Waiting for Superman

I had the opportunity to finally watch Waiting for Superman, the documentary about the quality of public schools in America. What a great movie! A few things that caught my eye/ear/mind:

  • When describing a significant fall-off in achievement between 5th and 7th grade, one principal said that there were two possibilities: either the kids are getting stupider or there’s a problem with the system. While there are numerous issues with our public education system, I find it interesting that at this moment in the film (or any moment) the role of the family is not mentioned. Three types of family involvement in education have proven to be problematic: the family where the adults are too busy/annoyed to be a part of their child’s education; the family that has to work multiple jobs to pay the bills, thus leaving the kid on his own for much of the time; the meddling parents that are overly involved and ruin life for everyone, including their own child.
  • On average, 1 in 15 doctors lose their license. 1 in 27 lawyers lose theirs. Teachers? 1 in 2500.
  • The movie concludes that public education is failing because it isn’t about the kids. It’s all about the adults. Teacher unions have shut down the majority of education reform because it encroaches on people’s “rights” to teach. The two national teaching unions have paid over 55 million dollars to political campaigns. How can a union have education in mind when that money is leaving education and going into the pockets of those creating bad education policy? I understand why unions formed, but if a teacher is doing what he/she is supposed to be doing, and doing it really well, is there a need for a union? I don’t have the right to be a teacher, I have the responsibility of being a teacher, of making sure every student that comes through my room as the opportunity and expectation to grow in leaps and bounds. My most successful moments as a teacher are when I get over myself and put my students first. (Another reason to not join our local union: the union pres. is my former high school math analysis teacher–my only C in high school. Oh and I went on to get an A in calculus the following semester in college. Oh and my mom is a calculus teacher so I had all the support in the world…except in the actual classroom. Go figure. Stay classy JCEA)
  • Recent legislation suggests that it’s entirely up to teachers to solve all the educational problems, because if a student isn’t learning, whose fault is it but the teacher’s?
  • The movie never identifies who or what the education Superman is. Maybe they are hinting that there isn’t an easy superhero rescue scene with this one, and no amount of legislation/bureaucratic muck-duck will fix the problems. But it’s a good start to look at the heart of those teaching in classrooms everyday. Is it possible for each individual teacher, each principle, each student, each family, each school–is it possible for us to be Superman, or are we already weakened by the kryptonite of self-esteem over content, testing over learning, unions over children?
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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Superman

  1. Joel,
    I agree with most of what you say however I can remember when teachers were fired because they refused to wear a dress or skirt to school (taught kinder and first and were on the floor a lot and pants made more sense). That was not fair and the unions helped change things like that, maybe they aren’t all good or aren’t all right however they have done a lot so that you can teach and not be harrased or worried about other things except doing your best. Our union is actually fighting for good curriculum while the district is going for the curriculum that tests best. Unions aren’t always right but I have seen our union stand up for our teachers when the administration has tried to railroad us. They, along with all of education need to be flexible and adjust to the changing world. It is hard to do my best for each child when I have over 30 children in my class and only 2.5 hours with them each day. When I have 5 children with communication disorder so they can’t understand a sentence with more than 8 words in it and have no social skills. And while dealing with these issues I have to have every child reading at a level 4 by the end of kinder no matter what. Math, science and social studies are no longer a part of our curriculum because we have to pass the DIBELS test (a timed test) even if many children aren’t developmentally ready to read. Now I am rambling so I’ll stop.

    I do have students who are homeless, split time between mom and dad’s house on a weekly basis and parents who are working more than one job to keep their home and food on the table. We need politicians who will help these families who are really struggling in these difficult economic times.

  2. I woke up early this morning and have been thinking more about your blog. Yesterday’s response was an instant, almost knee jerk reaction.
    Joel, go back 40 years or so and see what teaching conditions were like back then. If you like having prep time, limited student load (even though it keeps going up), duty free lunch (even if you choose to work it’s your choice), having the choice of working extra hours for sports or other clubs, for getting paid for extra duties, then thank your union.

    Due to the budget issues we have only taken half step pay raises for the last 3 years and have only had a 0.5% cost of living increase while our insurance has gone up and we have bigger classes with less resources, now our school board wants to take away our step increase (our pay raises) forever. Hmmm, I don’t like the idea of not getting a raise or cost of living increases. It would be one thing if the board wanted them frozen until we are through this crisis or if they put forward anther plan for giving teachers raises. Our admin all received ~$20 thousand pay raise this year. A couple of weeks ago we, the teachers, tracked how many hours of overtime we worked, it was 10878 extra hours in one week!
    Maybe unions have outlived their usefulness or maybe they need to change and adapt but I don’t want to go back to having to go to meetings 4 out of 5 afternoons, to no duty free lunch or gauranteed prep time (remember most of kinder is prep). I like that I can’t be fired just because my admin doesn’t like me or doesn’t like my style of teaching. I like having step increases and a limit on the number of students in my class, I like having the choice to do extra things and being able to have time to spend with my family. If you like these things and many of them we take for granted, thank your union.

  3. Great thoughts, Ski! You raise valid concerns and issues that administrations love to take advantage of when there isn’t accountability. The unions have fought for great things and I really am appreciative of the work environment I get to be in. As great as all of their work is, the opposite side of that coin is dark and troublesome. How many rotten teachers are hiding behind unions? There are at least 4 teachers in my building alone, that when given questionable reviews, threatened to sue or called the union rep. Coming from a charter school tradition, where teachers are at-will employees, I knew from the get go that if I didn’t do my job to the best of my ability and work towards creating positive relationships with admin that I wouldn’t last. Having that proverbial cliff of responsibility and self-accountability leads to quite a different culture. I am a huge fan of getting rid of tenure, though the politics within schools is scary enough that there has to be some sort of fair process to avoid getting weeded out by a supervisor that just doesn’t like you. But then again, in the real world, in the business world, the reality is that not everyone is going to like you and someone is always aiming for you.

    I’m also irritated with our union because they cost us a 4% raise several years ago because they didn’t feel that it was adequate. When the dust settled, we got a 1% raise. It turned out okay because of the economic downturn and budget cuts, but I’m still not convinced that unions have children’s best interest in mind.

    The bigger issue I think is beyond unions though. Education itself has become to political and data-driven that content is taking a back seat. Furthermore, there isn’t a culture in America that values actual learning and hard work. Students want the grade and don’t care about the knowledge or skills. So whether there’s unions or not, tenure or not, legislation or not, the problem won’t take an upturn until there’s a greater cultural value of learning.

  4. I love your last point about the culture of not caring about the process of learning something or the skills but only caring about the grade. The issue of not being able to get rid of inefectual people is true in the private sector as well. Clint knows someone who was laid off because his manager didn’t like him while people who always say “yes” but don’t do any work are allowed to stay on. It is cultural issue not just education, I just wish that people wouldn’t say they value children and education and then are unwilling to make changes or face the real issues-homelessness, parents not fullfilling their duties as parents. It does go deeper than education and we are the battle ground right now.

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