As an educator, it is this time of year that I cringe as blanket pink slips are handed out to all non-tenured teachers and other “non-essential” teachers, just in case their positions get cut. Budgets are being slashed and teachers are being laid off across the country. The debates about ensuring our children receive the best education possible begin to rise up again, just as they did the year before. Arguments about how we cannot afford to educate our children because teacher salaries are becoming too high begin to belittle the hard work and progress that has taken place since the last budget go-around.
Every year, community members stand up at board of education meetings and town meetings to make their case in why schools need to be treated and run more like a business. If we want our schools to prosper under a business model, we must ensure a few things:
1. Employees are supported with rigorous and meaningful training that is either paid for or provided by the employer that begins at start of a new job.
2. Employees are given opportunities and time to collaborate to reflect on practices, analyze data, and create rigorous plans to move forward.
3. Employees are given supports and materials that they need to be successful.
Most businesses provide training when you first enter as well as ongoing training to stay on top of the latest trends in the field. Unfortunately, many schools have completely cut any training or professional development previously offered to teachers and school staff to ensure that they are able to learn and practice the latest advances in the field. This may not seem like a big deal to most until you ask yourself the following questions: (1) Would I want a doctor who was trained in heart surgery 10 years ago and did not ever have the opportunity to take the time to learn the new less invasive procedures we have today? (2) Would I hire an electrician to wire my brand new house that I am building if he is using materials that no longer meet the building codes set by law because he did not maintain his training? (3) Would I hire a lawyer who does not know the latest laws that have been passed that could affect my case?
My guess is that the answers to the three questions above are a resounding NO. It is hard to find a business that requires their employees to pay for their own training and take their own time to attend training. So, why would we not support our teachers with the training they need when they have a powerful influence on how our children learn and develop? The fact of the matter is that teachers are dealing with children’s brain development which includes social, emotional, and knowledge development. Our children have different learning needs now than they did 10 years ago. Teachers need to maintain their knowledge and skills in the latest learning technologies and methods.
As for collaborative practices, many businesses provide time in schedules for teams to meet together. When faced with a problem, businesses pull together their experts to solve it. In education, there are problems all of the time. Because education is a social science, educators are faced with many problems that need solved on a daily or weekly basis. Educators continually ask themselves how they can better meet the needs of students in their classrooms along with many other problems. In many cases, a collective knowledge and collective experience of a team of teachers is more powerful than one person’s knowledge and experience. The school is a community and without collaborative practices that community has no gel to keep it together. It takes a team of construction workers and experts to build a bridge just as it takes a team of doctors to find a cure for a disease. Ensuring that students meet their greatest potential is no different–it takes a village to raise a child. If collaboration is so important in businesses, just as it is in the field of education, why is time not provided for in many school budgets?
Have you ever known of a business that requires their employees to purchase their own pens, pencils, paper, books, and other materials that they need to be successful? Materials that are needed in the everyday classroom are also being cut from budgets. Teachers often have to purchase materials that they need for their students on an everyday basis, as well as materials needed for specific projects that are included in units of study. Can you think of any doctor who needs to purchase his or her own lab materials to run the tests that help diagnose your ailments? Can you think of a plumber who has to take the cost of PVC piping out of his or her own salary rather than having the home owner pay for it? Again, my guess is the answer to those questions is, no. Yet, to educate our children, when materials are cut out of the budget, it is now an expectation that the teacher will just pay for them, which ultimately is a cut in salary.
As you enter budget season in your communities there is one last question to ask yourself: Without teachers, would our students who attend public school be able to effectively learn? Children do not learn how to read and complete algebraic equations without the teachers and support staff that are the backbone of a school. Our children that are in our education system today will be the people who make major decisions for our communities and our country when they are adults. They need and deserve to have the best education possible which requires their teachers to be able to do their jobs effectively. Efficiency and effectiveness are what businesses strive for–be sure to support those things that make these two phenomenon possible.