"Once every decade, the highly politicized Texas State Board of Education rewrites the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly five million schoolchildren. When an unabashed creationist seeks re-election as chairman, the theory of evolution and U.S. history are caught in the crosshairs, which could impact the classroom curricula not only of Texas, but also of the nation as a whole." [video | 55:24]
Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.
This is not surprising. The more rigid a system is, the easier it is for teachers/students to learn how to game it, and the more school becomes about getting points regardless of whether anything's learned along the way.
By the turn of the 20th century, nearly 75 percent of America's teachers were women. But women made up a far smaller percentage of administrators, and their power decreased with each higher level of authority. Their deportment had always been closely watched; increasingly their work in the schoolroom was not only scrutinized, but rigidly controlled. Teacher autonomy was on the decline, and teachers resented it.
Especially in big city schools, teachers at the turn of the 20th century felt like the most insignificant cogs in a huge machine. They felt dictated to and spied upon. Furthermore, they were badly paid and lacked pension benefits or job security. Many teaching positions were dispensed through political patronage. Married women were often barred from the classroom, and women with children were denied a place in schools. And daily conditions could be deplorable. The often-cited developments of immigration, urbanization and westward expansion had swelled, and changed the face of, the student population. Teachers had little flexibility in how they were to teach their myriad charges, who in urban schools particularly, might well come from impoverished families who spoke little English. They taught in classrooms that were overcrowded, dark and poorly ventilated. Schools felt like factories. ...
In the early decades of the 20th century, even as school districts put greater emphasis on "professionalization," teachers everywhere felt left behind. City Boards of Education, increasingly made up of business and professional men, worked to reform teaching. Often their goals were laudable: to root out corruption, to raise the practice and status of teaching, to ensure real student achievement. But they rarely had any first-hand knowledge of what teaching actually was like. They worked according to a business model, with clear hierarchies and chains of command -- which left teachers at the bottom. The "administrative progressives" (as education historian David Tyack has called them) wanted to impose uniformity and efficiency on classrooms of 50 disparate children. They supported the move away from Normal Schools to university departments of education, where theory would rule. They discouraged individual initiative by teachers, whom they considered too limited to enact worthwhile change.
Not surprisingly, teachers rebelled. At least in urban districts teachers had the advantage of numbers. Cities became the centers for the teachers associations that eventually grew into unions. In Chicago, Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin of the Chicago Federation of Teachers rallied their peers (and the city government) for improved pay, retirement benefits and tenure. Haley knew that many women considered teaching genteel, white-collar work. Joining a union was anathema to them. But she convinced them that they needed the union and could do real social good within its embrace. In the process, she laid the foundation for the American Federation of Teachers (one of the two main teachers unions today, along with the National Education Association). In New York, Grace Strachan and the Interborough Association of Women Teachers fought for Equal Pay for Equal Work (despite men's assertion that they rightfully should be paid more than their female counterparts, since they had families to support).
There are two national teachers unions in the United States today, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The NEA was founded in 1857 as a policy-making organization, one that hoped to influence the national debate about schools and schooling. Over the next hundred years, it played a significant role in standardizing teacher training and curriculum. Until the 1960s, the NEA tended to represent the interests of school administrators and educators from colleges and universities.
The AFT, on the other hand, was always much more of a grass-roots teachers' organization. It was formed in 1897 as the Chicago Teachers Federation, with the explicit aim of improving teachers' salaries and pensions. Catherine Goggin and Margaret Haley allied the CFT with the labor movement, going so far as to join the American Federation of Labor - an act that horrified everyone who wanted to see teaching as genteel, white-collar employment. At the same time, the union conceived its work in terms of broader social improvement, bettering the lives of the poor and the alienated
The 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" depicted teachers who were both underqualified and underpaid, working in poor conditions, achieving poor results. A follow-up report in 1986, "A Nation Prepared," laid the foundations for a new professionalism and a new Standards movement. It proposed improving teacher education, restructuring the teaching force and giving teachers greater say in how they met new requirements for student achievement. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was born the next year to provide a clearing-house for national recognition and certification of exemplary teachers.
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