The Hostile Workplace of Teachers

school as a positive space
When we think of “school” we want to think of a positive space. Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

For most of us parents, the first impression that we have of school is that it is a warm, welcoming place. It’s because that first impression comes from viewing the Kindergarten class on an occasional basis when our children first start school.

And for most of us, that impression continues on into the middle school years.

But for most of the teachers and administrators today, the elementary school turns into a hostile workplace during the Spring testing season.

School as process

The early grades are taught by professionals who I — a heavily content oriented high school teacher — used to call the process masters. Elementary schools are dominated by leaders and teacher leaders who understand even the smallest nuances of process and how critical it is to learning.

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

And so their classrooms are designed to be conducive to the process of learning. The content has always been important, but the process masters understood that if the process and relationships didn’t work, nothing did, and nothing would be learned.

That’s why elementary schools are so much fun to go into. But we outsiders have no idea how hostile that space has become for the teachers, and especially the third grade teachers.

The place of process turned into factory

Due to the ideas of non-educators who do the bidding of investors, we are engaging in high-stakes testing that is modeled on content tests that upper high school students are expected to take.

The artificial drawing of a line at the third grade may be well-intentioned on the part of some theorists who propose that children must learn certain things by the end of the third grade. Yet, it is still heavily debated among respected education theorists as to whether or not that is true in the hard and fast way that politicians want to believe that it is.

The issue is that the politicians who want to use these tests that way do not understand the processes of development and how all of elementary school needs to be taken into account in growing a child into an adult.

Instead, they want to treat children like machines on an assembly line.

So, one disconnect that makes school a hostile workplace for teachers is that schools cannot be factories, yet politicians want them to be. Teachers are caught in the grind between what they know as professionals and what politicians promote to win elections.

The need for security in high stakes testing

The higher the stakes with testing, the greater the need for security.

Having worked for The College Board and for a textbook company in developing test questions, I have seen how important security of the tests are in order to make sure the questions that have taken much time, effort, and money to develop are not spread around like feathers on a windy day.

And so the measures become more and more stringent as the game of large-scale, high-stakes testing gets played by more and more people.

When journalist Bob Braun broke a story about Pearson monitoring the social media lives of students who were taking their tests, we were shocked that the company would go to such lengths to make sure that questions were not being shared.

So what if a few questions get leaked? If you are in the billion-dollar business of testing, it’s a giant problem.

High stakes testing depends upon economies of scale in order for it to be profitable to the vendor. Every time questions are leaked then they have to be removed from the test banks and the company then spends more money to develop more.

Investors don’t like that.

Economies of scale demand that as much as possible is standardized and “scalable”, meaning it can be developed to an increasingly larger and larger scale for the same up-front cost of development.

That’s why every Spring elementary teachers are drilled on specific scripts and threatened with formal admonishment and even firing if they stray from the script at all. It all has to match up nation-wide in order for standardization to work.

That little paper test seal

Most people who have taken a paper and pencil standardized test are familiar with the test seal that you are instructed to break with your pencil. It is meant to ensure that you, or someone else has not looked at the test and prepared the answers for that particular test ahead of time.

But coming out this week, the week before testing in Oklahoma begins for third grade classes, teachers anxieties boiled over in social media with anxiety about how the third grade tests had arrived from the vendor without seals on each of the test booklets.

Latest Test Security Issue Creates Anxiety for Teachersis my report on that sequence of events and the response from the Oklahoma Department of Education.

After it was published on this blog last night the reactions came along quickly in social media.

On Twitter, principal and blogger Rob Miller, who had posted about the issue a few days earlier, tweeted this:

And AP U.S. History teacher and blogger Dallas Koehn had some pretty good snark to deliver as well:

Another teacher, Heather Reilly, was more to the point, responding to the title itself and reflecting sentiments of teachers about to be in the throes of testing next week:

Activist parent Angela Clark Little kicked in the perspective of loyal parents who take vacation time to come and help monitor tests in part to make sure that those horribly dishonest teachers aren’t up to no good:

So, yes, it is a tough situation for teachers, administrators, and parents when the rules that are so stringently applied to them suddenly just don’t count for the vendors, who are the origin of the security demands on teachers in the first place.

The hypocrisy of the corporatocracy is that the rules that they set for teachers that have made school a hostile workplace are not the same rules that they have to follow when they screw up.

School — the hostile workplace for someone else’s gain

The heavy, high-stakes testing regimen is in place to help some parties to prosper.

Testing companies have turned into billion dollar enterprises.

Think tanks that write model legislation to move along the process of forcing high-stakes testing have become million dollar operations due, in part to the testing and charter corporations’ largess.

Politicians receive millions in campaign contributions from large corporations who expect results when they want the model legislation that they paid for to be passed.

The printing corporations that generate the testing materials, and the culprit in this Oklahoma foul-up, receive new millions that they didn’t have before.

The problem is that this testing regime exists for someone else’s gain as children, their parents, teachers, and administrators endure the misery.

And teachers, who have their professional reputations, and evaluations riding on the results, have to endure school as a hostile workplace for no true educational reason.

Once again, the rich think that it’s just fine for you and me to suffer for their gain. They think that they deserve it.