Dwindling Resources, Diminishing Expectations

Twin Cities teachers talk about how their schools and classrooms have changed

There wasn't this constant testing before. Teachers had the trust of the community. They were doing a good job and their students were happier. They felt successful. Now, with the accountability focus, teachers have to prove to the community they are doing the best they can. Before, you were innocent until proven guilty, and now you are guilty unless you can show differently.

 

MARILYN ROHLFING

I spoke with a Montessori teacher who had first through third grade all in same room. And she said testing fever is just horrible. The climate permeates and pressure is put on the teacher, pressure that every child must improve. She got a little first grader in her room, slow to learn reading, and she eventually learned how to read and made progress, but the teacher felt pressure to get her up to grade level and kept pushing her more and more. By the third year, when she said, "You really need to work on reading," the student said, "I hate reading!" That broke her heart. She said, "I want to teach a love of reading."

We all have to do professional development plans, and they all have to have "measurable objectives." And what that teacher said she'd like to have as a goal is that all her children love reading. But that isn't really measurable, so instead they have to have, Can they comprehend what is said at the end of a paragraph?

 

DIANE LERBERG

Retired in June after 18 years with Minneapolis public schools. Taught at the preschool and elementary levels.

Testing has changed the curriculum, because teachers know they are under the gun and administrators know their schools are going to be ranked and that parents look at those scores when choosing schools. But I am concerned that learning isn't as much fun for children. The tests currently out there spend very little time on comprehension. Most of it is basic phonics like word decoding, and that gets pretty boring to teach and boring to learn.

Where I see it most is actually in the brightest kids. They will tend to tune out and sometimes even act out because they know this [material], and they are asked to do it again and again. I had one child this year who was easily reading at second-grade level and I allowed her to take books and go off to the side and read while we worked. If I didn't do that, she started talking to her friends who did need to learn, and creating a distraction.

 

MICHAEL BOUCHER

Has taught in the Minneapolis public schools since 1993; is currently beginning his ninth year as a history teacher at South High in Minneapolis.

My classes have gotten bigger and bigger. Before, my average class size was 21, and this year my class size will be about 38. In a class of 21 I could give weekly writing assignments and work with the students, and they became some of the best students in writing I've seen. If I did that now, I'd be deluged with paper and couldn't possibility get it done. Back in the days of smaller class sizes, I was able to give more individual attention, we were able to take more field trips, and, in general, I was able to be more involved with my students.

The parents at South High have always been incredibly supportive. The difference is, now we are asking them to pony up at every turn just to keep basic services. We already sent them a letter this summer asking for money, and we'll send out another letter the first week of school asking for donations just so we can have a few small field trips and other things. The cost of education is being pushed to the parents.

Administrators now can't spend their time dealing with students and focusing on students the way they used to. Now they must spend their time making sure they have enough staffing to do the job and begging for money in other places. For instance, in a school of 2,000 students, we are going to have just two counselors to help all seniors get to college and get all our students on the way to preparing and meeting their post-secondary goals. That is just insane. We're trying to raise $50,000 to get another counselor. The parents are trying to raise that money.

 

ROMA LEE RASMUSSEN

Economics have really begun to dictate schools' size. Schools with over 400 students are supposed to be economically efficient, but my experience is that smaller schools are more effective, especially for primary age kids. It's easier to get lost in a bigger school. But bigger and bigger buildings are being constructed, which is not better even for older kids.

I worked last summer with a boy going into fifth grade out at Camp Chi-Rho. This little guy was on medication for ADHD and bipolar disorder and seizures--three medications. In a large community he would be neglected, because he never got into any trouble. But in the smaller school, they know his needs. He's getting psychological help. The teachers know he escapes from reality by reading and they try to balance that out with more social interaction. In bigger schools, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In a smaller school they can see someone like this, how creative he is and how much attention he needs.

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