Teacher resigns after two decades, citing schools’ encroachment on autonomy.

I firmly believe in the importance of our public schools as they serve as the bedrock for our country’s future. The state of our schools will ultimately determine the direction of our nation. Despite the multitude of pressing issues in America, it is crucial that we engage in candid discussions about the state of our educational institutions to secure a better future for forthcoming generations.

Commendations are in order for the Iowa House for approving a bill that grants teachers a well-deserved salary raise, a move that is long overdue. The exodus of teachers from the profession at unprecedented rates underscores the critical need for recognizing that all other educational challenges will pale in comparison if this trend persists.

My primary apprehension lies with every teacher I’ve had the privilege to know. For them, their dedication was never about monetary compensation. While a pay increase may provide temporary relief, the erosion of classroom autonomy signifies a major concern as it drives away the most talented educators.

Era of simple teaching in 2002 fades rapidly

In 2002, I embarked on my teaching career as an eighth-grade social studies instructor. Seasoned colleagues often reminisced about how the profession had deteriorated since their early days. I distinctly recall my senior social studies counterpart, approximately 50 years old at the time, expressing her reluctance to recommend teaching as a career to anyone—an unsettling remark for a budding educator.

The prevalent grievance among educators was the gradual erosion of the autonomy they once enjoyed year after year.

Initially, as an eighth-grade social studies teacher, I was handed a curriculum and left to my devices. It is daunting to think that teachers had even more freedom before my tenure. I developed my own instructional materials and assessments, teaching at my own pace within the confines of the curriculum. As long as I adhered to and completed the curriculum, I retained sole discretion over classroom activities, lessons, assignments, and the pace of instruction.

However, it became apparent that oversight was intensifying even in the face of such autonomy.

Despite being a licensed teacher, I had three years to demonstrate my competency in teaching. Through a state-mandated evaluation using a portfolio, I had to substantiate 42 criteria pertaining to eight standards. I was assigned a mentor for weekly meetings and required to attend district gatherings several times per quarter. While these mandates emanated from state and federal directives, as a professional, I found the continuous monitoring by mentors and administrators disconcerting.

My oversight did not abate even after the approval of my portfolio, prompting my eventual resignation years later.

The failure in educating our students is glaring.Standardized testing reigns supreme in educational policy.

Teaching is not a profession that deems you professional until proven otherwise; you are perpetually under scrutiny to verify your professionalism.

Teachers, like myself, were obliged to attend numerous other meetings such as staff meetings, professional development sessions, professional learning communities, curriculum discussions, team gatherings, and many more. Over two decades, the number of meetings burgeoned while classroom autonomy steadily waned.

Influx of initiatives, administrators, and instructional coaches

Each passing year ushered in new initiatives, regulations, and mandates from federal, state, and district levels. Programs like No Child Left Behind faded only to be succeeded by the Every Student Succeeds Act. While some initiatives were merely replaced, there was an annual addition of responsibilities for teachers, with nothing ever being removed from their workload over the course of 20 years.

To ensure compliance with these mandates and monitor teachers’ adherence, the number of administrators and “instructional coaches” escalated. Gradually, what once epitomized my classroom uniqueness began resembling the standard educational framework.

Upon my departure, my personalized grading system was supplanted by Standards-Referenced Grading. This entailed new policies, albeit contentious, dictating that teachers assess based on a 50% bottom threshold; students received half credit for minimal effort. Assignments became devoid of significance as they no longer factored into a student’s grade.

Consequently, while I could assign work, students were under no obligation to complete it.

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Consequently, a surge in assessment failures ensued, as students had ample chances to reattempt assessments, leading to increased time spent grading rather than teaching. Moreover, all assessments, lessons, and activities across classes became standardized, with the expectation that all grade levels and subjects adhered to a unified pacing schedule within days of each other.

What was once a uniquely structured class devolved into a homogenized educational setting. While the intentions may have been noble, the repercussions far outweigh the benefits.

Presently, concerns regarding grade inflation loom large, as anticipated.

Shift towards low-bar positive reinforcement eclipses disciplinary measures

Traditional disciplinary methods were supplanted by a system known as PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), a system to which I staunchly objected. Teachers were mandated to award positive “points” to students for compliance with basic expectations, such as walking down the hallway with decorum or staying seated during meals.

This approach starkly contrasted with the adage, “You don’t reward a man for refraining from robbing a bank.” Students received rewards for meeting basic expectations, overshadowing the concept of consequences.

In my initial teaching years, disruptive students who impeded others’ progress would be cautioned multiple times before being sent to the principal’s office, where they were expected to make amends after school hours. As school policies curtailed teachers’ authority, student behaviors spiraled out of control. Teachers were prohibited from sending students to the office, and if they did, the students would promptly return to the classroom.

An instance where a colleague sent a student to the office as the student flung a desk at another student while hurling obscenities epitomizes the futility of disciplinary actions. Within minutes, the student was reintegrated into the classroom to prevent any disruption to “instruction time.” This scenario not only undermines classroom decorum but also disheartens teachers.

Quite simply, teachers are held to the highest standards with the least autonomy.

During my inaugural year as a teacher, my earnings totaled $30,000. Being single with no dependents, I resided in an area with relatively low living costs compared to national standards.

Teacher salaries are contingent on two factors: 1) years of experience, and 2) educational attainment. Initially holding a Bachelor of Arts in English, it was only after obtaining a master’s degree that I commenced teaching.

Mired in Reduced Esteem Despite Pay Increases

After two decades in the profession, I opted to exit at 47. At that juncture, my combined salary for teaching and ultimately coaching high school golf neared $90,000. With no familial obligations, the income sufficed. Had I persisted for another decade, my earnings would have surpassed $120,000, attaining the “rule of 88” (the sum of your age and work years must equal 88 to qualify for a full pension through the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System).

It is imperative to stress that while the remuneration was substantial, it grossly underserved the demands imposed on teachers and the dearth of appreciation accorded to them.

Foremost among all considerations, which I have yet to broach, were my students and their families. The copious time spent on administrative paperwork should have been devoted to nurturing relationships with those central to the teaching process: the students.

After all, teachers choose this profession to inspire students, and it is these educators who intimately understand their students. The directives on best practices emanating from external sources invariably lack the context borne of actual classroom experience. Year after year, educators grapple with escalating demands; novice administrators often overlook the intricacies of teaching in today’s classrooms.

The time has come to curb the surfeit of administrative oversight and entrust teachers with the autonomy to execute their duties proficiently. While elevating teacher pay to reflect their professionalism is crucial, genuine recognition of their professional capabilities is paramount. Failure to accord due respect will only drive away the most gifted educators.

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