Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

8 Jan
Sorry cat

Posting a cute little kitten meme doesn’t make it all better, but I do hope teachers can forgive me for my prior prejudice.

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  From the deepest level of my heart, I am so sorry for misjudging you.

This is what happens when a person bases her opinion about a school solely on test scores. This is what happens when a person judges an entire profession based on news stories about a few bad apples. This is what happens when a person believes the so-called education experts’ solutions rather than trusting the men and women who invest their lives in the education and well-being of my children.

I have been guilty of all of the above, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My epiphany came last week when I made a Facebook post about my fifth-grade son’s problems with math. He’s had difficulty since third grade, which coincides with when Texas, as well as virtually every other state in the country, adopted the education experts’ “conceptual math,” a teaching method that shuns memorization of math facts and promotes multi-step “strategies” to solve math problems. Several of my teacher friends blasted the new method.  My friend April, a third grade teacher in Tennessee, confessed she desperately wants to teach her class using the tried and true methods that have worked during her 20-year teaching career, but she is prohibited from doing so by the state.  She candidly told me teachers are not allowed to speak out against the new material, especially with students’ parents.

April and other veteran teachers I’ve talked to say student comprehension has not improved under any of the new methods, and Common Core is making things worse. They vigorously dispute U.S.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” The kids and teachers are not the problem; the constant revamping of education by inexperienced experts is the problem.

Principals are also held hostage by the revamping problem. Earlier this year I attended a parent meeting about our elementary school’s curriculum and was told how the experts have determined these new techniques would be better for public school students. The teaching techniques, especially with math, were radically different from what my daughter experienced just three years earlier.  In exasperation, I blurted, “Why are we changing things every few years? Has there ever been a time when these experts thought public education worked?” The principal gave me a sympathetic smile. She wanted to respond, but couldn’t. I felt her pain.

Why do we keep trying to fix public education with new teaching models and testing? Why can’t we return to the teaching methods that worked for us, our parents and grandparents?  Long before reform became a buzzword, America’s public schools have been educating our nation’s scientists, engineers, teachers, economists, physicians and other degreed professionals. They’ve also educated our entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, farmers, mechanics, nurses and countless other Americans who contribute to making our society great. I believe they still do a good job, and they could do better if more parents gave a flip about their kids and the so-called experts got out of the teachers’ way.

April, like thousands of other teachers, has spent more time with 9-year-olds than a Teach for America volunteer or education reformers like Bill Gates. She knows what works. She teaches them reading, math, social studies and science. She provides books and supplies for kids who can’t afford them, spends her free time trying to engage busy or apathetic parents, comforts children when they are sad, and serves as their primary source of encouragement, and sometimes, discipline.  What would help improve education for April’s students? It’s not multi-billion dollar testing or new teaching models; it’s parental involvement.  A teacher cannot encourage a love for learning if the child’s parents treat education with disdain or indifference. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to be actively involved in their child’s life by reading with them, helping with homework, supporting teachers’ discipline efforts, and stressing the importance of learning.

Teachers, I don’t expect you to do this alone. You can’t. You need my help, and I need yours. You also deserve some gratitude for a job that often gets you more criticism than praise. Thank you for caring about my kids. I know you would do anything to protect them from harm, and I know their tears hurt you as much as they hurt me. Thank you for the emails and calls to update me on how they’re doing.  I know you want to keep me involved in the process. Thank you for inspiring them to be better people. I know you see their potential.

I want you to know that I have your back. You may not be able to speak out about things like Common Core or other curriculum issues, but I can. I will be loud and persistent because you are valuable, and I don’t want to see you run off because of ridiculous regulations and self-righteous reformers who have never been in a classroom. I recognize I am the worst PTA fundraising and party-planning mom, but I promise to be a great butt-kicking mom who will fight for things that will make our educational system better for you and my children.

I know you want what’s best for the kids, and I’m sorry for not standing up for you sooner.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. –   I am a product of our nation’s public schools.

_________________________________________________________________________

Parent tutorial: What is conceptual math?
This is not the math you learned during elementary school. The old time-tested methods for long division, borrowing and carrying are no longer used. In their place are tactics such as partial products for multiplication and magic seven for division. Students can no longer provide an answer; they must also show their work and explain the strategy they used to get it.  The techniques work for some students, but the multiple steps can cause great frustration for others and can make it nearly impossible for parents to help with homework.

19 Responses to “Dear teachers, I owe you an apology”

  1. Ronald G. Nixon January 15, 2014 at 7:31 AM #

    I own a small retail store. Whenever a child is present when something is purchased with cash; I expect the child to tell me how much change is due. I write the problem on a piece of paper and give it to them. With very few exceptions they cannot.

    I wait and eventually the adult with the child takes over and shows the child how to get the answer. Some are surprised that their child is unable to do a simple subtraction problem. Others say they have no clue what their child is doing.

    A few years ago I volunteered for a program called “Homework Helpers.” Students were brought to us at a local mall for help. I helped with math.

    I worked with a 4th grade girl whose mother said she was having problems with multiplication. She could do 1 through 6, but got lost after that. I spoke with the girl, she seemed intelligent and eager to learn.

    She knew 5 x 9 was 45, but didn’t know what 9 x 5 was. I did this several times with different combinations. Then had her use small disks to see the problem. Count 45 disks; break them into 9 piles; break them into 5 piles. We did this over and over until she smiled and said “they are the same!”

    That was the breakthrough. Then I asked her about division. She said she wasn’t allowed to do division. So, I taught her how to division using simple Algebra.

    When her mother came back I told her in private that her daughter was very intelligent and a joy to work with. She was doing multiplication and division. Mom looked at me and said, you don’t understand; I’ve been told that my daughter is unable to learn this, she is in special ed! We went back to her daughter and she answered every problem her mother gave her.

    I told her that I started working with her daughter without having been told that she was unable to learn. I formed my impression of her based on our conversation and nothing else. I have my own way of teaching and probably spent more “quality” time with her than some of her teachers. I got lucky and reached her.

    As a teacher I have no problem with specific goals and expectations. My problem is with rigid rules and processes forced on me that may or may not work; so some professor or group can sell their new system and make money.

    Give teachers the tools they need and reasonable goals to meet or exceed. Then get out of their way! As long as their students are learning, enjoying their time in school and meeting standards; how the teacher accomplishes this should be up to him or her.

    • Kim Keller January 15, 2014 at 12:43 PM #

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so happy to hear that you are volunteering with such an important program; however, I’m happier that you are finding ways to help kids conquer academic hurdles.

  2. John Carpenter January 12, 2014 at 6:54 AM #

    I am thankful for the positive comments. I don’t understand the anti-union swipes. I never thought I needed a union because I’m a good teacher. I left one district and willingly took a huge pay loss. I have a masters degree, constantly have to take more courses and pay for them to keep my teaching certificate valid. At my current pay, my family of 5 would qualify for assistance if my husband was unable to contribute financially. My 3 kids would qualify for free or reduced lunch. My union is needed in this day of anti-teacher. I know unions aren’t perfect, education can be improved, and we can all contribute to helping the children today. Wanting job security and fair evaluations, along with reasonable pay aren’t villan-like union wishes.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dear teachers, I owe you an apology | Front Line Teachers - January 23, 2014

    […] Dear teachers, I owe you an apology. […]

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