Teachers face overwhelming pressure

To the editor:

How to describe Sherman Frederick's July 10 commentary regarding the teacher cheating scandal in Atlanta? Uninformed? Typical? Un-bee-leeve-able?

Don't just pick one, pick all three.

I do not in any way, shape or form condone the behavior of the teachers and principals in Atlanta, but I do understand the immense pressure they and all teachers across this country are under ever since the federal law called "No Child Left Behind" was passed. Mr. Frederick mentions the "unrealistic goals of standardized tests." According to NCLB all students are expected to be on grade level by 2014. Is this really realistic for education -- or any profession, for that matter? This is equivalent to requiring that all doctors cure all of their patents' illnesses, or that all lawyers win all of their cases all of the time.

Mr. Frederick then writes that education has become "a nationalized educational industrial complex dedicated not to real student learning, but to the ironclad protection and economic will-being of those who make a living in the system: teachers, administrators and their unions."

Yes, the educational system in our country has become very complex indeed with its many layers of administrative and bureaucratic red tape. But its focus is not on protecting teachers' jobs. Its focus is on raising student test scores on standardized tests and nothing more. Teachers no longer have any creative control of their classrooms. Teachers are told what to teach, how to teach it, how to assess their students and in what areas -- and the list goes on and on.

Sure teachers are worried about keeping their jobs in these uncertain economic times with all the new demands that are being placed on them. Why should they be different from anybody else? But this does not excuse the teachers in Atlanta. What they did was very wrong.

Mr. Frederick writes that, "Teaching has become more a cushy government job than a calling." There is absolutely nothing "cushy" about teaching. Jeremy M. Christensen, a Clark Country teacher, proposed recently that all Nevadans should be substitute teachers for a day so they will have a better understanding of the problems that face education. I think Mr. Frederick would benefit more from an entire month or maybe even an entire year in the classroom. I doubt he would ever use the word "cushy" again to describe teaching after that experience. Teachers work before school, after school and on the weekends.

I repeat: There is nothing cushy about teaching.

Finally, Mr. Frederick writes, "If kids emerge from a public school with a thirst for learning ... it's just a nice (but unnecessary) by-product of the system." What do you expect from a system that focuses only on test scores? Teachers want to enrich their students, but they are required to follow a very strenuous schedule. They are strongly discouraged from deviating from this schedule lest they should lose precious minutes preparing students for the standardized tests. Because of this, "The concept of actual learning has become so 19th century," writes Mr. Frederick.

This is one of the few statements from Mr. Frederick's commentary that I agree with. Keep in mind that teachers in the 19th century had full creative control of their classrooms and standardized test scores were not the focus of education at that time.

Joyce Wright