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Focus on Education School Grades and the State of the Profession of Teaching in America

Posted By: Jerilyn Kelle on October 4, 2011
First, there is an overall escalation of 4-yr state colleges competing to raise their recruitment of tuition-paying students in revenue-strapped states that are reducing budgetary resources to their colleges. It does not seem a far stretch to assume that their Colleges of Education, traditionally their “bread-and-butter” tuition-producers, are vulnerable to greater pressure to recruit and keep their customers (I mean students).
Second, most state colleges and their colleges of education are now more than ever vulnerable to students’ threats to take their tuition elsewhere (along with what they could contribute to higher retention and graduation rates) if they feel like the education courses are too demanding and higher grades are hard to come by (as they are in most other academic disciplines on campus). And since teacher training programs are prolific, at the same time competition is escalating, students’ threats of taking their tuition elsewhere are not taken lightly and then passed on to teacher educators in increasingly less subtle ways.
Third, the strong systemic factors related to the grade inflation of students in colleges of education cannot be ignored, such as the significant role that social, political and economic forces play in the caliber of institutions and students of education (P-College) in the United States. On the economic front, in some of the worst revenue-starved states, the long-time popular myth among taxpayers and policy makers has been that teachers have higher social status, are better paid and have safer job security than others in their communities who work harder and longer hours than teachers do. Consequently, their state legislatures are adamant about freezing or cutting teacher salaries, curtailing their bargaining rights, and altogether eliminating some of their benefits (like leave time for professional development). At the same time, the well-known fact on college campuses is that there are several other career choices that will lead to a much more comfortable income and higher social status than the teaching profession. In their own defense, teacher education students always deliver their practiced retort to this ‘insult’ with a shrug and a nervous laugh: “Well, we’re not going into education for the money; everybody knows that!”
It’s at about this point that teachers educators are very likely to get the urge to “go easy on them,” knowing full well that society (i.e., students, parents, administrators, or any other taxpayers) will never let them have it “easy” again, economically or politically. How many employed teachers do you know who can openly risk their jobs—sometimes their only family income—to advocate for the destruction of temporary rickety trailer classrooms that became permanent, for example? Or, “just say no” to increased class size, decreased funds for books and materials; increased student population with special needs, decreased specially trained staff support in the classroom; increased scrutiny with pay for performance based on standards beyond their control, and decreased negotiating power either individually or collectively? And, socially, the only ones who are not blaming teachers for the nation’s low GDP, weakening standing in the international competition for the “good” jobs and industries, and for the declining moral and civic character of American citizens are the teachers themselves—who experience firsthand at the end of every day (7 days a week, from August to June) that bone-tired draining feeling of intellectual, emotional, and physical exhaustion from trying to miraculously help every student of every background, every kind of ability, every kind of learning style, and every kind of obstacle to their ability to “rise above their raisin.”
Now, it’s at about this point in their teacher education program when interns get to watch and help real teachers in real classrooms and actually witness the “real story” (not the popular imagined one) about the daily lives of classroom teachers. And it’s about at this point that education students (sometimes the ’brightest and the best’) decide to take a hike over to another academic discipline and profession that will gladly take them and promise them better working conditions (When is the last time you’ve been in a rural school’s teacher’s lounge and bathroom?); less harsh and often punishing public scrutiny (When’s the last time you’ve been to one of those rancorous monthly teacher-bashing school board meetings or watched your Member of Congress repeat the same rant on national TV?); and, yes, they will promise increased social status, pay, and psychic income somewhere far from a school classroom—all of which translates directly into being able to buy a bigger house, and buy a nicer car every few years, raise a family with affordable health insurance options, braces for the kids, private school for the kids too, if not just a private tutor so they can go to the college of their choice—and not be forced to settle for the local community college, which is also struggling for good teachers and resources.
When’s the last time someone praised the people going into the teaching profession in times like these of social, political and economic crisis, and said to them, “You are going into the most valiant profession that is valued least in this anti-intellectual society, if that value is measured by all the prestige, power, income, respect and hero-like worship that is showered on those with the “star power” of the super wealthy, Hollywood actors, star athletes treated like Roman gladiators, CEO’s of questionable civic and moral character, and political leaders who pander best to the least of our needs and bring out the worst in us when we take the bait of their manipulation—all the while they solve no one’s problem except their deep, devouring need to win, by any means necessary and at the expense of average American citizens who can’t even find a good public school to send their kids to.
It’s a wonder that anyone is willing to work, sacrifice and study (even if they get a few easy “A’s”) to get a college degree and a teaching certificate in this day and age. Moreover, if there are smart college students who flee their colleges of education—and there surely are; and, if there are less smart students who tough it out (they have to take and pay for more than just education courses) in order to achieve their dream of putting food on the table and/or making the world a better place by teaching the students of every other profession how to achieve their dreams—and there surely are; then, let’s look at all of the alternative reasons this problem exists, and not just at the teaching education programs in colleges of education in struggling colleges around the country. There are alternative reasons for these problems than it’s the fault of teacher educators who give “easy A’s” in colleges of education coddling “bad” students with low academic standards. Those reasons are very, very complex (deep and far reaching at the same time), they surely are, and everybody knows it.
Furthermore, those multi-dimensional problems and reasons for them are not solely in the power of colleges of education or teacher educators alone to create or solve. The source and not the symptom of the problem is what we intellectuals of all disciplines should not only be smart and brave enough to attack, but willing to at least try. If you were a teacher or a teacher educator, historian, philosopher, or a political scientist who knows as much or more than the sociologist about what I speak, if you were any of these and you knew what the sources of these complex teacher education problems were, would you be willing to try to solve them?

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 Focus on Education School Grades and the State of the Profession of Teaching in America by Jerilyn Kelle on October 4, 2011
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