Teaching—The Cost and the Risks
“So much is expected of the teaching profession, yet so often the dedicated educators in our schools receive little public . . . praise for their efforts.”—Ken Eltis, University of Sydney, Australia.
IT HAS to be admitted that this “most vital profession,” as it has been called, presents many challenges—from inadequate pay to inferior classroom conditions; from excessive paperwork to oversize classes; from disrespect and violence to parental indifference. How do some teachers handle these challenges?
Lack of Respect
We asked four teachers from New York City what they consider to be major problems. Unanimously they answered: “Lack of respect.”
According to William, of Kenya, things have changed in this regard in Africa too. He said: “Discipline among the children is on the decline. When I was growing up [he is now in his 40’s], teachers ranked among the most respected people in African society. The teacher was always seen by young and old as a role model. This respect is on the decline. Western culture is slowly influencing young ones, even in rural Africa. Movies, videos, and literature depict lack of respect for authority as something heroic.”
Giuliano, who teaches in Italy, laments: “Children are affected by the spirit of rebellion, insubordination, and disobedience that permeates the whole of society.”
Drugs and Violence
Sad to say, drugs have become a problem in schools—so much so that U.S. teacher and author LouAnne Johnson writes: “Drug-abuse prevention is part of nearly every school curriculum, starting in kindergarten. [Italics ours.] Children know much more about drugs . . . than most adults do.” She adds: “Students who feel lost, unloved, lonely, bored, or insecure are most likely to experiment with drugs.”—Two Parts Textbook, One Part Love.
Ken, a teacher in Australia, asked: “How are our teachers to deal with the schooling of a nine-year-old introduced to drugs by his own parents, and now addicted?” Michael, in his 30’s, teaches in a comprehensive school in Germany. He writes: “As to drug dealing, we are well aware that this happens; it is just far too seldom discovered.” He also comments on the lack of discipline and says that it “shows in a general destructive mania,” adding: “Tables and walls are smeared, and furniture is damaged. Some of my students have been involved with the police for shoplifting or things like that. No wonder thefts at school are also frequent!”
Amira teaches in Guanajuato State, Mexico. She admits: “We face problems of violence and drug addiction in the family that directly affect the children. They are immersed in an environment in which they learn foul language and other vices. Another big problem is poverty. Although schooling here is free, the parents have to buy the notebooks, pens, and other materials. But food must come first.”
Guns in School?
In the United States, recent shooting incidents at schools have highlighted that gun-related violence is not a minor problem in that land. One report states: “It is estimated that 135,000 guns are brought to the nation’s 87,125 public schools each day. To reduce the number of guns in schools, officials are using metal detectors, surveillance cameras, specially trained dogs to sniff out guns, locker sweeps, identification tags, and a prohibition against bringing book bags to school.” (Teaching in America) Such security measures make one ask, Are we talking of schools or prisons? The report adds that more than 6,000 students have been expelled for taking guns to school!
Iris, a teacher in New York City, told Awake!: “The students sneak weapons into the schools. The scanners do not keep the weapons out. Vandalism in the school is another major problem.”
Against this anarchic background, conscientious teachers struggle to impart education and values. Little wonder that many teachers suffer from depression and burnout. Rolf Busch, president of the Teachers’ Association in Thuringia, Germany, said: “Almost one third of the one million teachers in Germany get sick because of stress. They feel burned out on the job.”
Children Having Babies
Another major problem is adolescent sexual activity. George S. Morrison, author of Teaching in America, says of that land: “About 1 million teenagers (11 percent of 15- to 19-year-old girls) become pregnant each year.” The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of all the developed countries.
This situation is confirmed by Iris, who said: “All the adolescents talk about is sex and parties. It’s an obsession. And now we have the Internet on the school computers! That means chat groups and pornography.” Angel, from Madrid, Spain, reported: “Sexual promiscuity is a fact of life among the students. We’ve had cases of very young students getting pregnant.”
Another complaint of some teachers is that many parents do not shoulder their own responsibility to educate their children in the home. Teachers feel that parents should be the very first educators of their children. Good manners and etiquette should start at home. Little wonder that Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says that “teachers . . . need to be treated more like other professionals and less like glorified babysitters.”
Parents often fail to back up the discipline given at school. Leemarys, quoted in the preceding article, told Awake!: “If you report delinquent kids to the principal, the next thing you know, you are being attacked by the parents!” Busch, quoted earlier, said about dealing with difficult students: “Family upbringing is on the way out. You can no longer assume that most children come from families with a good, reasonable upbringing.” Estela, from Mendoza, Argentina, said: “We teachers are afraid of the students. If we give them low grades, they throw stones at us or attack us. If we have a car, they damage it.”
Is it any wonder that in many countries there is a teacher shortage? Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, warned: “Our [U.S.] schools will need up to 2.5 million new teachers over the next decade.” Major cities “are actively seeking teachers from India, the West Indies, South Africa, Europe and anywhere else where good teachers can be found.” This, of course, means that those areas may well suffer a teacher shortage.
Why the Teacher Shortage?
