Teachers Share What's Wrong With Modern Education

The big ideas surrounding our modern education system can seem out of date and sometimes a little absurd to those who work in the system. Here, teachers reveal some of the largest and most deeply rooted issues with the system of education we all passed through. We can all relate so some of these...

1. The tests.

I have to spend my entire year teaching to the test. You think that's just a phrase? It's not. My entire purpose is to get the kids to pass the end of course exam. Kids who don't speak English and who are reading 5 grade levels below where they should be are expected to pass a test that is so completely unfair that it makes no sense at all.

If they don't pass, my pay is deducted. I can lose my job. I am rated as ineffective. No matter WHY they don't pass. If a kid misses 100 days of school, I am to blame when that student doesn't pass the test. I hate the test.


2. Everyone is individual.

We are told through our entire training that kids have different brains, they can use their talents to show their knowledge in a zillion different ways. Everyone is individual they say, no two kids think the same way.

Then we give them all a standardized test and the government uses the data as fact to rank schools, teachers, and all sorts of bullcrap. It makes zero sense and drives me up the wall.


3. Critical thinking.

Critical thinking has taken so much of a backseat I'm wondering if it's still in the car.


4. One unmentioned fact is giant class sizes.

Who the thinks 45 kids in a room, ranging from gifted to special ed, is a good idea? In a 53 minute class, I can barely teach a lesson then touch base with everyone while they're working. It's absurd.


5. Tests, technology and an overcrowded syllabus.

I've had to shut down interesting discussions because we need to progress through the topic. We put tests and tech before teaching kids to actually think.


6. Educational problems don't always have roots in issues of education.

Kids who are homeless, who have mental health problems, drug problems, lack of support at home, no financial resources, etc. are not "special cases" that have to be "dealt with." Those are the kids who are in the classroom and need an education. But most schools lack the facilities to help those problems. Expecting teachers to fix poverty with a really well-designed lesson in geometry is simply absurd.


7. The biggest problem in my opinion is the manpower.

If you hired 5x as many teachers and cut the classes from 30 students down to 6, I bet the majority of teachers would feel like they can get most kids through the state tests even as they are now.

And just to add to that point, every 4 years we get some politician (who has no background in education) claiming he's gonna fix education by doing something like throwing an iPad in every student's hand. You know, because kids love technology, of course that's the key to fixing public education! It's so simple! When I'm reality, kids love iPads, but they want to watch videos and play games on them, not do math problems. It's really backwards.


8. Proper parental involvement.

NOT helicoptering, but parents reinforcing at home and expecting their children to learn. This can't be legislated; it's cultural.

The problems stem from top-down rules, no matter how well-intended, whether that's coming from the administration or the union. Excellent teachers who know how to make learning happen with students who have zero attention span need more latitude, not more silly programs or tactics that administration wants to try out or safeguards that care more about a teacher's retirement than the students' education.

The best way to reward them is not to promote them into administration, but keep them in the classroom where they can make the most impact with what they're gifted and pay them the salary of the administration position to which you wanted to promote them.


9. Funding educational research.

There's frighteningly little research on "what works and what doesn't," and essentially none asking the more critical question "what works for whom." In my research life, I read lots of the medical literature. Most of what gets passed off as education research, from the perspective of medical research, would be somewhere between speculation and a pilot study. Even if some adequate research trial were done, teachers almost never have institutional access to publications. In the long term, this needs to change.


10. The laws.

Laws regarding teaching are being made by people who have no idea what education, and an education system, entails. Lawmakers have a political focus, instead of an educational one.


11. The push for "college-readiness."

I was a short term substitute teacher and in the month and a half I was there, I could tell which of my students were good to go for college, and which ones would suffer if forced to go to college.

When one of the kids told me, I'm not going to college!" I knew it was to get a rise out of me. He'd told all his other teachers and they acted the way the school expects them to act, with shock and horror, and the insistence he did have to.

I looked him in the eye and told him, "Okay, that's fine. But you're going to go to somewhere like Western Tech so you can get a trade job, like being a mechanic or an electrician or a plumber."

I don't think anyone had told him up until that point that there was more to life than going to college.


12. The lack of accountability.

We have so many students that have not been allowed to fail, either mom and dad come to the rescue or the educator takes the fall. I teach high school, and it's the first time for these kids that they are even allowed to fail. They have been told they are the best and brightest their entire lives. When they encounter hardships, they have no idea how to cope.

They end up becoming very stressed, anxious and sometimes depressed. Because of this, modern education, at least in my area, has been trying to take away stress factors instead of teaching kids how to manage them. It's so bad that next year we may not even be allowed to give students anything below a 50%, possibly even for work they do not turn in.


13. Kids need more than 20 minutes of "brain break" each day.

I teach elementary school. Apparently where I teach did research and discovered recess led to a loss of instructional time. You know what else does? Six year-olds literally not being able to sit for two minutes when they come to me for music because they've been doing work for two hours with no break.


