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Voices: Stop blaming Adams 12 teachers

Adams 12 teacher Pamela Maloney says district leaders and parents need to collaborate with teachers to improve schools in her district and beyond.

Over the last few years I have attended many board meetings, but I have never been more disappointed in our district leadership than I have been recently. The deterioration of the relationship between teachers and district leaders has reached a new low. As a teacher I feel constantly criticized and attacked. This “us vs. them” culture is unproductive.

Union members are Republicans, Democrats and independents. For us, it is not about politics; it’s about our students and what’s best for them. Today’s teachers believe we are on the front lines in a war being waged against something that is part of the very fabric of our country and what makes America great and being an American an extraordinary blessing.

I have also heard board members talk about the desire to have highly qualified teachers in Adams 12. I am a National Board Certified Teacher with a master’s degree and a 16-year veteran of the classroom.  I’ve had the privilege to teach and visit educational systems abroad through the U.S. Fulbright Program and the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund. Living in 15 states, I’ve attended and taught at both public and private schools across our country.

Despite my experience, professional achievements and ongoing commitment to refining my practice, I feel discredited, unappreciated and disrespected.  Why do we need highly qualified teachers when we are not trusted to do our jobs or know what we need to do them well?  Rather, we are expected to add more and more to our already heavy loads. As new directives are rolled out of the Educational Support Center, we are required to manage ever-changing curriculum and programs without question. My father is an aviator and I have flown on airplanes to more than 31 countries around the world, but I don’t begin to imagine that I have the ability to tell a pilot how to fly an airplane. I trust that they are well trained and experienced to do their job.

How schools have changed

The public schools where I have taught are more rigorous than any school I attended as a child. I believe teachers today are better trained, more specialized and more dedicated than ever. I loved my second grade teacher, Miss Lipski, but classrooms today look nothing like they did when I was in school. Every year brings bigger challenges than the year before because of the increasingly wide range of abilities and needs I find in my classroom. I can attest that the balance of my classroom has shifted from one or two kids in a class of 25 with these needs to nearly one third or half! In a class of 24 students I struggle daily to manage about nine students with demanding behavioral and academic needs.

Play and experiential learning have been abandoned while at the same time children are getting less of it at home. Curriculum has moved down so that children are expected to master concepts long before you or I encountered them. Yet children are coming to school with more challenges and greater deficits than ever before. It seems like such a travesty that more and more children are coming to school already behind but are encountering a more difficult curriculum. Rather than thinking the system is failing them, it’s easier to blame the teachers. Simultaneously raising standards and increasing accountability with a population of children who are so vastly different from those before is not the solution.

It is unpopular to address how the experiences of many children from birth to age 5 set them up for failure before they even begin compulsory education. It has become popular to vilify teachers for all that children are lacking when they walk through our doors at the age of 5. At Back-to-School Night I tell my parents that they are their child’s first and most important teacher and that I am honored to join their team for the next nine months. I make a firm commitment to helping their children be successful and tell them that I cannot do it alone. I need their help to have the best opportunity to make a difference in their child’s educational achievement.  We are in this together. I remember my parents and teachers being a united front and I, alone, was held responsible and accountable for my performance in school.

When I was 12, I nearly lost my leg to an injury known as compartment syndrome. After emergency surgery, I was told I would never walk again. After many months of physical therapy I regained the use of my leg. Luckily I had a team of highly qualified medical professionals working together to save my leg. In my classroom, I feel like a surgeon who has been given a box of Band-Aids to treat compartment syndrome.

Cooperation vs. competition key

The main driver of success in education is not competition between teachers and schools, but cooperation. Decades ago when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence, it was equity. Norway, like Finland, is a small and not especially diverse country, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result?  Mediocre performance on the PISA test.

We want our children’s future to offer better opportunities than we had. To be prepared for those opportunities they need to be more than mere vessels of rote procedure and information. Leaders in educational practice, research and policy must work together to ensure that our children receive an equally good education no matter what but, the three arenas of education are not engaged in collaboration.  A successful public education system requires adequate funding, elevated respect for the professionals in the field and a partnership between those professionals and the public to put our children first in order to ensure their success. The success of education is dependent on the synergy of these parts.

The current direction of Adams 12 will not lead to this. Right now, there is no synergy. During a time when professional morale in Adams 12 is unbelievably low, it seems unfathomable that the school board has unleashed such a vicious attack on the best resource they have – teachers. Be a champion for education in Adams 12 and work to incorporate the voice of educators when you create educational policy. Return to the culture of cooperation and collaboration with the professionals that stand on the front line every day educating our children.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.