Yoshinori, a Japanese schoolteacher with 32 years of experience, said that “teaching is a noble work with good incentive, and it is highly respected in Japanese society.” Unfortunately, this is not true of every culture. Gregorian, quoted earlier, also stated that teachers “are not given professional respect, recognition and compensation. . . . Teaching in most [U.S.] states pays less than any other occupation requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree.”
Ken Eltis, quoted at the outset, wrote: “What happens when teachers discover that many jobs requiring much lesser qualifications pay substantially more than teaching? Or when students they have taught only twelve months ago . . . are earning more than they do now or are even likely to in five years time? Such a realisation must threaten a teacher’s sense of self-worth.”
William Ayers wrote: “Teachers are badly paid . . . We earn on average a quarter of what lawyers are paid, half of what accountants make, less than truck drivers and shipyard workers. . . . There is no other profession that demands so much and receives so little in financial compensation.” (To Teach—The Journey of a Teacher) On the same subject, Janet Reno, former U.S. attorney general, said in November 2000: “We can send men to the moon. . . . We pay our athletes big salaries. Why can’t we pay our teachers?”
“Teachers in general are underpaid,” said Leemarys. “With all my years of study, I am still getting only a low annual salary here in New York City, with all the stress and hassle that big-city life implies.” Valentina, a teacher in St. Petersburg, Russia, said: “A teacher’s job is a thankless one as far as income is concerned. The pay has always been below the standard minimum.” Marlene, from Chubut, Argentina, echoes this sentiment: “Low salaries force us to work in two or three locations, running from one place to another. This really reduces our effectiveness.” Arthur, a teacher from Nairobi, Kenya, told Awake!: “With the declining economy, my life as a teacher has not been easy. As many of my colleagues would admit, poor remuneration has always discouraged people from moving into our profession.”
Diana, a teacher from New York City, complained about the excessive paperwork that ties up teachers for hours. Another teacher wrote: “Most of the day is spent on the three R’s of ritual, repetition, and routine.” One common gripe was: “Forms to fill out, those crazy forms—all day long.”
Not Enough Teachers, Too Many Pupils
Berthold, from Düren, Germany, expressed another regular complaint: “Classes are too large! Some here have up to 34 pupils. This means that we cannot pay attention to students with problems. They go unnoticed. Individual needs are neglected.”
Leemarys, quoted earlier, explained: “Last year my biggest problem, aside from noncaring parents, was the fact that I had 35 children in my class. Imagine trying to work with 35 six-year-olds!”
Iris said: “Here in New York there is a shortage of teachers, especially for math and science. They can get better jobs elsewhere. So the city has hired many foreign teachers.”
Obviously, teaching is a demanding profession. What, then, keeps teachers motivated? Why do they continue and persevere? Our final article will consider these questions.
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It is estimated that 135,000 guns are brought to U.S. schools each day
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What Makes a Successful Teacher?
How do you define a good teacher? Is it a person who can develop a child’s memory so that he can repeat facts and pass tests? Or is it a person who teaches one to question, to think, and to reason? Who helps a child to become a better citizen?
“When we as teachers recognize that we are partners with our students in life’s long and complex journey, when we begin to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve for simply being, then we are on the road to becoming worthy teachers. It is just that simple—and just that difficult.”—To Teach—The Journey of a Teacher.
A good teacher recognizes each student’s potential and knows how to make it blossom and flourish. William Ayers observed: “We must find a better way, a way that builds on strengths, experiences, skills, and abilities . . . I am reminded of the plea of a Native American parent whose five-year-old son had been labelled a ‘slow learner’: ‘Wind-Wolf knows the names and migration patterns of more than forty birds. He knows there are thirteen tail feathers on a perfectly balanced eagle. What he needs is a teacher who knows his full measure.’”
To get the best out of each child, the teacher must discover what interests or motivates him or her and what makes the child tick. And a dedicated teacher must love children.
United Nations/Photo by Saw Lwin
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Must Learning Always Be Fun?
Teacher William Ayers made a list of ten myths about teaching. One of them is: “Good teachers make learning fun.” He continues: “Fun is distracting, amusing. Clowns are fun. Jokes can be fun. Learning can be engaging, engrossing, amazing, disorienting, involving, and often deeply pleasurable. If it’s fun, fine. But it doesn’t need to be fun.” He adds: “Teaching requires a vast range of knowledge, ability, skill, judgment, and understanding—and it requires a thoughtful, caring person at its center.”—To Teach—The Journey of a Teacher.
Sumio, of Nagoya City, Japan, finds this problem among his students: “Many high school students have no interest in anything but having fun and doing what doesn’t call for any effort.”
Rosa, a student counselor from Brooklyn, New York, said: “The general attitude of the students is that learning is boring. The teacher is boring. They think that everything should be fun. They fail to realize that you get out of learning what you put into it.”
The fun fixation makes it harder for young people to make an effort and sacrifices. Sumio, quoted above, said: “The bottom line is that they can’t think of things in the long term. There are very few high school students who think that if they work hard for something now, it will be worth the effort in the future.”
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‘Drug dealing is prevalent but far too seldom discovered.’—MICHAEL, GERMANY
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“We face problems of violence and drug addiction in the family.”—AMIRA, MEXICO
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“Teachers . . . need to be treated more like other professionals and less like glorified babysitters.”—SANDRA FELDMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS