 to 5.  It also allows students to choose whether or not they want to go the “4 x 4” route, taking four English courses, four science, four math, and four social studies classes, or take four English courses and then three of each of the other subjects.

It frees students–kids in my book and my mind and heart–from the tyranny of over-testing.  It frees them to learn from teachers who are not as burdened with test scores and stressed-out administrators.  It frees them to benefit from the expertise shared by teachers who have been freed from restrictions on what they have to teach.  Teachers will be able to flex their creativity and share their passion a little more now that some of the testing pressure is off.
Contrary to what many outside of the education realm believe, this new ruling gives students more freedom and more choices, not fewer.
Also in the law is the provision requiring school districts to approve six career and technology courses which can take the place of a fourth credit in math.  This is a huge step forward in what we used to call vocational education, which sadly all but disappeared in the 90’s when lawmakers decided that every student should go to college.  This law gives students the choice to learn what we used to call a “trade” such as auto mechanics, welding, carpentry, or cosmetology, or begin a career in the medical field or other fields which do not require four-year college degrees.
This new approach to education not only allows students to pursue other avenues of education, it validates the student who chooses not to follow the traditional college route.  As a teacher and director of a dropout prevention program for over seventeen years, I saw hundreds of students whom the traditional system had given up on, kids who needed other options besides college.  Two of these students were my daughter and her husband.  My daughter is being trained in medical records by the company who hired her and has better benefits than I did.  Her husband just graduated from a technical program at our local junior college which licensed him for a career in air conditioning and heating service.  I am optimistic for his future success as a business owner and provider for his family.
My daughter with her husband on graduation day!
Texas HB 5 has many other provisions which you can read here if you are interested.  The link will take you to an analysis of the bill in detail.  I’m just happy that Texas legislators have finally realized that our students were being over-tested and that not all students fit the traditional college mold.
Thank you, Texas legislators and Governor Perry!  It’s a step in the right direction!

Teacher Tuesday (on Wednesday!): Incentive to Teach?

It seems the powers that be just can’t stop making the teaching profession more and more attractive to would-be teachers.  First, they gave us longer school days and longer school years.  Then they began teacher testing.  Soon after followed high stakes student testing, the results of which can threaten a teaching career, and certainly has caused some administrator reassignments. Then they took away teacher control of curriculum so that teachers have no say in how or what is taught.  Then there is the erosion of teacher authority with the removal of corporal punishment and the lessening respect in the home for teachers, whose rules have little backup from administrators.
However, we can’t blame the administrators.  They are forced into submission to parents by the threat of legal action and being replaced.  The threat goes all the way up to the CEO of the school district.  Teachers and administrators must conform. 
Now there is talk in our state legislature of raising the teacher retirement age to 62 and doing away with the formula that allows teachers to retire when their years of experience and age equals 85.  (It may be 90 now.  Thank goodness I was under the old rule of 80.  That’s one good thing about being older!)
Changing what often doesn’t need to be changed is what legislators do.  Having never been in a classroom except as a student and to visit on parent night, they believe they know what is best for teachers.  They continue to make the teaching profession less and less attractive to those who would consider it as a career.
During my last year as a teacher I taught with three first-year teachers who seriously questioned their career choice.  They felt stuck in a profession for which they had spent thousands of dollars being educated, a profession which offered few rewards other than knowing their students and seeing a few succeed, a profession which demanded much time and effort outside the classroom.  They voiced many times that they had no idea they would have to work so hard.  Something is seriously wrong here.  Don’t we want to attract and retain young teachers?  Who is going to be there for our grandchildren?
Teaching is not an 8 to 4 job as many believe.  Teaching requires as much time outside the classroom as it does inside the classroom in preparation, evaluation, and organization.  It is draining emotionally and physically.  Any time off is needed and much appreciated, even though much of it is spent in more preparation and education for the field.  
I would suggest to those who believe that teaching is easy to try corralling 30 children or teens in one room and get them to do the same thing at the same time.  Have you ever taught Sunday school or led a Cub Scout group?  It’s an exhausting feat just to get them to listen.  And teachers today go way above and beyond that by actually getting them to perform and succeed.
I would say to legislators:  get out of the business of the schools and let teachers teach.  They are the professionals. They know what is best and what works.  Stop taking the perks away from them.  They deserve them.  And next time you want to dictate how teachers should teach, go volunteer in a classroom for a week.  You’ll leave with a new perspective.