The recent ruling by a California judge that declared that California's tenure, dismissal and layoff laws were unconstitutional is causing a heating up of various arguments over the educational systems across the United States. So I thought I would join the fray with a few comments of my own.
It is reasonable to inquire as to anyone's credentials who weighs in on such arguments, so here is where I put myself: I am not an expert, but I do have some anecdotal stories regarding various aspects of the many controversies that arise in discussing educational systems.
I started teaching junior high school at age 21 in a small, rural Ohio school - one of six teachers plus a part-time principal in that school. My contract for the year was just $2,300. By November or December of that year I learned that there was good reason for teachers to form a union. That lesson came when Ohio passed a minimum wage law for teachers of $2,400 a year. I came to school the day after the law was put into effect and visited with my fellow teachers saying, "Ha! Ha! I got a raise today." The other teachers almost chorused back: "So did we!" At least three of those others had been teaching in that system for about 10 years and their wages had remained below $2,400 as they were kept on the same schedule under which they had been hired. Besides learning from this that unions might have a place, I also learned that you could not necessarily count on school administrators nor on school board members to be fair. To carry that a bit further, the state probably could have done more to try to equalize finances for the different systems in the state. My second year of teaching found me more than doubling my salary by switching districts.
Class size is often mentioned by teachers as having something to do with the quality of teaching. I know of no school these days that would exist year after year with the size of classes I had that first year of teaching. I taught three classes of mathematics and three classes of general science - my college major being in biology with a minor in mathematics. My three science classes were sized at 35, 36 and 37. The three mathematics classes were only slightly smaller at 32, 34 and 36. That meant more than 200 different students I saw every day. If I collected homework papers that would mean not just looking at 200 papers, but also having to record how each student did. I learned quickly not to collect many homework or even classwork papers. Of course it was more important to work with those students who were clearly not getting the concepts students I needed to identify by observing their work during the class period.
The California judge who ruled on tenure also said there were as many as 8,250 "grossly ineffective" teachers albeit I was unable to find what definition was being used for "grossly ineffective." The inferred assumption is that teachers have control over their own effectiveness. In my first year of teaching, I found that was not the case where I was teaching. As mentioned, I had three general science classes and was provided with 75 science books that were copyrighted more than 20 years before (pre-WWII) plus 40 science books that were more recently copyrighted about five years before. The older "How and Why" books were hopelessly outdated with no mention of jets, but pictures of prop planes, no modern medicine, no science discoveries from about 1930 onward, no television, no modern plant science. The newer series was better. My plan was to put all of the books in the classroom as reference books and then use them for all three classes with outside work being handouts and research and experiments to be performed at home.
Within a week I had a visit from the district superintendent: "You will issue each student a textbook." (No ifs, ands or buts.) The result was, of course, that the one class had the great advantage of the more recent texts while the other classes had to do with the outdated texts. Lesson: The individual teacher may not have any control over his/her own effectiveness. There was no special help for teachers despite the large classes. There were no paraprofessionals, no parent help during school hours, no special counsellors, and no help for special needs kids.
In the eighth grade mathematics classes I had a student who had a tested IQ of well over 150 and another kid whose tested IQ was just 53. The one was working on algebra on his own, explaining answers in two ways, once using algebra to solve the problem and another using just logical reasoning. The other would work diligently at the desk, but the resulting paper was often merely randomly placed digits, sometimes from a distance looking like multiplication problems and addition of columns, but no consistency in any of the work and never a correct answer. Fortunately, neither kid was a discipline problem. Possibly because it was a small, rural community, the kids were all very understanding and respected the abilities of their classmates.
Did I mention that my duties were not just teaching those six classes of 30+ students each I also ate lunch in 15 minutes or less on bad weather days so that I could get to the gym to supervise the students after they finished eating. Then there were also activities like being an adviser and chaperone for the Valentine's Day dance which also involved doing the decorations for the event. I also advised the cheerleaders and drove them to the away games. A daily chore was supervising the school patrol.
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!