Education reformers should listen to teachers

March 22, 2010

Never before has public education been so perilously close to its demise. In the name of reform, we have tweaked, pushed, pulled, torn apart and done everything but "fix" education. This has been a long, tortuous process. The one ingredient that has always been missing has been true thoughtful collaboration with the very people who really do know what is going on in the classrooms: the teachers. The current administration talks to the educators but doesn't really listen ("Leaving no child behind," March 16).

In the name of reform we have mandated from the top down. Everything, from curriculum, instruction methods, time frames, data collection, data usage, to any and all solutions, begins at the top, not with the experts in the classrooms. The problem continues when those on the front lines, the educators in the field with the actual knowledge of the issues, speak about the changes that are needed but are not the ones able to effect those changes. The educrats are not willing or able to listen and put the really difficult measures into place.

In the name of reform we blame the classroom teachers for the ills of society and for the problems in the classrooms. Instead of giving the teachers the tools and human resources to get the job done well, we have over the years been careened from one newest, best reform idea to the next. The pendulum has swung back and forth so many times we can't keep track. Only it now has a scythe blade attached, and it is swinging against our teachers' heads.

President George W. Bush declared war on those terrorist teachers. The profession is now a minefield filled with jargon, incentives and impossible tasks. Educators are just waiting for one misstep knowing full well the mines cannot always be avoided. Imagine going to war with hundreds of generals giving conflicting directives to the troops. No wonder the best teachers are giving up and leaving whenever possible.

How could teachers know what is best for students? After all, teaching is such an easy job that people are just jumping right up to get in those classrooms and teach. Ask anyone who has volunteered in a classroom lately. They get it. Ask anyone who is a child of a teacher. They get it.

One would have thought that we were past that period in education reform when No Child Left Behind proved so unsuccessful with its myriad of unintended consequences. Isn't it time we got it right? Don't our children deserve that from us?

But now it is even worse. Our most thoughtful president, one we worked hard to get elected, one we thought would really listen to our ideas, has left us behind for a quick fix, leaving the really effective reforms behind with it.

I am a teacher. I have no desire to foster incompetency in the teaching force or at the Department of Education, nor does any teacher I know. We teachers are happy to be held accountable, but until we are held accountable in a way that allows us to do what we need to help every child reach his or her potential and become an active thoughtful citizen of the United States of America, we are doomed to failure, and so is our country. Without teachers who are really respected as the experts, we will fail public education. Without public education, we all will fail.

Abby Beytin, Reisterstown

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