Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Isolation

Are teachers isolated?

Teachers across the country are being heavily recruited by numerous school systems. Programs such as Teach America are striving to bring young teachers into some of the worst school environments in the country, meanwhile other school systems are offering big money to bring in the right kind of talent. Regardless of where a teacher may land, their goal remains the same. To teach. In many cases teachers are met with budget cutbacks and a school system filled bureaucracy, teaching is not just a simple act anymore. With the numerous teaching positions available, teachers simply move on to another district or another school when things turn sour. While there are numerous reasons for teachers to move on, teacher isolation is a major concern. If the education system in America is ever to be turned around then the retention rate of teachers must be improved and decreasing isolation is a key to this happening. Teachers often find themselves isolated from others, isolation can occur because of numerous factors. These factors include: Race, gender, grade level being taught, etc. But what exactly is isolation?

IsolationEdit

Isolation is "the process of separating somebody or something from others, or the fact of being alone and separated from others" Besides the obvious social causes of isolation (race, gender, age etc..), isolation can also come from work related issues as well. In California alone 22% of teachers left after their first four years in the classroom (Futernick). In the poorer schools, ten percent of teachers transfer to other schools each year. There are numerous factors that can lead to isolation, one being the overwhelming responsibilities that new teachers often face. New teachers are faced with an entirely new faculty, a new school bureaucracy, and pressures to teach a curriculum entirely based on standardized testing (SOLS), not to mention the pressure from parents. All these factors can cause a new teacher to feel extremely overwhelmed and quickly lose faith in the education process. While isolation can occur at any level of work experience, it is the new teachers that are extremely susceptible to this, as they feel that they are the only teachers suffering through this. The 22% that leave after four years prove just how harsh the first years of an educational job can be. One of the major causes of stress for new teachers is finding a successful combination of what they feel is important while maintaining the correct SOL-based content in order for their students to pass the standardized testing standards created by the No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind, Teaching to the TestEdit

No Child Left behind was intended to raise the quality of education in the United States. The policy installed new tests and education requirements for new teachers. In order to access and then raise the bar the government mandated standardized testing for all students. If the school improved then federal money is made available to the school district. However, if schools fail to meet the national standards for two years in a row, then it must give the students the option to transfer to another school. Obviously the decision is a fairly easy one for school systems and that is to prepare the students for the standardized tests. The overall success of this program is disputed. The government states that nine year olds have improved their reading level more in the past five years then the previous twenty eight years (www.ed.gov). In addition, a recent report shows that math skills are also improving on elementary age children. There have been some concern with the equality of testing. Individual states develop the test for their schools. If their scores fall below national benchmarks then they could simply alter the tests in hopes of improving scores. New teachers often come in ready to change the world however they are met with a thick line of red tape and instructions on what and what not to teach. In order for teachers both new and old to combat isolation they must network with each other on a very small and a very large scale.

Coworkers and MentorsEdit

A key to combating isolation is to bond with the fellow coworkers. Granted, the human factor will keep all teachers from getting along together. Teachers share a lot in common and for the new teachers they can be a great source of knowledge and guidance. While at work, teachers can lean on each other for help and support, outside of work teachers can talk about their days and their frustration. Just talking to someone who knows what you are going through is a great way to relieve stress and lessen the feeling of isolation. On a national scale, teachers have large support groups and unions. Mentoring is quickly becoming the preferred method of combating isolation, as there is no additional cost to the school and the program promotes faculty unity (Heider 2005). In many schools in the Virginia Beach district have developed a Buddy System, though there is no official designation, where teachers are paired up with other teachers in their grade level. The teachers who have been paired up have scheduled that parallel each other, which allows the teachers to have time during Recess, Physical Education and Lunch to discuss matters with each other.

The Buddy SystemEdit

Other ways the Buddy System has come into play within the schools are New Teacher Support Programs. Schools are realizing how important it is to support new teacher's by giving them access to veteran teacher's within the school. They are able to go and ask questions, seek guidance and meet in discussion groups to help them cope with the isolation that so many teachers feel today. There is a "Sink or Swim" (Moir) momentum that many school systems are trying to change. "New teacher support programs improve retention and teaching simultaneously".(Moir) Veteran teachers and administrators have come to realize that "teachers need the opportunity to think and talk with each other on a sustained basis about the day-to-day life of the classrooms. They need to investigate and analyze questions that feel urgent, troubling, exciting, useful, or in some other way consequential to them, given the circumstances of their individual schools and students. Serious conversation about shared work is always a powerful resource for the people doing the work".(Barnes) Like other professions such as Doctors and Lawyers who have the benefit of a work force that collaborates, teachers need the same support for their field as well. Without it, the isolation of the classroom can become the end of a teachers career.

