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Thursday, July 25, 2013 03:37 pm

Don’t blame ISU. Here’s what’s wrong with teaching.

I would like to comment on the article by James Krohe Jr. called “Manufacturing mediocrity” (July 18). First, regarding Illinois State University (ISU). I am a graduate of there with a bachelor’s and almost a graduate of their Ph.D. program in mathematics education. I am not sure about all programs in the university, but I can say that the mathematics education was and I assume still is an excellent one. I was in that same program for my undergraduate degree and I feel that it was great preparation for teaching. But to me, some of the problems with teaching do not lie in the preparation of our teachers. I have been working in the field of education since 1979 via programs at ISU as we had clock hours that had to be spent in the classroom. Here’s some of what I found with the system.

I was considered a very good teacher by my peers and I still am. I currently teach at a local community college part time. I have been substitute teaching in the local school district over the past year. But though I am and was an excellent teacher, when I got my first teaching position, though I was good, I was constantly belittled and berated by other teachers or the administration because I was good. If you did something good it was as if they were jealous. To me, others should be proud to see you having success and want to know how you are accomplishing that. That is what ISU had taught me. But both my student teaching and my first year of teaching taught me that people around me did not want me to be a good teacher. They wanted me to be mediocre because if I was too good I made them look bad because they did not want to have to work to be good.

When I returned to teaching in 1996, I started at the collegiate level. I started working on a Ph.D. in mathematics education in 1999. This program made me an even better teacher and I never knew that was even possible. I have high reviews from the majority of my students. But the problem this time is securing full-time employment. No one can afford to hire me because I hold two master’s degrees and more than 60 hours toward a Ph.D. Districts function on very little money so they are stuck hiring the cheapest people and that does not mean that those people are excellent teachers. Additionally, when you get to a school and you want to fit in, you better not be a great teacher or else your peers will take you down. The system does not encourage growth and development or strive to have a community of learners with their teachers. They set up a system to put one teacher competing against the other teachers and that does not make for a good educational system. And with the stress of students who often lack support at home to encourage them to learn and be all that they can be, this makes for a very broken system.

It is not the teachers colleges that are broken. It is our homes that provide the students who do not care to learn and who do not discipline the children to act respectful and strive to be successful. It is the lack of funds to pay for good educators. It is No Child Left Behind that makes our children fit into pigeonholes and do multiple “guess” tests to have “success,” instead of building creative and high-thinking students for the future of America. It is a system that puts one teacher competing against another instead of creating a community of teachers striving for success with every student and in all that they do. It is our textbooks that worry about what picture is on what page and overlook the intent of the textbook – learning. Who cares how it is formatted? It is about what it is trying to teach.

The American systems have been broken for a long time. Two excellent books written about this in the 1990s were The Teaching Gap and The Learning Gap. These books compared educational systems in different nations to assess differences and attempt to determine what works best. But these books were overlooked. They had so much to offer our systems but we chose to ignore them. How did I learn about those books? ISU.

The problems with our educational systems are multifaceted. No teaching college is perfect. They have to work with the students who are given to them. But the system only encourages mediocrity and they lose their best teachers to private industry. Why? They will not pay and they do not accept you if you are good. I am a picture of that exact concept. And I would not be the good teacher that I am if it were not for Illinois State University.  

Barbara Tanzyus of Springfield is employed outside the field of education full time.
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