Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Isolation
Teachers across the country are being heavily recruited by numerous school systems. Programs such as Teach America are striving to bring young teachers into some of the worst school environments in the country, meanwhile other school systems are offering big money to bring in the right kind of talent. Regardless of where a teacher may land, their goal remains the same. To teach. In many cases teachers are met with budget cutbacks and a school system filled bureaucracy, teaching is not just a simple act anymore. With the numerous teaching positions available, teachers simply move on to another district or another school when things turn sour. While there are numerous reasons for teachers to move on, teacher isolation is a major concern. If the education system in America is ever to be turned around then the retention rate of teachers must be improved and decreasing isolation is a key to this happening. Teachers often find themselves isolated from others, isolation can occur because of numerous factors. These factors include: Race, gender, grade level being taught, etc. But what exactly is isolation?
Isolation is "the process of separating somebody or something from others, or the fact of being alone and separated from others" Besides the obvious social causes of isolation (race, gender, age etc..), isolation can also come from work related issues as well. In California alone 22% of teachers left after their first four years in the classroom (Futernick). In the poorer schools, ten percent of teachers transfer to other schools each year. There are numerous factors that can lead to isolation, one being the overwhelming responsibilities that new teachers often face. New teachers are faced with an entirely new faculty, a new school bureaucracy, and pressures to teach a curriculum entirely based on standardized testing (SOLS), not to mention the pressure from parents. All these factors can cause a new teacher to feel extremely overwhelmed and quickly lose faith in the education process. While isolation can occur at any level of work experience, it is the new teachers that are extremely susceptible to this, as they feel that they are the only teachers suffering through this. The 22% that leave after four years prove just how harsh the first years of an educational job can be. One of the major causes of stress for new teachers is finding a successful combination of what they feel is important while maintaining the correct SOL-based content in order for their students to pass the standardized testing standards created by the No Child Left Behind Act.
No Child Left Behind, Teaching to the Test
No Child Left behind was intended to raise the quality of education in the United States. The policy installed new tests and education requirements for new teachers. In order to access and then raise the bar the government mandated standardized testing for all students. If the school improved then federal money is made available to the school district. However, if schools fail to meet the national standards for two years in a row, then it must give the students the option to transfer to another school. Obviously the decision is a fairly easy one for school systems and that is to prepare the students for the standardized tests. The overall success of this program is disputed. The government states that nine year olds have improved their reading level more in the past five years then the previous twenty eight years (www.ed.gov). In addition, a recent report shows that math skills are also improving on elementary age children. There have been some concern with the equality of testing. Individual states develop the test for their schools. If their scores fall below national benchmarks then they could simply alter the tests in hopes of improving scores. New teachers often come in ready to change the world however they are met with a thick line of red tape and instructions on what and what not to teach. In order for teachers both new and old to combat isolation they must network with each other on a very small and a very large scale.
Coworkers and Mentors
A key to combating isolation is to bond with the fellow coworkers. Granted, the human factor will keep all teachers from getting along together. Teachers share a lot in common and for the new teachers they can be a great source of knowledge and guidance. While at work, teachers can lean on each other for help and support, outside of work teachers can talk about their days and their frustration. Just talking to someone who knows what you are going through is a great way to relieve stress and lessen the feeling of isolation. On a national scale, teachers have large support groups and unions. Mentoring is quickly becoming the preferred method of combating isolation, as there is no additional cost to the school and the program promotes faculty unity (Heider 2005). In many schools in the Virginia Beach district have developed a Buddy System, though there is no official designation, where teachers are paired up with other teachers in their grade level. The teachers who have been paired up have scheduled that parallel each other, which allows the teachers to have time during Recess, Physical Education and Lunch to discuss matters with each other.
