Education in America: Problem/Solution

2nd February 2017

I have to confess that I have been feeling the dreaded “teacher burnout” lately. This is something that I never thought I would feel. I have always heard and therefore believed that, “if a teacher stays in the field for three years they will teach forever.” And after three years of teaching, I had never felt more fulfilled in my career … until this year – year nine.

This feeling has a lot of contributing factors though: having a new baby and pre-schooler at home, switching schools and districts, being on maternity leave for a good 10 weeks, reading about Finland’s school system, and watching the recent controversy over Betsy DeVos. I am wondering, will I continue to do this? I am feeling exhausted and frankly underappreciated.

I recently gave my students the AP Language prompt about whether or not college is worth the cost. It was one of their first synthesis prompts so I used it as a teaching model and had them work with it as a team creating a poster representation of the sources (the assignment which I took from a GENIUS colleague and thus can’t provide here for you) and their ideas.

While creating these posters, they discussed the sources, found appropriate outside evidence to pair with each source, and then, using Google Docs, wrote some pretty awesome team essays. Team 2 in my 2nd hour wrote this:

“While it may be true that college does manifest unquestionable benefits such as monetary payoff and a wage gap, overall, it is not worth it. Contrary to prominent beliefs, college graduates do not always generate more money than an individual without a degree. On average, in Arizona, a teacher who had to obtain a degree, makes salary of 44,513 dollars a year. While in comparison, a Costco retail store manager, who did not necessarily have to obtain a degree, makes on average 57,233 dollars a year. It is proven that just because one has acquired a college degree, does not mean they are financially superior to someone without a degree. Wage gaps varies with the type of degree someone procures and the field in which they study (Source F).”

Nail-in-burnout-coffin. So, this got me thinking…I want my classes to be rigorous and relevant and what is more relevant than problems with our education system? The students had an interest in this as well and so we went with it.

This quarter, my AP Language and Composition students will be researching a problem with education in America. They will then research all previously tried solutions, ultimately synthesizing these attempts into a viable solution. 

After they wrote the essay on the worth of college, I decided to have them engage in a station rotation activity by watching some TED Talks on education, reading various articles on education with questions to accompany them, and participating in a Socratic seminar (with me at this station) to help generate ideas for their research.

The students then watched and took notes on the documentary Waiting for Superman and afterwards participated in a Socratic Seminar on the film using the documentary, the notes from the station rotation articles and TED Talks, and their own experiences in the educational system as evidence to support their claims.

With all these activities in mind, the students were then ready to create their own “documentary-eske” presentation on one problem and their viable solution.

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I truly hope this burnout will end soon as I do believe that what I do every day does matter. I also believe that the majority of my students will one day be in a place to make a large impact in our society, whether it be as a politician, activist, or teacher.