Confessions of a She-Geek

December 30, 2015

Teacher, teacher (can you teach me?)

Filed under: Daily life — Teresa @ 6:20 pm
Tags: ,

A recently-posted opinion piece in the Toronto Star has been making the rounds on Facebook. The gist of the piece is that paying teachers more hasn’t led to higher scores on standardized tests.

The responses to the original posting are astonishing – a lot of the respondents seem to truly believe that paying teachers a higher salary is a waste of money because then people will go into teaching for the high wage, rather than out of some altruistic desire to help prepare children to take their place as productive members of society.

I don’t know what’s more absurd: saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more because the test scores aren’t any higher, or suggesting that paying more would attract all the wrong people.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I started my career as a teacher, and taught in the classroom for five years before I realized (read: admitted) that it just wasn’t for me. I have first-hand experience as a teacher, which I strongly suspect is five more years than the people who made these comments have.

Saying that you know what it’s like to be a teacher because you went to school, is like saying that you know what it’s like to be a doctor because you have an annual physical. Actual contact time is just the tip of the iceberg, and in no way reflects how much actual time teachers put in.

If you divide a teacher’s salary by the actual number of hours worked, I think it’s safe to say that even the “exorbitant” pay of a whopping 50,000/year doesn’t amount to very much per hour – at least not in the U.S.

While it may technically be true that teachers “get the summer off”, those “summers off” are generally filled with prepping for the upcoming school year, taking classes to meet continuing education requirements, leading students in extracurricular activities (which at least in the U.S. are pretty much a condition of employment), and in some cases, even TEACHING summer school.

I have never, ever met anyone who went into teaching because the pay is fantastic and the working conditions are ideal. It’s hard, HARD work. Anyone who believes otherwise, just needs to spend an academic year shadowing a teacher. Every hour spent with students is the result of several other hours of prepping and followup.

Using standardized testing as the be-all and end-all of measuring student progress, is frankly bogus and always has been. All standardized tests measure is how well students can take tests. Some students do very well on tests; others don’t. If you believe that the only point of the educational system is to help kids score well on tests, then you pretty much believe that education basically IS pointless.

The point of an education is to teach kids how to think, and how to function as productive members of society. Standardized tests do NOT measure that. And the time-honored contention that standardized testing is necessary because there’s no better way to measure progress, is a very, VERY old argument that becomes less valid with every passing year.

Authentic assessment (i.e., measuring what students have learned in a way that accurately captures the student’s level of mastery) MUST involve more than just standardized tests. We use standardized testing because numbers are easier to boil down into statistics. But when the statistics themselves don’t give an accurate picture of what’s really going on, there’s a fundamental problem with that approach.

Teaching to the test may in theory lead to higher test scores (assuming that the students actually TRY to do well, which is by no means a given), but all it proves is that students can succeed at taking tests. It’s NOT an accurate rendering of what students have actually accomplished.

So what do I suggest? How about this: using performance-based assessments that actually demonstrate what students can do? Having students work on cross-disciplinary projects which demonstrate the ability to pull together, analyze, and communicate new information? Establish baseline competencies for each student, which the student then completes as part of ongoing coursework?

How about not boiling students down to scores on standardized tests, which puts an inordinate amount of pressure on students to do well in this one thing, while ignoring all the other things he (or she) also does as part of an ongoing education?

Unless you really think that doing well on a test IS the point of education. If that’s what you truly believe, then feel free to ignore this post.

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