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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 08/04/2011

The concerns of a first-year teacher

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This was written by Marena Perkins, a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education Reading/Writing/Literacy program. Marena will be entering her first year of teaching as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher in the D.C. metropolitan area.

By Marena Perkins

As I enter my first year of teaching, I am frustrated — like many teachers in America — by the lack of respect for my profession.

I know I will face the “shorter days, more holidays, and long summer break” comments that have long been directed at teachers, but I can handle those. (My Dad preached Socrates when I was a kid — “I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance” — and I’ve bought into this philosophy.) People who assume teaching is easy don’t understand the complexities of the profession. But when I read commentary from people inside the education reform movement, it seems clear that some of them choose to ignore the facts.

Some education reformers dismiss and often insult the vast, peer-reviewed literature written by education professors, teacher researchers, and others. What is so maddening is that these reformers know that the research exists, choose not to give it a second of their time, and then have the gall to say teachers aren’t putting students first. By refusing to give credence to research that comes directly from classrooms, reformers are effectively silencing teachers. This is the kind of disrespect I cannot stomach.

I admit that not all research floating around education schools has much substance, but neither is all of the research coming out of reformist think tanks in Washington.

I urge reformers to consider works by scholars like H. Gerald Campano, Linda Christensen, Jeffery Wilhelm, Mike Rose, Nancie Atwell, and Susan Lytle (to name a few) before rolling their eyes at teachers who are wary of standardized tests, common standards, common curriculum and other reforms. These education professors and teacher researchers have poured their lives into trying to make our education system better for the students they teach; there are thousands upon thousands of well-cited, peer-reviewed books and articles to illustrate this effort.

If education reformers allowed themselves to deeply consider this literature, teachers’ cries to be heard might not seem so silly anymore. For, after experiencing inevitable cognitive dissonance, it would be clear that most teachers are fighting for students after all.

If there are topics about which we can educate ourselves, why wouldn’t we?

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