I typically would prefer not to go political for two reasons: 1. I do not have time to adequately read up on and make educated statements about what is going on, and 2. It tends to bring out the worst in everyone as the argument progresses.
In this case however it pertains to my journey and these two reasons do not hold up. 1. It does not seem that even those who are paid to make the political decisions are bothering to read up on and make educated decisions anymore and 2. The debate has long since gone well beyond ugly.
I started toward teaching and working in education 8 years ago with a love of the profession and the knowledge that it would never make me wealthy financially. I did however have a belief that I would be able to provide for my family with a relatively stable position (assuming I was good at my job). All these years later, I would by no means claim to be the best teacher in the world, there are far too many great teachers for me to dare put myself near that conversation. I know that there are always areas in which I can improve and grow. I do however, consider myself to be very good at my job. No matter how you wish to judge my performance, by student actions, growth on test scores, or parent response, I would put them up against any benchmark of quality. This is my perspective as I watch the education landscape change:
In four years at my school I have been both given great fortune and torment. All of it stems from the political landscape that has developed in the shadow of Chris Christie’s governorship. When I say I am fortunate, it is in the sense that I was able to retain my position long enough to gain the skills that have made me good at my job and allowed me to have a positive influence on so many young lives thus far.
The torment however has been significantly more freequent. I am one of the lucky few who found and retained a job as a teacher in the last four years. Though I do not have fancy numbers and charts to quote here, the large number of friends and fellow educators that either take other positions or work as subs and aides is my basis. I see good teachers out of work in many places. Also, young teachers with great potential are giving up hope of ever finding a job.
I am proud to call myself an educator. In my opinion there is no more important work that a person can undertake. Yet for the past four years I have had to be appologetic for doing that noble work. It has gotten slightly better each year after the initial smear campaign Christie ran after the election. Now when I tell people I am a teacher, they think that is great. They are supportive until the conversation turns political. Then they tend to regurgitate whatever has recently come out of the Christie megaphone. I am not someone who spouts blindly from the union book of retoric, nor am I against their positions. The bottom line is that, as is typically the case, the reality in education is somewhere in the middle.
New Jersey has a pretty good education system overall, but I am not a beliver in the old addage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The reality is, education should never be reformed. Reform implies that education should be stagnant at some point and then change. Instead, education should evolve, changing gradually to stay ahead of the times. Just because we are doing pretty well does not mean we should not be in the business of getting better. I almost never hear a teacher say, “I don’t want to do something that will make me better.” I do however hear them complain sometimes about a lack of time, training, and compensation for learning and inplementing thise skills. We as educators should always be hoping to get better, but we ought to be properly trained and compensated as well.
America cannot continue to work on educational ideas of reform. We need to learn how to gradually change and improve our learners for the world they will enter rather than the world they are in now.
The changes that have been cannonballed through are not leading us toward this goal of educating children for tomorrow’s endeavors as of right now. The combination of policies has lead to a clinate in education where good teachers are leaving the profession; not from burnout or retirement, but because teaching is moving toward a profession where it is nearly impossible to support a family. Although I am not against healthcare reform, the bill was passed hastily, with many admitting they did not really read the whole thing. How could they have done so in less than a week? The bill will put many New Jersey public employees over the maximum health contribution required by the national health care reform movement. This will cost the state a lot of money ( I am unaware of any fixes since the bill went through, but I am admittedly not as knowledgable as I ought to be.). The pension reform was a joke. For years the state has not made their own payments and now with the funding hitting a low point due to poor financial planning by the state, teachers bare extra responsibility. All this combined with the 2.5% cap for municipalities means that teachers are likely to continue to see a decrease in net pay for several more years at least. The latest fear is that there will be a push to eliminate any seniority rules. I am certainly for eliminating teachers who continually prove they are not capable or do not care enough to get better. From what I have experienced however, the ratio of these teachers is very low. The bottom line is that, the more we move toward lower teacher salaries, decreased benefits packages, at-will employment, and privatization of the education system, the less likely public education will be to attract quality teachers.
In my four years with my district I have watched my net salary decline in each of the last four years. While my performance continues to improve, I take home less. As I said before I did not get into education for money, but as I get ready to start what may be my final year as a classroom teacher, I cannot help but notice how hard it will be for someone to be the main provider for their family and be a teacher.
My main ambition when making the transition to administration is to help create and support new great teachers. I was fortunate enough in my path to have some great leadership to guide my learning and development and I want to be that person for as many people as possible. Money is not the main reason for my transition to administration, it is certainly a consideration and I cannot pretend the potential to be financially stable is not alluring.
Like myself, many of the good young teachers I know are looking for other options (especially those who do not have a significant other with quality income). As many good young teachers move into leadership roles, it will be imperative to retain great teachers. It will also be crucial to attract great new teachers to the profession and train them. Older teachers have told me that these political storms rise and fall like the tides and that they can wait it out. I do not believe that waiting it out will work. So much is changing, some for the good, but much of it without thought of what it means for those we mean to serve. Education needs to evolve and we as teachers must evolve as well. Change however needs to be done with students in mind. Politics is changing education to serve its own needs at the moment, and in doing so, it is pushing out many of the best teachers. It is making it nearly impossible to recruit and retain great new teachers. Eventually, as the sides fight over who gets to “win” the losers will be the students, as one by one the best teachers are driven from the field. One by one as they exit the profession in various ways, there will be none….and a sad day that will be for all of America’s and New Jersey’s education.
Thanks for reading.