For years, I worked as a teacher in the New York City school system. While I teached a bunch of young school children in the South Bronx, what I learned most about my position was that teachers are some of the most moral and ethical people I’ve ever met in any profession.
Who else would sacrifice a decent living to help the youth of America?
Still, I’ve seen how the stress, workload and low-pay have turned teachers from idealistic young people trying to help the community and change the world — into cynical drones who feel they can’t make a difference — and whose only satisfaction is their paycheck.
So it doesn’t surprise me that there have been numerous cheating scandals popping up all over the country.
In Atlanta, 178 principals and teachers were accused of cheating, almost half of them half admitting to it. In Philadelphia, 28 schools are being investigated for irregular testing scores. There has also been speculation about cheating in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
While many parents are disgusted with the idea of teachers helping their children cheat, they don’t understand the full story on why teachers help students cheat on state-standardized tests.
The first is their own survival.
If students don’t perform well on tests, then teachers can lose their bonuses, a shot at a rate, and in some cases — their jobs. Despite popular theories to the contrary, individual teachers don’t have that much control over test scores. Students from wealthy backgrounds with educated parents are more likely to perform well on tests regardless of what teacher they had. Teachers in good schools with other good teachers will have the benefit of students coming in already prepared for tests.
Many people become teachers because they are passionate about the subject they teach and enjoy teaching those subjects. All this passion is taken away when teachers are forced to teach to tests rather than teach to their passions and strengths. Teaching to tests becomes a chore, a mundane duty for both teachers and students.
As we saw on “The Wire,” in the new world of numbers-based success ratings, not only in schools but in businesses, organizations and government services, it is common for people to “fudge the numbers” to keep their jobs or achieve success.
As a teacher, I saw supervisors harass and threaten to terminate teachers to provide some improvement via test scores. I’ve heard teachers complain about how boring and tedious teaching to tests are. I’ve seen teachers fill out tests to fulfill the demands of their superior’s who didn’t seem to care where the improved test scores were coming from.
What we should learn from the recent teaching scandals is not to demonize our teachers, especially those brave enough to work in urban schools, but rather to change the culture of stress and test-based ratings.
When people believe the game is fixed, they cheat. Administrators and politicians have fixed the game with their test based environment, where are all they see of teachers and students is test numbers. Teachers cheat to help their students, their schools and themselves.
Teachers have become cynical and demoralized by the challenges they face and the pressure from politicians and administrators.
Can you blame them?
The problem with teachers isn’t teachers cheating the system, but the system cheating them.