op-eds

Low Teacher Morale

For years now, public school teachers across the globe have struggled to maintain their morale.

Whether it’s due to the pressures of state testing, the lack of interest from students or the inability to control their own classrooms, teachers’ low morale has a trickle-down effect that will affect the curiosity of children.

“The biggest thing I hear teachers complaining about [are] when they are asked to do something,” said Brenda Ottinger, principal of Highland Elementary School in Greeneville, Tennessee. “They always say, ‘I thought [the school system] was going to take things off of us, instead of putting more things on us,’ no matter how small something is they are asked to do.”

Ottinger has worked in the Greeneville City Schools System for 25 years, and has always seen an an influx in low teacher morale.

“[Teachers] become stressed and don’t feel like they are supported by the administration both at the school level and the system level,” said Ottinger.

According to Ottinger, teacher morale seems to be getting worse. She said that the teachers who complain the most are the teachers with the most discipline problems in the classroom.

“Teachers are held to such high standards,” said Ottinger. “Teacher evaluation now includes student [test] scores, when the standards are sometimes not appropriate for the grade level.”

Highland Elementary School is also the smallest school in the district, as well as the lowest socioeconomic school. This, along with Highland’s high number of transient students, makes it hard for teachers to prepare them for the future.

“I think right now, reading teachers are feeling the greatest pressure,” Ottinger said. “Reading has historically low test scores.”

Of course, low teacher morale affects the students just as much as the teachers. Their teaching gets lazy and they might not push their students as hard as they should.

“[It’s important to] constantly try to encourage and build teachers up,” Ottinger said. “Even just giving them a note or a candy bar can be the difference between a bad day and a good one.”

Highland isn’t alone in this struggle. The strenuous nature of the classroom has put unprecedented amounts of pressure on teachers.

“Many times you can see a domino effect if you let the poor teacher morale continue,” Ottinger said. “You need to stop it as soon as you can.”

op-eds

Electronics in the Classroom

DSC_0003As the U.S. transitions toward the Digital Age of smartphones, tablets and iWatches, educators are struggling to implement an appropriate policy for the use of technology in the classroom.

There are two stances: Ban it all or welcome it with open arms.

Those who see electronic devices as a distraction argue that it is difficult to engage students in their coursework. The average attention span of a human being is three seconds, about five seconds less than that of a goldfish. This makes it nearly impossible to keep an entire class’s focus for an hour and a half. Children’s attention is constantly being pulled towards Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, which are unrelated to Shakespeare’s sonnets or the Pythagorean theorem.

In opposition, some teachers see technology as a window of opportunity. Almost any problem can be solved with the pressing of a few buttons, and knowledge is available to those with an electronic device. The Internet allows the classroom to move at an unprecedented speed because researching text in the library no longer hinders students.

The age of the child seems to play a part in the debate as well. Greeneville High School allows phones in class at the permission of the teacher. Its feeder school, Greeneville Middle, requires that all phones be turned off and left in the child’s locker during school hours. High school students are expected to be more responsible and not succumb to the temptation of their social media accounts, yet they are only one to four years older than middle school students. It is doubtful that a single year can increase the self-control of a teenager enough to change the school’s policy.

In reflection, electronics should be allowed in schools as long as teachers are willing to incorporate the technology into their lesson plans. Students need to learn how to filter through new information, multitask and resist temptations. These are skills that they will have to master if they are to succeed in the real world.

People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs created this technology so that it would be used, not admired.

op-eds

Dresscodes: Too Extreme, or a Necessary Evil?

School systems across the country struggle to define a dress code for their students and tend to receive backlash from the community no matter what policy is put in place.

Some parents and students argue that clothing is a form of self-expression and interpretation of style. By restricting a child’s attire options, that child is being taught to conform to the standards that other people of set for them.

Additionally, community members often argue that the dress code policies are unfair between boys and girls. While girls are reprimanded for wearing tank tops and ripped jeans, boys are allowed to wear these articles of clothing with no repercussions. Perhaps if the rules applied to both boys and girls, the argument would not be so heated.

Not only are dress codes unfair between boys and girls, they are unfair among students and teachers as well. Countless times a teacher will walk into his or her classroom, dressed in attire that never would have been acceptable for a student to wear. If teachers are not held to the same level of accountability as their students in regards to dress code, students should not be forced to comply either.

