I had the privilege of spending the first two years of my career working in a state in the United States that has a ban on collective bargaining. Yes, you read that correctly, since the late 50s there has been no bargaining. Since there is no bargaining, the government makes decisions about education and puts them into action. In addition to no bargaining, the state that I taught in has no teacher unions. The reason why it was an absolute privilege to work there early in my career is because it left me with a vivid example of what our system would look like with no union and extreme cuts to education. My experience there showed me a system where students were set up to fail.
When I arrived there, I was brand new to teaching and super keen to get started! The school where I taught had many, many classrooms where the person teaching students had no teaching degree because qualified teachers would not apply to jobs at this school. I was fortunate that I was given a salary of a teacher with 10 years experience which was $30, 000. Teachers here were also not financially compensated for upgrading their degree to a masters or adding additional qualifications courses so most teachers did not continue their university education. Ultimately, they were not paid enough to have enough money for upgrading their degrees. So, what happens when you have a building full of people teaching students without teaching degrees? The answer is that you have well intentioned people looking after students who are not trained in assessment, differentiation or special education just to name a few. You also have an entire group of students who are not learning mathematics or science by someone who has a deep knowledge of the content in which they are instructing. You have basically taken away an entire group of students right to access higher education or be prepared for what high school will challenge them with.
Class size was something that this state had tried really hard to do well. In my time there, I had around 23-25 students in my intermediate classroom and in the last couple of years legislation has come out to lower class size in K-3 classrooms to 20 students. Fantastic right? Yes, however, principals have repeatedly reported that they can not find qualified teachers to fill all the new positions that will be created from having smaller class sizes and have therefore requested to postpone the change in class size for the coming school year.
I taught in the United States at the height of the implementation of George W. Bush’s no Child Left Behind Legislation which had a distinct focus on standardized testing and “accountability”. The amount of time focused on the test, talking about the test, listening to my principal talk about the test, listening to my colleagues talk about the test and receiving teaching resources that supported the test was absolutely silly. Being new to teaching and really struggling to connect with my students I put the testing materials aside and used more engaging materials that would appeal to my students instead of just answering questions. I used my knowledge of modifications and accommodations to try and meet the students where they were at and used materials that were more relevant to them. My school served a population that was low income on average so answering questions about “Bed and Breakfasts” was not at all relevant to their lived experiences. The “accountability” part of the legislation meant that teachers were compensated financially for the number of students that passed the test. This meant that no one wanted to teach our most vulnerable students. This was one of the most heart-breaking parts of working at my school in the district. My students were spoken about horribly amongst teachers in the area. No one wanted to teach them because they feared that they may not get enough of a financial bonus from teaching them. Considering teacher’s salary started at about $22,000 a year and it took 25 years to get to the top of the salary grid many teachers relied on money from the tests. It was a very ugly and awful system that set up our most vulnerable students to be marginalized and forgotten.