I’m so over everyone talking about, debating about, whining about Common Core. Don’t worry, like I said, that is NOT what this blog post is about. Common Core is a detail. A scapegoat in the never-ending saga of debates over education. I want to go bigger. I want to talk about healthcare. And education. Together and separately.
- Our healthcare system is pretty fucked up.
- Our education system is pretty fucked up.
- Our healthcare system and our education system are also pretty fucking amazing.
Our hospitals will treat anyone. ANYONE. Don’t have money? We got you. We can fix a broken bone, diagnose and treat thousands of diseases and ailments, replace hips and hearts, manufacture hands and legs, and sometimes we can even put your cancer in remission and maybe even cure HIV.
And our education system will teach anyone. ANYONE. We take geniuses, rich to poor, famous to common, extrovert to introvert, hands-on learner to book-learner. We take students of all ability levels, physically and mentally. We include students who have intellectual impairments, AD/HD, oppositional defiant disorder, and students with all of the above. We include students across the entire autism spectrum – which is a pretty diverse spectrum as we’re all learning. Our teachers teach all day, mitigate social quandaries and emotional meltdowns, tutor after hours, and coach sports and lead clubs after that. Don’t have money to pay for all of that? We got you.
Now of course, just like anything else, if you have money, you can buy the best of the best healthcare and education – which is definitely a problem (for poor people and our economy). But in general, we have a pretty good baseline where ALL people can access services.
In America, we are so lucky to be able to criticize these services in the hopes of making them better. But that is what we need to remember: We don’t want to tear them down. We want to build them up. Improve upon the greatness that we have already built. This doesn’t mean that we can’t question traditional pedagogy or new theories. But we can take the time to recognize and respect that everyone involved desires the same thing even if we have wildly different ideas about how to get there. We will be in a much worse situation if people decide that they no longer want to become doctors or teachers. And when it comes to teachers – we’re certainly working in that direction.
We will be in a much worse situation if people decide that they
no longer want to become doctors or teachers.
So why compare healthcare and education? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when we talk about our problems with healthcare, we rarely blame the doctors. We might blame the insurance companies or the drug companies. We might blame the government or advertisements. We might even blame the medical schools or the “institution” of medicine. But hardly ever the doctors themselves. Conversely, nearly every argument about education seems to at the very least include an indictment of lazy, barely educated, just-wanted-summers-off teachers. And maybe you’ve bought into this trope yourself – I know I did (at least before I became a teacher) – but hear me out.
The other day, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast (How Many Doctors Does it Take to Start a Healthcare Revolution?) that made me start to compare how differently we treat the healthcare debate as compared to the education debate. The podcast considered the following questions:
- Are health outcomes better when all of the highly experienced, highly educated doctors are away at a conference ?
- Are you better off if you can’t get that expensive, high tech test done right away?
- Is it true that you are more likely to die if you check in to a training hospital during July when all the residents are brand spankin’ new to the floor?
And of course, there are surprising answers to these questions. You’ll have to listen to the podcast for all of the details, but basically, sometimes, you might be better off (physically and financially) to have a doctor who is unsure of him/herself and who is willing to question traditional pedagogy. Many of the procedures and tests that doctors recommend actually have very little research supporting their effectiveness and might even be harmful. Say what? Our doctors are experimenting on us? Well, yeah. That’s why we call it “practicing” medicine.
This is not news to me – and it’s probably not news to you either. Americans are riddled with complex health issues, chronic pain, mystery ailments. One of my friends tore something in her shoulder nearly a year ago. She had surgery, did physical therapy, and is still in pain. Her doctors aren’t sure what to do next. They have told her that there is nothing more that they can do. They have pushed her off as if she is a nuisance. As if she should just suck it up and live with that pain for the rest of her life (she’s only 30 – and has always been involved in some sort of athletic sport – is she to kiss it all goodbye?).
But this is not a unique story. The more people I talk to about these issues, the more I find that most of us, at some time, have or will suffer through a mystery health problem. I read the other day that it takes, on average, 5 years for autoimmune disease to get diagnosed in women. Additionally, when younger women have heart attacks, they are twice as likely as men to die, partly because their doctors attribute their symptoms to psychological distress instead of cardiovascular distress. Of course, this speaks to wider gender disparity issues, but that’s a different topic for another time. The point is that, our doctors, with as much as they have read and studied and practiced, are still learning and still experimenting.
