Jul 18, 2011

A Future Educator Talks About Changes She'd Like To See In Education [Or, I'm Pretty Ignorant Of The Facts, But Listen To My Opinion Anyways!]

Jamie Engel is a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder where she is studying English and Political Science. Along with her work at StudentsFirst, she has worked with Denver Parks and Recreation to assess and encourage programing for disadvantaged youth.

I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. There's just something about the excitement that comes along with learning - the exploration of new ideas - that has intrigued me. My teachers sparked in me a love and desire to learn. I will always remember my 5th grade teacher, Ms. McCalister, who taught me how to appreciate the art of reading and who encouraged retention of knowledge through group discussion. I can only hope that I can help my future students in the same way.

However, recently I have grown concerned about my career choice. Even if I become an inspiring and effective teacher, the reality is that I could lose my job based purely on my date of hire rather than how good a job I do helping kids learn. Even if I am lucky enough to retain my job in the face of last in, first out (LIFO) teacher retention policies, I worry that I will find myself in a system that doesn’t seem to value accountability the way most other professions do.

I can't help but think that I'm not the only prospective teacher worried about outdated rules that make teaching just a bit less attractive as a profession. I wonder whether policies like LIFO are causing future educators to turn their back on teaching for other careers?

I have heard awful stories from some of my own teachers; tales of educators who made tremendous gains, in both urban and rural school districts, yet were handed pink slips because they had only been teaching for a few years. It is essential that we bring accountability to the system to ensure that layoffs are strictly conducted on job performance not job tenure.

I came to StudentsFirst to learn about education policy at the state and local level and to learn how to advocate for reform. Can I change the system single handedly? No. I do have faith, however, that things will change drastically by the time I begin teaching. We are at a monumental point in history; those in favor of reform are organizing and implementing change within their communities. Look at the progress that has already been made. For the first time, in states like Nevada and Indiana, layoffs due to budget crunches are going to be based on effectiveness, not years of experience. In unprecedented numbers, people are coming together to voice their opinions in the hope of transforming education.

We must continue to organize and push for reform that will positively transform our education system. It is imperative that we propel the movement and inspire people along the way. The status quo simply won’t do. U.S. students are getting outperformed by their international peers, particularly in math. And achievement gaps between groups of students within our own borders are too big.

I believe I will stick with my plan to become a teacher, because I am confident that the work being done will bring change to the system. I dream of being an educator because I remember the difference teachers like Ms. McCalister made in my life, and because I know the day will come when the system values accountability and supports those providing the highest quality education to students. Until then, I will continue to put students first by working to change a system that doesn't always do that.

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