I don’t know yet if this will become a regular fixture on the blog, but I have something that I want to get off my chest so today has officially been dubbed “Write Real Wednesday”.
Because of the nature of my work (teaching), I don’t often express my opinions on the internet, and if I do, it’s always in a carefully guarded fashion. I suspect that this phenomenon extends past the teaching profession into many other positions, but the fact that anything seen as questionable ethically or morally (as seen by my superiors, not necessarily by the mainstream) can cause me to lose my job or my license makes me tread cautiously. This can be as simple as speaking out against major issues in education or showing activism as a nontenured teacher, and this is why I have always been a member of the union (although I don’t agree with the actions of the NEA at times). It’s also why I’ve contemplated writing an anonymous blog on many occasions, not to write specifics about my school or position, but to write about issues and release some creative energy without fear of vindication.
A friend posted an article about tenured faculty discouraging people from going to graduate school and a discussion ensued about paying to go to grad school and other issues, which leads me to my issue – graduate school for teachers. I’ve been in graduate school twice now for teaching, and despite all the “research”, I can tell you that it’s generally not worth it.
My state, like almost every other state, requires a master’s degree within so many years of teaching experience in order to renew a teaching license. It also offers no financial incentive to do so, and requires you to (mostly) attend schools within the state with sub-par programs just to funnel tons of money back into the state. Now, I’m not debating that high-quality programs don’t help make people better teachers; it’s just thatin the real-world (to borrow a horrendously-overused education cliché) most of these programs are crap.
I had the extreme fortune of an excellent undergraduate preparation in education so naturally, I have high standards. If anything, I wasn’t prepared for the low standards of administrators, parents, and students upon exiting the Bubble, but otherwise I felt completely prepared to tackle anything thrown my way including a complex understanding of how education theorists actually impacted classroom life.
Graduate school was decidedly different, however.
My first experience was at the local state university. I began taking graduate classes immediately to satisfy my licensing requirement and to avoid repayment on my undergraduate loans. At the time, there wasn’t a boom of online classes within the state so I was stuck with one option. I literally learned NOTHING from any of my education classes — everything was a repeat of undergraduate curriculum. One shining point, though, was the ability to take a few graduate French classes (that counted for nothing in regards to the degree) thanks to an amazing French professor friend of mine, which helped make up for the year when my last two classes weren’t offered for two semesters and I had to fill time, and did enhance my content knowledge and reading abilities in French. Forty-two credit hours cost me over $30,000 and a bunch of time that I can never get back. Did I mention that my before tax $2000 pay raise won’t even cover the principle amount of my loans unless I go into 20 year extended repayment? It was literally an expensive piece of paper that won’t provide a return for at least two decades – not a smart investment.
My second experience isn’t quite as bad, but it’s more a matter of politics that make it so discouraging. Because I’m adding on an additional area of certification, the state is requiring me to take a whole other graduate degree. Why is this a big deal? Because it’s a Master of Arts in Teaching, or the graduate teaching degree for people who don’t have any education training or experience. Yes, despite having TWO degrees in education, I am retaking all of my education classes just to teach elementary school when I should just take methods classes and complete a practicum. I chose to go to a different university, one that is within the state but offers the program online (and, surprisingly, does online classes fairly well) so my price tag is lower – around $15,000 for thirty-nine credit hours – and I will get another before tax $2000 raise, which I can actually pay off in 10 years time. But I’m wasting a huge amount of time with this program because I’ve already proved – TWICE – that I know this stuff. Heck, I got a 196 out of 200 possible points on my theory exam during undergrad and yet I have to jump through this hoop just to have very little enhancement to my knowledge and teaching skills.
Why do we insist on forcing our teachers to carry the burden of these debts when they do little-to-no good for the teachers and even less for the students? Why do we push them through programs that don’t even follow the best practice principles they tout and instead offer busywork and other crap? In fact, I would argue that these degrees actually hurt students because they take valuable prep and grading time away from teachers, forcing them to choose between completing meaningless grad school homework or preparing an awesome inquiry-based lesson. And really, when you are paying so much, which one are you going to choose? Better mentoring of beginning teachers for the first few years would be a much better use of time. Until they choose to fix the entire education system, especially graduate education for teachers, these degrees are little more than a guaranteed budget-padder in the form of exorbitant tuition and shiny “gold star” from NCLB for the states that takes away from the potential student gains we could see.