I taught for three years at Florida State, but I currently teach at a for-profit school with no entrance requirements (other than the ability to pay a lot of money). I see students with a 2nd grade reading and writing ability on a daily basis. These are students who have somehow passed K through 12 or at least gotten a GED, but don't have any basic skills. Many of them would not be accepted to other colleges or universities. There are many issues with the kind of work I do and with for-profit education, but I won't go into those here (I'm saving that for when I work somewhere else and can safely discuss them). My point is we have a massive problem on our hands. To be quite honest, once someone gets to 18, it is very difficult for them to get caught up on years of education they simply do not have. We are creating generations with little to no education and eventually this will destroy our country.
Waiting for Superman did all of the things I expected it to do. It made me angry. It made me tear up in places. It made me feel hopeless. It also surprised me by changing my mind about some very key ideas I've held for a long time. I'm a huge supporter of teachers and education and I thought the movie would mostly reaffirm all of my beliefs. It did in some cases, but in others, I learned something new and my mind was changed (see what education does!).
I've always been in favor of supporting education with more money. I've felt that we don't give schools enough funding, which leads to many of these problems. My idea about this wasn't completely reversed, but I realized that over the years we have greatly increased the amount of money per student in this country, yet nothing seems to change. More money is great, but if that money isn't distributed properly and fairly it won't matter. Our school system is completely out of balance and until we make all schools on the same level, a huge change will not come.
The film points out how there are too many people involved in making these decisions, which causes things to get held up. In the end, anyone who actually wants to do something gets burnt out or rejected. The money is filtered through various processes and doesn't favor all students or all schools. There is no excuse to have school in one part of town that is well-maintained and has all the necessary equipment and for another school across town to be falling a part. The film also focuses on alternative schools (like charter schools), but who gets to go is left up to chance. We are literally putting children's futures into the hands of lotto machines. I'm sorry, but that's just fucked up. Bottomline: money can't be the only part of the solution.
My biggest change came in how I view teachers and teacher unions. I know some people didn't like that the documentary focused so much on teacher unions and was clearly not in favor of them, but I found the information provided to be startling and valid. Teachers are at the heart of the issue. Without great teachers nothing will get better for the students. Good teachers are a part of the solution, but bad teachers are a big part of the problem, and until we face that and fix it, things will continue on a downward spiral.
As I stated before, I've taught at the college level for six years and I know the struggles of teaching and how hard it can be. I also can't imagine the challenges of teaching K through 12. I admire anyone willing to do that. I often wish I had the courage. Having said that, there is a tendency to place all teachers on the same level and to rally around teachers anytime someone tries to change policies or confront the unions about contracts. The problem is not all teachers are created equal.
For a long time, I didn't really have an issue with tenure for teachers, but after getting more information and thinking about it more, tenure for teachers is unfair. Because I am more familiar with the university process, I assumed it was a difficult process to get tenure (because it is for professors), but in K through 12 you are given it after two years. What other job is like that? We all know there are teachers out there that don't deserve to be teachers. I had plenty of them in my high school days. I had a teacher who literally gave us a book and a worksheet to fill out every single day of class while he sat at his desk reading a paper and drinking a diet coke. I can't tell you one thing I learned in his class. That man should not have a job teaching.
I understand the fear of teachers to a degree. If tenure is taken away, a good method of evaluating teachers needs to go in its place. There is much debate about how to evaluate teachers. Many proposals have been based on test scores. I don't think that is a fair method, and I completely understand teachers having issues with their pay and job being based solely on test scores. There are, however, other ways to evaluate someone. Classroom observations would be a good way. Student feedback would also be helpful. Many jobs are hard to evaluate, but people still do it, and I don't think teachers should be exempt from that. Good teachers should be rewarded and bad teachers should be fired.
Our schools need people devoted to education. Teachers are not the enemy, but anyone not doing their job is. Our system is so broken and we are quickly sinking to the bottom in comparison to other countries worldwide. This is scary and people need to start taking notice.
Do we really want a country full of people who can't read or write? Or people who can't do basic math or understand science? Some jobs are being outsourced because there aren't enough qualified people to do them in this country. Not fixing this problem is going to lead to the downfall of America. Dramatic? No, realistic. Education is key. Some comic book hero isn't going to just swoop in and save us all. We have to start saving ourselves.
I highly recommend watching this documentary and starting more conversations about these issues. Our schools need help. Our teachers need help. The youth of America need help. It's our job to save them.