A Veteran Educator's View on Changes in Education

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By my best estimation, I am a little over a third of the way through my career as an educator. This is my fifteenth year. I started teaching when I was twenty-two. I was young, energetic, and naïve. I am now thirty-seven. I am still relatively young, though not quite as energetic or as naïve as I was fifteen years ago. I have been an educator long enough to see a lot of changes in education. I have seen several educational trends come and go.

It also provides you with enough experience to have a pretty clear idea of how to be an effective educator.

A lot has changed for me within the past fifteen years. Personally, I married an incredible woman who is also an educator. She has made be a better person, and I cherish each day that I get to spend with her. I am also the proud father of two rambunctious, energetic boys.  They have had the greatest impact on me by far. Professionally, I taught middle school science and coached basketball for my first seven years at one district. I earned my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership while teaching at that district. After receiving my Masters, I moved on to another district. I have spent the last eight years being a principal while also continuing to teach a middle school science class or two. I have also spent the last three years writing about teaching and education for About.com.

Education has changed tremendously over the past fifteen years. Some changes have been good while others have been detrimental to both educators and students. There are days that I absolutely get discouraged, but I am proud to be an educator. I have no desire to do anything else. I love interacting with my students and still believe that I can make a significant difference in each of their lives.

The remainder of this article will focus on what I believe are some of the significant changes based on my viewpoint over the last fifteen years. This will include both my individual growth as an educator and changing trends within education. This list is not comprehensive as it would require a book to cover each change in education occurring over the last fifteen years.

Accountability

I had been teaching for about three years when No Child Left Behind was signed into law. Its impact was not felt immediately. In fact, I cannot recall a single conversation with another educator concerning the topic at that time. After fifteen, years, I now believe it to be the most significant driving force of school reform in educational history.

No Child Left Behind was flawed from its inception with its unrealistic expectations. The idea that every child is capable of being “on grade level” is absurd. Even more absurd is the fact that this is evaluated on a single test on a single day. However, this misconception has driven accountability reform over the last decade.

Good administrators and teachers have been fired or quit the profession because of the overemphasis of standardized test scores. Performance based pay has been introduced into the profession.

Teacher evaluations have changed tremendously. Most now have standardized testing performance figured into the evaluation equation.

Charter Schools/Vouchers

Charter schools receive public funds, but operate privately and are free from many of the mandates that regular public schools must follow. The first charter school law in the United States was written in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, forty states have adopted such laws. Charter schools have become increasingly popular over the past five years. According to the National Alliance for Charter Schools there were approximately 6,000 public charter schools in 2013. This is up from 5,300 in 2010.

School vouchers allow parents to receive and use public funds to send their child to a private school. This practice is highly controversial but is ever increasing in popularity and use.

According to the American Federation of Children, there are currently thirty-two states who offer a voucher program or a tax credit which essentially provides the same benefits as a voucher.

Charter schools and voucher programs have had a tremendous impact on education over the past decade. Funding and student population have increased in private schools and charter schools while decreasing in public education. This has arguably had a negative impact on public education schools and educators.

More with Less

Over the past few years, the requirements for educators have increased, yet school funding across the nation has decreased. This has led to an increase in class size and a decrease in resources funding. Schools have been forced to cut back, often making the tough decision to cut extra-curricular programs and/or teachers. Teachers are spending more of their own personal money on their classroom while making far less than they deserve. 

As a principal, I have had to ask my teachers to do more. I have also picked up additional duties myself. This is frustrating in both capacities. These additional duties take away valuable time that could be dedicated to a more narrowed focus on instruction.

Personal Growth

There is no way I could cover all the ways I have grown as an educator since my first year. I am without a doubt more knowledgeable across all aspects of education since I became a principal. My focus as a teacher was on middle school science, but as a principal I have had to become knowledgeable across both content and grade level.

As a teacher, I have changed too. My first year was certainly a learning experience. I learned so much that I scrapped virtually everything I did and started over. I have continuously tweaked what I teach and how I teach it. I am always looking to improve.

Rigor/Standards

It is frustrating to read comments suggesting that our students are less prepared for college than they were decades ago. That could not be further from the truth. Educators today are providing their students with a superior education compared to students in the past.

Teachers today are responsible for teaching so much more than their past counterparts.

In addition, teachers are supposed to provide students more at a younger age. Kindergarten used to be more about socialization and acquiring basic skills. Now students are expected to be reading and writing by the time they leave kindergarten. This increase in rigor has occurred in all grades and subjects.

The Common Core State Standards continue this trend in increasing rigor with a change in standards. Teachers must adjust to both how they teach and what they teach. Schools must also adopt new curriculum that effectively cover the new standards.

Security/Safety

I started my career a little over three months after the Columbine High School shooting. This has had a significant impact on how school security is viewed and handled. Since that time, there have been numerous shootings at various schools across the country. The massacre at Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 refocused the need for tight security at schools.

Schools used to be considered a safe zone for students. Now it seems like there is another school shooting in the news on a weekly basis. This has led to increased security. Many schools have full time resource officers on their campus. They have policies and procedures in place in case a shooting occurs on their campus.  Schools also conduct lockdown, intruder, and evacuation drills.  Many states and school districts have begun to consider arming administrators and/or teachers.  A problem that was never an issue until about a decade and a half ago is now continuously on our minds.

Standardized Testing

Standardized testing has long been a part of schools, but what has changed is use of the results. When I first started teaching there was not a whole lot of pressure for your students to do well on the tests. We wanted them to do well, taught them what they needed to know according to the standards, and talked about how important the tests were. When we received the results in the fall, we would review them, analyze them, and make changes in instruction to improve areas in which your students struggled.

Today, there is an overemphasis on standardized testing results. There is also an increase coming in the number of assessments given to assess the Common Core State Standards. Test results are used as the end all for teacher and student performance. Many states have introduced school report cards based on test scores. Many states tie test scores into their teacher evaluation systems. In addition, performance based pay tied to these scores is starting to gain momentum. Students are also held accountable for how they perform on these tests. Many states are now linking test performance to things such as grade promotion, getting a driver’s license, and earning a diploma.

Technology

My first year of teaching, we had two computers in my entire school that had an Internet connection. Technology has obviously improved a lot since then. It seems like everything is Internet based now. There are so many ways teachers can implement technology into their daily lessons. The potential is unlimited, and new technology focused on education will continue to be developed. Many schools have a 1:1 initiative where every student has a laptop or an iPad with textbooks download and through which assignments are completed. There are several educational programs such as Think Through Math and Reading Eggs that are excellent supplemental tools. Technology has provided teachers with valuable resources to aide in instruction and intervention.