UnionsEdit

Unions offer teachers with a great source of news and information about issues that matter most to teachers. These unions hope to gain enough force to actually influence legislation bot on the local and national level. The National Education Association (NEA) is one of these groups. The NEA is composed of employees from all across the country and range from preschool right on up to the collegiate level. The group pushes for increased education funding, tax cuts for teachers as well as student issues such as a decrease in the interest rate for subsidized college loans[1]. The education unions have pushed for increased and equal pay rates for teachers, as well as defended teachers who may have found themselves fired or otherwise incriminated. These unions are meant well and can provide a lifeline to teachers in their darkest hours. But these unions in fact make it harder for many teachers to succeed.

The Problems with UnionsEdit

But to complain about teachers being underpaid without addressing the issue of merit pay is like staring down the barrel of a gun and fretting about being pistol-whipped. To the teachers unions credit they have obscured the issue such that it’s wrongly about schools not having enough money, or more laughably, New York Times op-eds about how society doesn’t value teachers. Society values teachers quite a bit. They just wisely choose not to value them all equally.

—Mark Hemmingway

Unions have pushed for equal pay across the board, of course this depends on level of education, and years of experience but outside of that the pay is fairly equal. The education system completely ignores the merit system, where what a person earns depends on how they perform. "This is because unions insist on uniform pay for all teachers regardless of ability. Teaching is not an assembly line where workers come in shifts and are interchangeable. It is a highly specialized profession that requires tremendous adaptability. And more than that, it is far too important a job to pretend that educators are all equal" (Hemmingway). Granted, teaching often depends on students. If a teacher is blessed with an extremely bright group of students then they could like a fantastic teacher without teaching. Reversely a teacher could work their tale off with a difficult group of kids and look like a failure. The issue of merit pay is extremely controversial, however the fact is that the pay grades are so set in stone that a brilliant teacher could find themselves making the same amount as their less qualified coworkers.

ConclusionEdit

Combating isolation is a fundamental challenge for all teachers, but most importantly new ones. Though there are a few ways to combat isolation, the most effective method eschews the different Teacher Unions and looks to coworkers to form important peer bonds with which to build a solid network of assistance (Heider 2005). However, it is ultimately the teacher in question to look for this assistance, as networking and peer systems only work when those involved work with the system, and not against it. Teaching is a difficult profession, and were the teacher in it for the money they would fail in the end as the drive to break the bonds of isolation and the desire to balance the stress in order to reach the students would not be great enough. Other teachers understand this, and are willing to help anyone who wishes to join them in their quest to educate today's youth. New teachers need only ask for the assistance and be willing to listen.

Multiple Choice QuestionsEdit

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of these is not a pressure that teachers often face?
A. Pressures from parents
B. Pressure from administrators
C. Pressure from a under budgeted school
D. Pressure from law enforcement

D. Pressure from law enforcement

Which of the following can be a natural cause of isolation?
A. Race
B. Age
C. Gender
D. All the above

D. All the above

In the state of California what percentage of teachers leave after the first four years?
A. 11%
B. 22%
C. 77%
D. 42%

B. 22%

What did 'No Child Left Behind' require teachers to do?
A. Take out liability insurance
B. Accept a pay cut
C. Accept a pay raise
D. Obtain a higher level of education than previously required

D. Obtain a higher level of education than previously required

How does 'No Child Left Behind' measure academic progress?
A. Through a universal curriculum
B. Through standardized tests
C. Through weekly exams
D. Through national conferences

B. Through standardized tests

Standardized tests may not be accurate because...
A. Teachers often help their students cheat
B. The tests are too easy
C. Parents take the tests with the students
D. States are allowed to modify their own tests

D. States are allowed to modify their own tests

A great way for relieving job stress relating to teachers is for teachers to talk to...
A. Coworkers
B. The students
C. Spouses
D. All the above

