Two days ago, I asked former students to share their assessments of the value of my educational processes. The respondents ranged from adults who had been out of school for several years to traditional college students to high school seniors in dual enrollment, and while the sample is relatively small — 24 total comments as of this writing — their feedback consistently states that after taking my classes they have a better understanding of how to convey their thoughts in an organized manner. In part, I needed to hear some positive feedback because of how beaten down by the system I feel, but more importantly, I wanted to illustrate in a tangible way what I already know in my heart: I know how to teach writing in an effective manner that reaches a broad range of people.
Before I launch into the main point of this post, I want to make one thing exceptionally clear. Most people who work in administrative and staff roles in education are just as dedicated and hard-working people as teachers. Many of those I work with I consider friends. This is not an attack on them personally, and I do recognize that many of the decisions and pressures being placed on educators come from sources higher than those who oversee day-to-day operations. My umbrage is more with the system, more specifically the focus of the system, which has become more about profitability than academics and long-term sustainability.
I’m making this point to illustrate a fundamental flaw in the path education is currently taking. Decisions about classroom effectiveness are being decided by high level administrators more interested in the bottom line than in educational quality, and faculty input is dismissed from the discussion. Please, pay attention to that last point: faculty input is dismissed from the discussion. As a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Memphis, I had more classroom autonomy than I have today after 15 years as a highly effective educator. Today, decisions about how my class should operate are being made by people who have never taught one section of composition — and possibly may have never taught any class period — yet they supposedly know more about how to teach writing than I do. This phenomenon is not limited to English, and no matter how loudly we as teachers scream that our classes are overcrowded, that too much of our time is being taken up with menial tasks, that standardized testing does not work, that homogenized curriculum stifles critical thinking, our pleas are consistently ignored in favor of policies that improve bottom line efficiency.
Here’s one example. For five years, I personally have begged the college where I currently teach to change the broken system of dual enrollment. As it functions now, we compress two semesters into one, go to the high school, and teach five days a week, following the high school format. The purpose of this entry is not to record the multitude of problems that arise from this system; I’ll commit an entire post to that topic. My purpose here is to state that the five day, in-the-high-school format takes an undo toll on faculty, and despite a plethora of proof to this point, including excessive turnover of faculty charged with this role, both the Sevier County Board of Education and the college refuse to compromise or budge on this issue because of money. The Board of Education is in effect one of the college’s largest customers, and by outsourcing their teaching to the college, the Board saves thousands of dollars by not having to pay its own faculty.
What angers me is the callousness both the Board of Education and administration show toward faculty on this issue. We plead with them; they claim they’ll look into it but make no changes. Faculty quit in frustration; they hire new folks, burn them out, and repeat. We compile clearly stated, well-reasoned, empirical arguments for why the format doesn’t work; they dismiss our input with a pat on the head. I cannot fully express in words the anger and frustration I feel at being really good at something, knowing the right way to do it, and having a deeply-rooted passion for doing it well, only to be treated like a disposable commodity over money. Both the college and the Board of Education prefer to lose good teachers than change the current format due to its financial efficiency.
As I’ve stated, faculty are left feeling as if administration does not listen. We are merely peons in the process despite being an important component. Good teachers are experts in our chosen disciplines, and we have a passion for and dedication to sharing our knowledge with others, which is the only reason the whole system hasn’t imploded already. However, we are being crushed by the demands of this system that wants to speed up the process, maximize efficiency, and focus on the bottom line. The only way this direction will change is with outrage from the public. Until civic and business leaders recognize that administrators are weakening the quality of education and producing an inferior product, students incapable for the most part of competing in this new global economy, our voices will continue to fall on deaf ears, and administration will continue to pat each other on the backs for their financial acumen, while educators burn out from the relentless pressures of more, more, more.