14. No Child Left Behind destroyed education in America.

I had a colleague of mine complain the other day about how sharply student performance fell over the past five years. He couldn't understand how or why that could have happened. We talked about it for awhile, and we came up with a logical (but unproven) hypothesis: No Child Left Behind destroyed education in America.

All people are born curious. That's why two-year-olds are notorious for asking "why?" all the time: it's a manifestation of our innate curiosity. Unfortunately, that curiosity can get squelched fairly easily, and once destroyed, intellectual curiosity is nightmarishly difficult to revive.

When George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind policies into law, schools shifted their focus in a fundamental way: instead of learning for its own sake, learning became a means to an end. Why do we learn? We learn to pass the test. Nothing more, nothing less.

The damage from this new approach to education showed up abruptly over the past half decade because of the ages of the children who had NCLB inflicted on them. If NCLB started in your junior year of high school, or in 7th grade, or even in 5th grade, your level of intellectual curiosity had already been fairly well cemented. Unfortunately, if you have younger kids -- ones in their formative intellectual years -- told for a lifetime that learning is a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself, you kill off their intellectual curiosity.

In the last half-decade, children who started No Child Left Behind in 3rd grade or earlier are reaching colleges. Many of them have no intellectual curiosity left. They're unteachable because they don't value learning for the sake of learning. NCLB was the most anti-intellectual law America ever implemented, and it has decimated a generation of innovators, inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs.


15. Some of the kids arriving to kindergarten are already damaged.

Every classroom in our school has (young) kids with serious behavior problems. Not just talking out- I'm saying throwing desks and chairs and stabbing people with scissors behaviors. There is no follow through, no support, no parent accountability and the one social worker in the school can't possibly handle the caseload.

If you ask for help the problem is immediately turned back on you. "What strategies have you tried? Where's your documentation of your modifications?" And on and on. A sticker chart isn't helping a child born into crisis who needs some real support. Meanwhile, the teachers spend HOURS a day managing outrageous behaviors while the quiet kids look on with wide eyes hoping to learn something.


16. The assumption that every single person needs it.

Well, at least at the university level. 90% of the kids I see in my classes don't belong there. They're there just to tick the box on their resume so they can get "a good job".

Best case: they get "a good job". (Of course, a trade school would be better for so many of those kids, and trades are suffering these days. Those are actually good jobs!)

More likely: their degree is useless, and all they have is debt.

It's a racket.


17. Wasted time due to class management.

The material I taught over a year could be covered in two months if the kids were actually there to learn. The first few years of school should be spent drilling the importance of education to children, so they know why they're learning the stuff they're learning.


18. We expect too much of teachers.

And we pay them wayy too little.


19. Experience.

Members of the Board of Education in many municipalities often have zero teaching experience, yet feel qualified to dictate to teachers what should be included in the curriculum.

The board's overreach extends beyond subjects and priorities to methods, as well. Some board members even attend classes and critique a teacher's "performance," even though they've never taught a class themselves.


20. The overemphasis on technology.

My school gives every single child a laptop and we are expected to use them at least a few times a week. In theory, we're using the limitless potential of the internet to enrich our learning.

In practice, they spend all class playing games, as our web filter only stops us teachers who care to follow the rules, or Googling answers. And while I do my best to patrol and stop this, I'm one person vs 25+ children determined to do nothing.


21. The people making the rules at the legislative level are not teachers.

They see shiny new research that promises results and mandate that this is the way it should be for everyone now. The breadth of school situations and needs across the country is massive, and it's the same case even within a school.

I teach Algebra II, and it's basically a required course, but not all of my students should be taking it. I have very smart students who will go on to do just fine in life who will have no use for systems of equations. But it's on the standardized tests, and those are just about all the state has time to look at when evaluating schools.


22. Grades, I want them gone.

What an A means in one class compared to another class can be totally different. I'd love to have it skills based and have three categories; Developing, Meets and Exceeds. That way the parents know exactly what their child can do or needs to improve. It removes the "Can my child have extra credit to bring up their grade?" question and grade inflation.


23. Help the kids who need help.

One of the students in my class showed obvious signs of sexual abuse, but all the school could do was give her a little counseling. That kid would undoubtedly grow up to have a shitty life because the system couldn't help her. This is really worse than all of the above, but it's out of the scope of education


24. Not enough teachers/training for teachers.

Pay is way too low to recruit professional people with master's degrees.

It takes years for most teachers to get good. Some sort of multiyear apprenticeship program where they're paid but not fully leading their own classroom would help.

So many teachers don't really care and just do it as a job. Which is fine, not everyone needs passion to do their work, but it leads to a bad experience for the kids when their teacher is phoning it in. And then those teachers come to me wondering why X student is awesome in my class, but fails/disrupts theirs. And students come to me complaining and I have to walk the line between supporting the kid and being professional about my colleague.


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