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Despite the odds teachers still manage to deliver

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POSTED August 17, 2010 2:57 a.m.
Next time you go to verbally beat up a teacher, take a deep breath.

Then stop and consider a few things.

First and foremost they have a close-to-an-impossible task. Depending on the grade level they teach they must try to get through to 30 to 180 different kids a day.

That is up to 180 different personalities. Kids aren’t machines. They all learn a bit different. They also bring to the classroom different levels of knowledge as well as a wide repertoire of issues that can impact their learning from being hungry all the way to either an unsupportive or a violent home environment.

If you think that’s challenging try tossing in a disruptive kid or two in the mix. If you’ve ever had a tough time dealing with one rambunctious kid on a one-on-one basis stop and think what a teacher is up against.

There are a lot of parents out there who take an active role in their kids’ education whether it is making sure they do their homework, providing assistance, or exposing them to educational challenges whether it is reading for pleasure, visiting museums and such. Unfortunately there are also a number of parents who let their kids fend for themsleves educationally outside of what help they can get in the classroom.

Now, compound all of that by increasing the workload of teachers with larger classrooms. Yes, we all are pulling more weight on our jobs as the economy tries to shake the throes of The Great Recession. But while most of the rest of us are judged on actual quantified tasks we accomplish whether it is producing more widgets, generating more sales or some similar yardstick, teachers are judged by tests kids take.

That may not be a bad thing but it doesn’t really give you a clear picture of a true worth of a teacher. Too often we forget that teachers get kids to learn in different ways. Think of things you picked up from teachers. The light doesn’t always go on instantaneously. Sometimes you reflect on a teacher years later and you realize that you actually learned a lot from them although your scores didn’t reflect it at the time.

It’s a funny thing how we hand out grades. We prize “A” grades because that means a student supposedly has mastered the part of the subject they’re tested on. In reality, a “B” or a “C” may reflect greater progress by a student than someone who gets an “A”. We all comprehend things differently. And a true worth of a teacher isn’t how they get kids to perform to a set standard but how they can get kids to perform beyond their comfort zone.

That “C” student or the kid pulling down a 600 on a state standardized test that scores up to 900 could be performing way above their previous level thanks to a specific teacher. But when people go to judge teachers and the education system they are number driven.

That’s fair - to a degree. But do we really want a system that steers everyone to college or one that decides at a young age whether someone is cut out for a white-or blue-collar job?

What has made America great is the right to fail. Our education system with all of its warts and shortcomings doesn’t give an individual just one chance to determine their course in life by a test administered at 12 years of age as in some countries  that either puts them on an academic or a vocational track.

Unfortunately, we expect teachers to be robots of sorts dealing with a classroom full of distinctly different kids emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

And if you don’t think they aren’t doing their job, consider this: Even with budget cuts, staff layoffs, less support services, and more students per classroom the 2010 Standardized Test and Reporting Program administered by the California Department of Education reflects improvements in English and math skills for the eighth consecutive year.

 Next time you see a teacher - whether they are your kid’s, one that taught you or just someone you know who works in a classroom - tell them thanks for the job they do.

They’re not perfect but then again neither are the kids they’re teaching.

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