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Teacher Advocacy

It's not easy to be a teacher

In an era of educational accountability for student learning, teachers are often left without a voice to speak up for them. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies and Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) reports set increasingly high standards that teachers are often hard-pressed to achieve. This paper looks at the belief statements that guide me as a teacher, examines the challenges faced in meeting accountability achievement goals, and describes tools the Department of Education could provide to help me achieve success in the classroom.

What is a teacher?

Teacher means something different to everyone, but something we can all agree on is that a teacher is provided to impart wisdom, share knowledge, and guide students as they mature into productive members of society. I believe all students are teachable. Some require special teaching methods, and all have unique needs, but when those needs are addressed, students have an innate ability to learn.

I believe all children deserve a quality education. I work at a particularly impoverished school where we have a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers. Many are lured away by union-based schools that offer more money, and important staff members are often cut due to a lack of funding. Despite these shortages, the teachers I work with strive to provide students with the education they deserve.

I believe that all students learn differently. Discovering if your student is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner can be challenging, but it is worth the extra effort when you see a child respond to a new and different learning technique. Different cultures, languages, and special needs also affect the way your students learn. These can be countermanded by taking the time to discover your student’s unique learning requirements.

I believe that standardized testing is unfair to students with diverse needs. Standardized testing puts everyone in the same niche, but as we know, students are individuals with unique learning requirements. Because I also believe students should be judged on their individual merits, I find it unreasonable to expect them to reach competency at the same time. Some students require more time to achieve expected standards, but it seems they’re penalized and forced to move forward in compliance with NCLB sanctions.

I believe a student’s home life can largely affect their incentive to learn. When a student comes from a home where education is not respected, they get little support or recognition for their efforts. A question I hear quite often is if Mom and Dad don’t care if I go to school, why should I? Sometimes, school is the student’s only safe place. They need a place to go where someone cares about what they do, and school provides that outlet for them.

I believe it’s important for teachers to develop trusting relationships with their students. Many students come from extremely difficult circumstances. They find it hard to trust, and they need to know that their teacher is there for the right reasons before they are willing to take that extra step. Once trust is gained, students become freer, and find it easier to let their inner strengths shine through.

Because trust is so important in the classroom, I believe that discipline must be fair and impartial, and I believe students should have a say in how classroom behavior is managed. Students know when they’re being treated unfairly, and they can become embittered if they sense favoritism in the classroom. When they have a say in how classroom behavior is managed, they are fully aware of the consequences to poor behavior, and they can take ownership in living up to expectations they have agreed to.

I believe students learn more efficiently when you challenge their creativity and set high expectations. When students are engaged in learning, they begin to feel passion for a subject. When they feel passionate about what they’re doing, they become enmeshed in the experience, and learning becomes less of a chore. When students know that you expect their best work, and they know they can trust you to grade them fairly, they are more likely to put in the extra effort it takes to hand in exceptional work.

I believe student efforts should be rewarded, even when the work is not of the highest quality. When a student with a learning disability struggles through and completes an assignment, I can look the other way when it comes to spelling and punctuation errors. I can appreciate the extended effort put forth in completing the project. When my most intelligent students put forth little effort, waste time and interfere with the work of others, but turn in a better paper, I believe their lack of effort should be recognized as well. Although it isn’t politically correct to differentiate expectations based on abilities, I feel it’s only fair to recognize and reward hard work.

I believe it’s important for students to take an active role in their own education. While this may not be the case for younger students, by the time they reach the secondary stage of education, it’s time for them to start thinking for themselves, and taking a stand in regards to their education. This is their future, but if they don’t start putting in the effort, their future may not be as rosy as they like to imagine.

I believe teaching children how to learn is as important as teaching them fundamentals. This is especially true in the classes I teach. While they may never use a computer professionally once they’re out of school, the digital age is here to stay. In helping them discover a new program, I need to teach them to analyze, think, and determine their best resources for success. The digital age is full of resources that can help a student learn about anything that they want to learn about. My job, as a teacher, is to help them learn how to utilize these resources to their best advantage.

I believe providing feedback for students is an important element in their success. If a student doesn’t understand why they’re getting a certain grade, it’s hard for them to know how to improve in the future. This is an area where I struggle. It’s hard to find the time to sit with each student to go over their assignments piece by piece to explain what they’ve done correctly, and where they need to improve. It’s so much easier to just grade the paper, and be done with it, but that doesn’t help anyone. This is something I hope to improve as I learn more about education, teaching, and classroom management.

I believe that to become a great teacher, I need to evaluate my effectiveness in the classroom on a daily basis. Some days, everything goes smoothly from start to finish. Other days, things seem to be utter chaos from the beginning to the end. While I know this can sometimes be put down to teenage angst, I need to learn how to deal with these mood swings effectively. Evaluating my day in the classroom is the only way I’ll be able to determine what is working, and what could be handled more efficiently.

Challenges in Accountability

Teachers are held accountable all over town. They’re accountable to the school. They’re accountable to the county. They’re accountable to the state, and they’re accountable to the Federal Government. Being held accountable by so many groups of people, when the real accountability lies within the relationship between student and teacher, is especially difficult in these days of increased standards, and decreased spending. One of the biggest challenges I face in helping students meet NCLB AYP requirements is a lack of funding. We’re expected to do more with less, and we’re expected to do it more effectively and more efficiently.

A second challenge is that while funding continues to decline, standard expectations continue to climb. There are fewer hours in the school day, fewer days in the school year, and with a 20 to 1 ratio in the average classroom, less time for one-on-one interactions with the teacher. Students are expected to learn more than ever before which brings us to our third challenge. Standardized testing does not take individual learning styles and abilities into consideration. Everybody is put into the same box, and they all expected to turn out the same amount of competence in all their subjects.

Yet another challenge faced when trying to achieve NCLB AYP standards is that there is too much testing to allow students to spend the time needed to learn the subject that’s being tested. Not only do they have less time to learn, but they’re also pulled out of the classroom three times a year to face the stressful challenge of standards testing. As a final challenge, there is no consideration given for small, rural schools. We’re expected to meet the same standards as our big city counterparts, but we don’t have the student body, or the resources they have available in these urban areas.

How the Board of Education Can Help

Aside from providing the funding necessary to embrace educational reforms, the first step in helping teachers meet the challenges set forth in NCLB would be to take away the unrealistic expectations these standardized tests set for our students. They don’t all learn at the same speed or in the same way, but there shouldn’t be any shame in that. Students shouldn’t be made to feel inadequate because they struggle with a subject that comes easily to a few others. We all have our strengths, and those strengths are what we should be concentrating on instead of forcing our children to move forward in a subject before they are ready.

Another way the Board of Education could help would be to revamp and rethink standardized testing. Tests should be made to include tests that are suitable for students with different needs. Sub-groups must be taken into consideration, and individualized education must return to the forefront of education. If teachers are forced to ‘teach to the test’, they lose their flexibility in creating challenging lessons that will engage not only their students’ minds, but their hearts as well.

Two final ways the school board could help teachers at my school reach AYP requirements would be to develop out-of-classroom support for students who are struggling and provide parental guidance programs developed to help parents learn how to help and encourage their students. These programs could help community members become more involved in the success of future generations and could go a long way in raising student incentive.


It’s difficult to meet unrealistic expectations when there is inadequate funding and support for everyone involved. In looking at the beliefs that guide me as a teacher, I’ve been able to examine the challenges I face in helping my students achieve AYP requirements. I’ve also been able to determine ways in which the Department of Education could help students and teachers alike achieve personalized, realistic standards of education.