Perhaps the most important reason not to enforce a strict dress code is due to the body shaming it causes girls. Girls who are stick-skinny are not typically disciplined for wearing leggings and tighter clothing, yet girls who have a healthy figure are forced to change. This can severely damage a child’s self-confidence and cause her to think that size matters, which it most certainly does not.

Admittedly, there is always concern among administrators that there will be several students who run wild if the dress code is removed. The line must be drawn somewhere, or students will arrive at school wearing nothing but the absolute minimum amount of clothing. After all, students are still maturing in their grade school years, and some are unlikely to make responsible attire choices that will not haunt them later in life.

Dress codes are an incredibly gray area where no one really knows how to make it 100 percent fair. It seems that the most consistent option would be to resort to school uniforms, accompanied by a casual dress Friday as a reward. Even so, no matter what decisions are made within a school system, there is sure to be backlash.

 

op-eds

“I Support Accountability”

On February 7, 2017, the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence made one of the worst decisions regarding education in U.S. history.

Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as the new Secretary of Education for President Donald Trump.

DeVos was raised in a private school, put her children in private schools, and advocates for the use of private schools across the country. She has not taught at a public school, and has no experience in the classroom aside from a mentoring position.

While 90 percent of American students attend public schools, it is hard to understand why this person is equipped for the job.

This lack of hands-on experience could be overlooked if DeVos had any idea what policies have already been put in place for education, but she does not. In a hearing with Sen. Tim Kaine, she clearly had no knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“That just seems like a prerequisite that everybody should know,” said Allecia Frizzell, the special education supervisor for Washington County Schools. “I keep a copy of it here. Even though I am familiar with it, I constantly refer to it. If you don’t understand IDEA, then you don’t have a grasp on education. IDEA guarantees that ‘all’ means ‘all’ in working with students, despite their background. To not understand that is a lack of global knowledge about education in general.”

DeVos also supports vouchers, meaning that public school funding will be drained by private and public charter schools. This causes the education system to collapse in on itself, and families are forced to move in order to meet their children’s academic needs. Look at Detroit for an example.

According to DeVos, Title I schools do not require her attention either. The Title I program provides additional funding to schools that serve low-income households, and is therefore crucial to the well-being of individuals. Given her way, DeVos will eliminate this program altogether and put the money towards something more worthwhile, like private schools.

DeVos should not be in control of a $73 billion budget, but even more importantly she should not be in charge of the future of the U.S.

op-eds

Increased state spending

In Gov. Bill Haslam’s “State of the State” address, he discussed increasing spending on education in the coming year. As a daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter and niece of public school teachers, I can say with confidence that I believe the increase of spending on Tennessee schools will benefit our children and the community.

Growing up as a teacher’s kid, I had quite the temper when it came to people’s opinions on education. “Teachers should be paid less because they don’t have to work in the summer,” was a phrase that could really get my blood boiling, even as a 45-pound fifth-grader. The truth is that most competent teachers spend an absurd amount of overtime grading papers, preparing lesson plans and sitting in meetings. According to a Trades Union Congress study, 61.4 percent of primary teachers completed 13 hours of overtime per week in 2014. Without. Getting. Paid.

The average teacher makes roughly $30 per hour. If you assume that each classroom contains about 30 students, teachers are looking at $1 per child per hour. Teenage babysitters make at least 10 times that. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I’m going to entrust my future child to professional care, I should hope that it would be for a more worthwhile paycheck.

But that’s the thing: Teachers aren’t in it for the money. They are dedicated to the success of our children’s futures, as well as the furthering of society. These precious children will one day become the doctors, lawyers, politicians and (yes) teachers that we need to make the world go ‘round. Maybe you don’t realize it, but the impact that educators have on our kids is strong enough to shape eternity.

Even if teachers don’t receive a larger paycheck as a result of this proposed funding change, there are so many other avenues that could give students a boost in education. As the United States delves ever deeper into the world of technology, schools need to be able to provide the means for students to keep up. Gone is the mystique of iPads and Smart Boards; 3D printers and doodle pens are now making appearances in schools. The increase in school funds could also enlarge the liberal arts programs that were so recently threatened.

Yes, I think it’s quite fair for Gov. Haslam to increase spending on education.