twelve teachers in a room, twelve opinions on the table

I’m on my school’s Literacy Committee, and most of the time I find the assignment to be highly enjoyable. Recently, though, we have been discussing something that has turned into a sensitive subject: requirements for reading.
You’d think that it would be an easy conversation–kids need to read, teachers should have kids read. Where we came to disagreement was exactly how teachers should have kids read. What ended up happening was a division into two camps:

Camp one–teachers should use Accelerated Reader (a reading program that comes with comprehension tests and “diagnostics” to tell kids where they are in their reading and what they “should” be reading). Teachers should require kids only to read books that fall within the program (there are many) and insure that each child is aware of their level (as diagnosed by program–the test has never been examined for actual accuracy).

Camp two–teachers should just encourage kids to read. period. full stop. There should be some sort of comprehension check, but the format for that check is at the discretion of the teacher.

The meeting definitely got tense. As a member of “camp two,” I fully understand the attraction of a program such as AR. It spits out results; it tells the kids what books to read; it tells the teachers if the kids are reading.

Of course, what it doesn’t do is have the teachers talk to the kids about reading. A test, requirement, comprehension check, they all keep kids reading for class–they don’t, of course, turn kids into lifetime readers.

We are set to have a (probably tenser) discussion at the next department meeting.

postdated checks, teacher salaries–why is this even a question?

I went to a “teacher store” today to pick up some new borders (mine had too many staple holes to survive another year), and they had an enormous sign on their door:

All teachers can post-date checks to October 2nd–please just talk to manager

This sign made me stop, and then nod, and then sigh. I stopped because it seemed so bizarre to me that any business would do this; I nodded because if I had needed more than a few borders, I might have needed to do this; I sighed because, once again, teacher salaries were being acknowledged as too low–but only to the teachers themselves. Now, if I’d seen a similar sign at Starbucks–then I would have been impressed.

Whenever someone asks me why I got into teaching, I usually reply with something about loving kids, or enjoying my subject, or just loving what I do, but when I’m in a particularly foul mood (for example, after I’ve just finished grading 180 essays, or when I had to put my car repairs on a payment plan) I answer “Oh, you know, for the money.” But teacher salaries should never be a joke. All discussions of “you only work nine months a year” aside (and, really, how is that true? Most teachers work all summer as well), teaching requires enormous amounts of energy, devotion, and education. For some reason, for all of the calls for greater teacher accountability, getting only “the best and the brightest,” and highly qualified educators the idea of teacher-salaries are constantly left out of the equation. How does it feel to be constantly questioned, examined, and derided and never compensated? Maybe the feeling of ineffectiveness that is brought on by having to struggle to meet ends meet in the classroom and at home is one of the reasons that teacher turnover is so high.

It is hard to describe the frustration that teachers experience because of a lack of resources, a lack of time, and a lack of support. One of the ways that society communicates support is through pay. Why, then, is teacher pay even a question? How could anyone argue that you could pay teachers so little and expect so much? Where does the disconnect between “you’re beyond valuable; you are responsible for so much, and we have to hold you to an high standard” and “well, we can’t afford to pay that much, you understand” occur? How are teachers to convince their students that learning is important when it is constantly demonstrated that education isn’t quite important enough to insure it gets what it needs?

How could it ever be okay that teachers have to post date checks to buy supplies they need for the school year? What message does that send about education?