As I jammed to my Pandora station today in the car, I was taken aback when an advertisement came on for the local school board election–if we have enough money to pay for Pandora ads, then why don’t we have enough money to fix the hand dryers in the bathroom? To support a stable Internet connection? To stop charging students to ride the bus? For more counselors and mental health support?
As a public school teacher, I can confidently say that public schools CAN and DO work; I’m constantly amazed and impressed with the level of knowledge, the appreciation for learning, and the meaningful skills students leave our doors with. But, evidently this advertisement wanted us to believe the opposite–that public education is “broken” and the only way to fix is “to reform”…
One of these reforms includes Pay for Performance and salary bands, which in theory, is great. The idea behind salary bands is that some positions are “harder to hire” than others (aka math and science), so why not pay those people more money to encourage them to not go into the corporate world, and stay back to teach? Inevitably, however, the perception does not translate to “harder to hire” but rather “more valuable” than other positions.
To be quite honest, working in a district that pays everyone the same, no matter which subject they teach, does not bother me. I don’t think that, “Oh, that P.E. teacher doesn’t have to grade any papers at home so I should make more money”, or, “There are so many social studies teachers to pick from, but less English teachers, so I should make more money”, or even, “Those kids will never use business in their real lives, but they will certainly use English, so I deserve more because they will use my subject more in the real world”; we should be in it for the kids, and that means that we all work as a team to tackle all important functions of growing up and maturing, and I truly believe The Universe evens it out eventually; like, that P.E. teacher who “does no grading” might have way larger class sizes than I do–more parents to contact, more individualized learning plans to accommodate for, more names to learn, more stress to maintain a safe learning environment. That social studies teacher is obviously the cream of the crop if they got picked amongst all the other applicants, so I could probably learn something from their teaching style, and those business skills are CERTAINLY important, especially for learning to write research papers, to speak in public, how to be professional in an interview (I’m too busy teaching how to structure an essay to hit those very important real life skills so I’m thankful someone is).
In fact, it was being in the pay band system that actually caused me the most strife because I was always comparing myself to other teachers, their involvement, their participation in professional development opportunities. If I worked with a teacher who I knew was in my same pay band or higher, and I listened to their classes watching movies everyday, I got frustrated: because there was a so-called “option” to advance in pay, why should I work harder than other people who are making the same amount or more? When a new teacher came in with less experience than I, because they just had the benefit of spending more time in college, I found myself wanting be less collaborative; why should I share the materials I spent years perfecting? Pay bands and Pay for Performance did not recruit “more competitive teachers”, and did not “encourage me to do more stuff to be a highly effective teacher”.
But put teacher pay aside, I support public education because I believe each and every student equally deserves the access to the best possible opportunities for their futures. Another big trend in education reform is the emergence of charter schools; I went to a charter school one year of elementary school, and I cannot say I am any better off than I was had I not gone. I do believe that each district should offer a few charter schools, because we certainly do have students with exceptional skills and interests who thrive better in those environments. However, charter schools should serve a small population of children, because, if we allow enough resources to exist, a majority of students should thrive in public schools. What people don’t often know is that (a) teachers in charter schools do not need a teaching license, so the school can pay their teachers even less than they already do, and (b) charter schools can be exclusive in who they admit–this is why so many charter schools end up on the “Top 100 Schools in the Nation” lists. The problem with this is two fold: first of all, someday, we will release our students into the real world, where they must learn to get along with other kinds of people; if we only have students in charter schools, working with other students who are like minded (“science minded”, “art minded”, “outdoor experience” minded), then we are not preparing students for their real world interactions with those who think differently.
But, more importantly, I believe an emphasis on charter schools (and more drastically, school vouchers) will create a larger division between the have’s, and the have not’s. The great thing about a public education is that, all students who pull from the same boundary lines have access to the same resources, same types of teachers, same education–no matter what kind of household they come from. Inevitably, if we move to only these reform models, it will be the students whose parents care about them who sign them up for the “good charter schools” and the parents who don’t care about them who get stuck in the drained public schools, and we continue to perpetuate the gap between the have’s, and the have not’s.
But, mostly, I support public education because a more educated society makes my life better. John Green says it best: “Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order. We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education. So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: It’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”
I support public education because a more educated society makes my life better. In math, we teach our students how to work with numbers, so when it comes time for them to buy a house, they understand interest rates, mortgage payments, and don’t tank the economy from uneducated decisions. In P.E and health classes, we teach our students the importance of eating healthy and exercising, and how to perform first aid and CPR–so if I ever go down, hopefully someone will be there to save me. And, in English, one of the main topics we (attempt to) instill is empathy; we read stories and discuss alternate viewpoints in hopes that our students will become more aware of their impact on others, to be kinder to one another, to think logically and carefully before they respond–in hopes that they will take those lessons outside of the classroom. So, when people are empathetic, they perhaps cut me off less on the highway, decreasing my chances of an accident; they throw their trash away, so that I don’t have to deal with the aftermaths of bumble bee and fly infestations; they understand how to read a map and can determine where my fence line begins and theirs ends.
I support public education because public education models CAN and DO work.