The Buddy System
Other ways the Buddy System has come into play within the schools are New Teacher Support Programs. Schools are realizing how important it is to support new teacher's by giving them access to veteran teacher's within the school. They are able to go and ask questions, seek guidance and meet in discussion groups to help them cope with the isolation that so many teachers feel today. There is a "Sink or Swim" (Moir) momentum that many school systems are trying to change. "New teacher support programs improve retention and teaching simultaneously".(Moir) Veteran teachers and administrators have come to realize that "teachers need the opportunity to think and talk with each other on a sustained basis about the day-to-day life of the classrooms. They need to investigate and analyze questions that feel urgent, troubling, exciting, useful, or in some other way consequential to them, given the circumstances of their individual schools and students. Serious conversation about shared work is always a powerful resource for the people doing the work".(Barnes) Like other professions such as Doctors and Lawyers who have the benefit of a work force that collaborates, teachers need the same support for their field as well. Without it, the isolation of the classroom can become the end of a teachers career.
Unions offer teachers with a great source of news and information about issues that matter most to teachers. These unions hope to gain enough force to actually influence legislation bot on the local and national level. The National Education Association (NEA) is one of these groups. The NEA is composed of employees from all across the country and range from preschool right on up to the collegiate level. The group pushes for increased education funding, tax cuts for teachers as well as student issues such as a decrease in the interest rate for subsidized college loans. The education unions have pushed for increased and equal pay rates for teachers, as well as defended teachers who may have found themselves fired or otherwise incriminated. These unions are meant well and can provide a lifeline to teachers in their darkest hours. But these unions in fact make it harder for many teachers to succeed.
The Problems with Unions
|“||But to complain about teachers being underpaid without addressing the issue of merit pay is like staring down the barrel of a gun and fretting about being pistol-whipped. To the teachers unions credit they have obscured the issue such that it’s wrongly about schools not having enough money, or more laughably, New York Times op-eds about how society doesn’t value teachers. Society values teachers quite a bit. They just wisely choose not to value them all equally.||”|
Unions have pushed for equal pay across the board, of course this depends on level of education, and years of experience but outside of that the pay is fairly equal. The education system completely ignores the merit system, where what a person earns depends on how they perform. "This is because unions insist on uniform pay for all teachers regardless of ability. Teaching is not an assembly line where workers come in shifts and are interchangeable. It is a highly specialized profession that requires tremendous adaptability. And more than that, it is far too important a job to pretend that educators are all equal" (Hemmingway). Granted, teaching often depends on students. If a teacher is blessed with an extremely bright group of students then they could like a fantastic teacher without teaching. Reversely a teacher could work their tale off with a difficult group of kids and look like a failure. The issue of merit pay is extremely controversial, however the fact is that the pay grades are so set in stone that a brilliant teacher could find themselves making the same amount as their less qualified coworkers.
Combating isolation is a fundamental challenge for all teachers, but most importantly new ones. Though there are a few ways to combat isolation, the most effective method eschews the different Teacher Unions and looks to coworkers to form important peer bonds with which to build a solid network of assistance (Heider 2005). However, it is ultimately the teacher in question to look for this assistance, as networking and peer systems only work when those involved work with the system, and not against it. Teaching is a difficult profession, and were the teacher in it for the money they would fail in the end as the drive to break the bonds of isolation and the desire to balance the stress in order to reach the students would not be great enough. Other teachers understand this, and are willing to help anyone who wishes to join them in their quest to educate today's youth. New teachers need only ask for the assistance and be willing to listen.
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- Barns, N. (2000, January 19) Teachers Teaching Teachers [Electronic Version] Education Week, 19, 38-42
- Futernick, K. (2007). A possible dream: Retaining California’s teachers so all students learn. Sacramento: California State University.
- "Achievement on reading and math tests up since NCLB _ reportcker" Zuckerbrod,Nancy The Associated Press c. 2007
- Hemmingway, Mark "Unmerited, Not all teachers are created equal" The National Review, June 30th. 2005
- Heider, K.L. Teacher Isolation: How Mentoring Programs Can Help . Current Issues in Education (2005, June 23). 8(14). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume8/number14/
- Moir, E. (2003) Sink or Swim [Electronic Version] AAETeachers Retrieved from http://www.aaeteachers.org/sinkorswim.htm