When I got certified the implicit message to me from the state was “while we can’t pay you much, if you stick it out and do a good job, we’ll protect you and take care of you.” The teacher pension system, for example, is an extremely important benefit that allowed someone like me not only to become a teacher, but to stay in the profession.
Throughout the years, it has felt increasingly that I have been duped. First, we were told that what really matters is test scores of students. Forget individual passion, creativity and expertise. If I have a special area of passion (geology, for example, in my case), I have to curb that passion because the MCAS has only a limited number of questions in each area. While I am not opposed to standardized tests, they have become so all-consuming that every decision made in my school is somehow connected to bringing up or keeping up our MCAS scores. Now the state is moving towards tying teacher evaluations (and perhaps, salaries) to this very limited measure of student success. (There is also the little-discussed fact that there are corporate profit interests in the promotion of and expansion of these tests, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Secondly, we have been told that we need to be tested, and continually educated, to obtain and retain our certification. In theory, that sounds like a worthy idea. Continuing education is a fine idea. But the process is a farce, and one that we are being taxed to undertake. I need to pay at least $100 every five years for the privilege of staying in the profession. Is that the money required to process my re-certification? Almost certainly not – this can’t be the case as I can’t even get a human being on the phone when I have a question from the Department of Education. Surely this is an underhanded way to tax teachers. (I would argue that if the governor wants to show goodwill to teachers, a simple gesture would be to waive the teacher re-certification fee.) In the meantime, teacher evaluations are a joke; we could be getting meaningful feedback from our supervisors, but that rarely ever happens. Instead, we fulfill our continuing education credits, pay our tax, and get re-certified. As long as we have the paperwork to protect ourselves in an audit, no questions are asked about our effectiveness, etc.
Thirdly, with recent moves to weaken the power of teachers’ unions and promotion of charter schools, my ability to deal with arbitrary decisions taken by incompetent administrators is being taken away from me. Unfortunately, a dirty little secret is that there is a shortage of competent administrators. (There should be no surprise as being an administrator is a thankless job for which one earns only marginally more than being a teacher.) I have worked in too many schools where teachers were treated unfairly or unprofessionally by administrators. To paraphrase the words of the president of the School Board Association, in the right hands this new power is good, but in the wrong hands it is a disaster.
The result for me, a teacher of almost 18 years, is that it has begun to feel that the state isn’t interested in my staying in this profession. (Perhaps lower cost trumps experience?) The state is essentially asking me to (1) be less creative and concentrate my efforts on preparing kids for a single test, (2) expect less flexibility and less protection from incompetent administrators, (3) accept lower salaries, and (4) expect less from your pension because you’re probably going to abuse it anyway.
At age 40, I feel more insecure about my career than ever before. I know I am an excellent teacher – I receive almost universal praise from all my “stakeholders” (students, parents, administrators). I have won several nationally recognized awards and grants. (And, for what it’s worth, my students consistently score among the highest in the state on the MCAS.) I continue to love my job, and I continue to look forward daily to working with the young people I am honored to teach. Yet I have begun to feel that the state of Massachusetts doesn’t value what I do. I suppose that what is really going on is that as I get more and more expensive to my school district, the state sees me as a liability – easily replaced by a younger teacher. What a fool I have been to expect the state to value my service rather than the bottom line.