Commentary

Thirty Years into a Two-Year Job

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I graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in mathematics not knowing what my next move would be. My mother was a middle school teacher and encouraged me to teach while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Now here I am… thirty years into that two-year job. And wow – have things changed in our educational system during those years. I stayed in this job for so long because I love teaching children – seeing their faces light up when they learn something that is particularly hard for them, is priceless.

But to be honest, some of that joy of learning has been taken out of our classrooms and out of our children’s lives. Everything now seems to be just one big push to get to the next “important” standardized test, but where is the time to nurture and foster in our children the love of learning? Where has the joy in our schools gone?

Years ago we had one room school houses that taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but still we were able to put a man on the moon. We had chalkboards and the kids would argue about who would get to go outside and clap the erasers against the building. Now we have “smartboards” and global learning, and yet it seems our students are doing worse than ever before and our teachers are more discouraged and feeling unappreciated in all areas. When you hand a twenty-year veteran teacher a script that she has to follow in order to read a book to her kindergarten students, it is beyond demoralizing. This micromanaging of teachers must stop.

We used to send home report cards with an A, B, C, D, or F on them. However, with the new proficiency based diploma, some schools are sending home report cards that are seven or more long pages full of statistical data and charts. One mother came to me with tears in her eyes and asked me to please look at this report and tell her if her elementary age child was reading on grade level. If we are sending home reports that the parents can’t understand, then they are useless.

We must look very carefully at anything that takes away from the time a teacher has with their students. Anything that takes away from that trusted student/teacher relationship must go. Teaching should be about taking care of our students, not doing endless record keeping and statistical analysis in order to prove that we are doing our jobs.

After giving the last quarter assessment, I had to count up how many kids got number one correct, how many got number two correct, how many got number three correct…etc. Then I had to tabulate how many out of the first ten questions they got correct, then tabulate how many out of the next ten they got right… all while entering this into the computer.

I think you can see how time consuming and energy draining this is…time and energy that wasn’t spent on my students, just for the sake of generating yet another report. Since each school makes up it’s own standards for their report, how can we even use this as a comparison among schools? We can’t. It’s like comparing apple to oranges – similar shape but very different composition.

We now seem to be teaching just to the test instead of taking the time to instill the love of learning. In the past, I spent 80 percent of my time with my students and 20 percent on administrative duties, but now I’m lucky if my student’s get half of my energy and time. They deserve more, much more than they are getting.

I hope that our legislators look at any new type of education laws and ask themselves these questions: How does this help student’s relationship with their teacher? Does it give the teacher more or less time to educate students? Because in the end, what is the most important thing in our schools? I believe it is the student/teacher time ratio and relationship, while educating our students to prepare them for their next big adventure in an ever-changing world.

About Catherine Gordon

Catherine has been a faculty member at Bangor High School for 30 years and is currently teaching Geometry and Trigonometry. She is a veteran’s advocate and loves the outdoors. She just earned her Registered Maine Guide's license and also rides motorcycles and enjoys time at the range.

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