Teachers were once hesitant to make any waves. Not anymore.
We are living in an era in which more teachers are speaking their minds in public louder than ever in modern terms. Through strikes, political campaigns, statements and other actions, teachers are fighting for adequate school funding and reasonable salaries after years of feeling under siege.
Teacher morale has plummeted in recent years, and shortages have grown more acute, because of what teachers say is low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues. There’s more, as you will see in this post by a California teacher, who explains why teaching is harder today than it was a decade ago.
The author is Jeremy S. Adams, who teaches political science at Bakersfield High School and California State University at Bakersfield. He is the author of two books on teaching: “The Secrets of Timeless Teachers” and “Full Classrooms, Empty Selves,” and has been awarded numerous teaching and writing honors.
He received the 2014 California Teacher of the Year award from the Daughters of the American Revolution and was named the 2012 Kern County Teacher of the Year. He was also a semifinalist in 2013 for the California Education Department’s Teachers of the Year Program and was a finalist in 2014 for the Carlston Family Foundation National Teacher Award. The California state Senate has sponsored a resolution in recognition of his achievements in education.
A version of this piece appeared on the Educator’s Room website, and I was given permission to publish it.
By Jeremy S. Adams
It is no headline to announce that schools mirror the dysfunction of society writ large.
Every failure of civil society manifests itself in our schools: institutional rot, political cynicism and polarization, tattered family and other filial relations, depressed expectations of student behavior, a preening and nonapologetic narcissism, extravagant self-regard, anti-intellectualism in our minds and moral relativism in our hearts.
With this in mind, I offer the following list of 10 things teachers did not have to deal with just a decade ago. And this list could easily have been twice as long if my conversations with fellow teachers are any indication.
1. Difficulty disciplining students
A hodgepodge of disciplinary policies has resulted in a situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools. While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations, such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country. Suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline. But there must be consequences for destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well behaved and want to learn.
2. Cellphone addiction
The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom. The statistics are jarring by any account: Teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cellphone addicts swipe, touch or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day, one study says. A correlation between cellphone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance seems clear to teachers.
3. Online bullying
When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself. Nowadays there is no escape. Up to one-third of children have been threatened online, according to stopbullying.com, and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell adults about it. It is not hyperbole to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults. We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents. We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.
4. Pep rallies for standardized testing
The era of high-stakes testing has done very little, if anything, to improve student performance. It has spawned cuts in the arts, less recess time for elementary school children, more rote memorization, and perpetuated the illusion that test-taking prowess is synonymous with academic achievement. It has also discouraged the brightest and most ambitious young people from entering the education profession. On a deeper level, schools are told they must be held “accountable,” which requires analysis of student performance, which perpetuates an endless stream of gimmicks, cynical incentives and activities to motivate students to do well on standardized tests. That includes pep rallies. Schools who hold these pep rallies are not at fault. The policies that drive them are the culprits.
5. Constant student anxiety
Over 20 percent of today’s teenage students experience a form of acute anxiety leading to disengagement, more absenteeism, and isolation. And this anxiety has harmful offshoots such as eating disorders, self-harm, and frequent fainting in classes. Instead of seeking counseling, taking a walk, or spending time with friends or family, the modern teen often finds solace in an online world that perpetuates this cycle of anxiety and isolation.
6. Fear of school shootings and lockdowns
In the corner of my classroom sits a bucket with a shower curtain stuffed inside. It’s there in case we are on lockdown, and a student is forced to use the bathroom in front of his/her peers. This is the tragic reality of school today. Several of the deadliest school shootings have happened in the past half decade and there is no reason to think school violence will abate any time soon.
7. Opioid epidemic
In 2016, more than 42,200 Americans died from overdosing on a prescription or illegal opioid, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was five times higher than in 1999. David Cox, the superintendent in Allegany County in western Maryland, is one of many school leaders trying to deal with opioid epidemics savaging their communities. He said in this Education Week interview: “We have kids who have lost their parents, and, unfortunately, there have been situations where the parents have overdosed with the kids watching.”
8. Politicized schools
Like it or not, schools have become epicenters of hot-button political issues. From transgender bathrooms to guns and Second Amendment discussions, schools are now at the intersection of division and discord. U.S. education has always been a “political issue,” but that is a qualitatively different status than being the place where schisms about the culture manifest themselves.
9. Era of ‘feelings’ where students are never wrong
It has happened to almost all of us recently. A student will “feel” like a test is unfair, will “feel” like a fact is not true, will “feel” like a teacher who is simply trying to modify a behavior is being “disrespectful” to him or her. In an era that no longer views reason and fact as tribunals of truth, it can be difficult to explain to students that they have a right to feel anyway they want but their feelings do not excuse behavior that is disruptive or harmful to themselves or those around them.
10: Naked utilitarianism in education
Policymakers seem to never talk about education through any lens except as an exercise in early job training. While education does prepare one for the workplace, it should also prepare students on a deeper and more human level. Our students will be more than workers in the future; they will be citizens, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends and confidants. They must be able to think, communicate, cooperate, and be reflective about the many conundrums of being a human being in the world, figuring out how to live what scholar Leon Kass labels the ability to lead “a worthy life.” Their lives will not begin when they go to work and end when they go home every evening. A true and edifying education recognizes that what students learn intimately affects who they are.