A. Coworkers

Unions...
A. Offer a great source of news and information for teachers
B. Fight for issues relating to teachers and students
C. Offer legal advice for teachers
D. All the above

D. All the above

The merit pay system gives which of the following higher pay:
A. Oldest teacher
B. The veteran teacher
C. Highest educated teacher
D. Most productive teacher

D. Most productive teacher

Measuring the success of a teacher is very easy to do?
A. True
B. False

A. True

What are two methods that teachers use to combat isolation?
A. Meetings with administrators, talking to union workers
B. Joining a labor union, creating peer networks within the school
C. Creating peer networks in the union, joining the PTA
D. Talking to union workers, joining the PTA

B. Joining a labor union, creating peer networks within the school

Which method of combating isolation is quickly becoming the standard?
A. Joining a union
B. Joining the PTA
C. Creating a network within the school
D. Creating a network within the union

C. Creating a network within the school

Why are more teachers dropping the unions in favor of peer-to-peer networking?
A. The unions are asking too much for dues.
B. Union meetings are becoming long sales pitches.
C. Unions are promoting an "equal pay, not merit pay" platform.
D. Unions are not effective.

C. Unions are promoting an "equal pay, not merit pay" platform.

Essay QuestionEdit

Click to reveal sample responses.

Are the standardized tests in place by No Child Left Behind proven to be a legitimate measure of intelligence and has No Child Left Behind actually hindered the education goals teacher and do you believe teachers are now forced to simply "teach by the test"?

No Child left behind has proven that it has raised the education levels of students particularly in the elementary level, this is a great sign for our education system however it has in fact come at a cost, especially for teachers. First off, one must ask how well does a standardized test measure ones intelligence. For years the SAT was a staple for measuring ones intelligence, it was a tool that aided colleges in selecting the best qualified students. However after years of the SAT remaining largely unchanged the board finally decided to add a essay section. Apparently, answering multiple choice questions was no longer an accurate way to measure ones intelligence. Who is to say that the same won't happen to the current standardized tests in place to measure the intelligence of our students. Since states are allowed to modify the tests, then it is impossible to actually say the statistics are accurate. The role of teachers has also dramatically changed since the creation of No Child Left Behind. No longer are teachers simply allowed the freedom to teach in public schools like they once did, they must to a certain extent teach what is on the test. In subjects such as mathematics, teaching to the test can be fairly simple however in the case of history where there is so much too cover the teacher may find themselves confined to certain areas. Over


I believe that the standardized tests are misleading, in that the tests only measure how much information the student can regurgitate. After observing SOL-based instruction (in preparation for the tests) I noticed that only a small portion of topics were covered, as additional information was deemed extravagant and ultimately not efficient for testing purposes. While topics were covered, such as the Water Cycle and the Civil War, the information taught was rather topical and not very educational, since giving additional information didn't allow the teacher to cover more topics.

Furthermore, I believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has caused a bulk of the problem, as the schools are credited by way of test scores...and the only way for the teachers to effectively obtain consistently high test scores is to mold their lesson plan around the standardized tests. Essentially, NCLB has taken the power away from the teacher to teach effectively, and instead given the teachers a quota to reach. Children now are less students and more a statistic for the state and local governments.

The NCLB, Standardized Tests and the ensuing Educational Goals set forth by the NCLB and Standardized Tests were a start in the right direction, but the journey to the goal is supposed to be more important than the goal itself. —John Sansone

ReferencesEdit

  • Barns, N. (2000, January 19) Teachers Teaching Teachers [Electronic Version] Education Week, 19, 38-42
  • Futernick, K. (2007). A possible dream: Retaining California’s teachers so all students learn. Sacramento: California State University.
  • "Achievement on reading and math tests up since NCLB _ reportcker" Zuckerbrod,Nancy The Associated Press c. 2007
  • Hemmingway, Mark "Unmerited, Not all teachers are created equal" The National Review, June 30th. 2005
  • Heider, K.L. Teacher Isolation: How Mentoring Programs Can Help . Current Issues in Education (2005, June 23). 8(14). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume8/number14/
  • Moir, E. (2003) Sink or Swim [Electronic Version] AAETeachers Retrieved from http://www.aaeteachers.org/sinkorswim.htm
Last modified on 17 February 2010, at 15:42