And in the Freakonomics podcast, they didn’t call out the doctors for being “bad” doctors. No, the point was more that the process whereby we are educating future generations of doctors might be flawed. Perhaps it is not a good thing for young doctors to step into a strictly hierarchical residency program. Maybe instead of memorizing traditional pedagogy, doctors should be required to extensively read and synthesize information in order to make informed decisions based on the most recent data. But still, it is not the doctor’s fault – it’s a systems problem.
Conversely, when we talk about education, it is oftentimes suggested to be a
“teacher problem” instead of a “systems problem.”
Conversely, when we talk about education, it is oftentimes suggested to be a “teacher problem” instead of a “systems problem.” Teachers are working within the confines of whatever system has been put in place by their country, state, district. Teachers are continuously researching and practicing their craft to become better. They are dealing with every type of kid from every type of environment and every type of brain. We’ve got students with high IQ’s but who are so AD/HD they can’t do a single homework problem. We’ve got students who will devour every assignment we give them and ask us for a more in depth explanation, while the student next to them has no clue what we’re even talking about. We tell them to ask questions, but they don’t know what question to ask because they are that lost. We have students who have vastly different reading levels, processing levels, and learning styles. And we’ve been asked to teach each one of them to their individual ability, style, and preference. It is maddening, and to be honest, sometimes, it is impossible. All of this is of course frustrating to the students as well, causing them to act out which creates an even more possible environment for the teacher – and the vicious cycle goes deeper.
I’m guessing that doctors feel the same thing sometimes, but at least they get to meet with each patient one at a time, instead of 30+ at once. They can refer a patient to a different doctor who might have more insight into that specific malady. And most of all, they get paid – a lot – to practice and get better and better at what they do. And they get respect.
The other day, a woman asked me if I was a teacher. And I literally hung my head, and sheepishly said, yes. Because I am embarrassed sometimes to be a teacher. People think that teaching is a cop out. That it is an easy career choice, especially for a woman. And that most people do it because they want to have the same schedule as their kids and have summers off. I don’t have kids. And teaching is anything but easy.
Some people will argue that doctors deserve to get paid more because they are more highly educated. And yes, that is true. But they have the means to become highly educated. Most teachers would love to obtain a graduate degree – but for most, it simply is not financially feasible. I am still paying off my undergraduate loans. Why would I take out more loans that I can’t pay back? In my school, the base salary for a teacher with a bachelors degree is $32,500. For a master’s degree, the base salary only increases to $35,500. Why the hell would I pursue further education? Have you looked at how expensive and time-consuming graduate degrees are?
My hope is that as this debate rages on about our educational system and what standards are being used and how many tests are being given, we can just keep in mind that there is no “one” solution. And demeaning our teachers by saying that they are complacent, barely-working, babysitting, pseudo-professionals will only serve to convince future generations that teaching is the last profession they should consider. Our society only feigns respect for the teaching profession. Like we feign a belief in equality for all.
Our society only feigns respect for the teaching profession.
Like we feign a belief in equality for all.
Just like with healthcare, we need to stop acting as though there is “one way” to solve our educational woes and be everything for everyone. Research is constantly evolving and giving us new ideas and insight, but how that research is applied will still differ depending on each individual person and situation. People are complex. How could we possibly expect that one teacher or one doctor could know how to fix every problem – and have the time to do it? Can we start to accept that every child is different and needs something different from the school? Can we trust that our teachers are trying as hard as they fucking can and want to reach every kid just as badly as you want them to (as you sit on the sidelines and critique their every move)?
Can we trust that our teachers are trying as hard as they fucking can and want to reach every kid just as badly as you want them to (as you sit on the sidelines and critique their every move)?
Our education system will always be evolving to meet the competing demands of each student and family. We need the flexibility to change our approach for different types of students. We need students to have options when it comes to school programs. We also need students to have support for issues occurring outside of school – things like food, clothing, shelter, love. But most of all, we need the support and the respect of our community and of the families that we serve.
So as you go forth and yell about Common Core and charter schools and teacher salaries, please keep in mind that we are people, we are professionals, and we hear you. And also keep in mind that nearly 40-50% of teachers quit in the first five years. So if you want our educational system to get better – not worse – I suggest you watch your words and push a little more money and respect this way.
P.S. This is teacher appreciation week: Buy your favorite teacher a drink.