Why Teachers Are Furious About President Obama’s State of the Union Address

January 29, 2014

President Obama’s first sentence praised a teacher for spending extra time with a student! 

“Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

 He discussed an ESL student who came to this country speaking no English and was on his way to college!

“Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.”

 He said kids are thinking deeply and not simply learning how to fill in bubbles for exams! 

“Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it – and it’s working.”

Then why are teachers fuming about last night’s speech?

We in education (and probably most parents as well) know that the picture the president painted is false.  It is what we all want, but is not currently our reality.  And anyone hearing his speech who is not on the front lines of education may actually believe him.

This is the reality:

That teacher who spent extra time with a student was most likely doing it at the cost of her lesson planning, data analyzing, homework grading, and test creating.  With today’s standards, lesson plans are not just tools for teachers; they are multi-length documents that detail everything a teacher is doing in the lesson and the rationale for it.  With everything required of teachers today, there is no way to spend that extra time with a student unless we forego some other requirement and risk being disciplined for it.  You helped a student who needed it, but are rated ineffective because your lesson plan didn’t list enough Common Core Learning Standards.

An ESL student makes it to college!  I would like Obama to ask Estiven’s teachers how that became possible.  Was it the many exams he was forced to take before he could speak that word of English?  Was it the data that said year after year that he wasn’t making “Adequate Yearly Progress?”  As an ESL teacher myself, I know he must have had teachers like myself who ignored these restrictions and regulations and spent the time with him that he needed.  Teachers know what the government doesn’t: it takes time to learn a language, not testing.  The tests and data show students not progressing, teachers not doing their jobs . . . until that student magically can speak, and magically does thrive, and magically goes to college.  The reality is that by the time this student makes it to college, his teachers have endured years of being told they are not doing their jobs, they are not good enough, and they are ineffective.

And finally, and this is the most laughable, the president stated that we have new ways to measure creative thinking that doesn’t involve filling in bubbles on exams.  Well, look at the worksheet below, which was recently given to a student.  Is this teaching creative thinking?  No, it is helping the student hone his bubbling skills for the many years of test taking that lie ahead of him.  kindergarden bubble handout

I do not normally get involved in politics, but something has to be said about the lies told last night.

The reality is teachers are drowning.   We are in an education crisis.  We are training our children to be test-taking drones, not creative thinkers.  What we want is the president to recognize this and save us, not to tell lies about how well teachers and schools are doing.  I hope (but doubt) that the public will see through what was said last night, and will continue to fight to get us back to focusing on children and not tests.


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