To the Editor:
I applaud James M. Banner Jr.’s sentiment that (history) teachers should strive to “stretch their aspirations” and work toward creating “within themselves the desire and ability to be historians on their own, even without the spur of grants and special programs (“‘Teachers of Ambition,’” Commentary, Sept. 8, 2004). But I’d like to address his remark that, in the grant applications he reviewed, “no evidence was provided that the teachers were desirous of becoming better historians as well as better teachers.”
Perhaps Mr. Banner does not adequately grasp the workload—both literal and emotional—under which most K-12 teachers labor. By the time they have thoroughly prepared lesson plans that are tied in detail to specific state standards; completed individual instruction plans for the students who require them; filled out the continual paperwork needed to meet state, district, and local school requirements; prepared and carried out action plans to help students pass state achievement tests; dealt with police, probation, child-welfare, and related personnel on a regular basis; had pre- and postassessment meetings and compiled paperwork in connection with regular visits by district and regional inspectors; held meetings with students and parents on an individual basis; met state requirements for continuing teacher education courses to ensure recertification; perhaps held down an additional, part-time job due to economic needs; and performed other tasks too numerous to list, most teachers are so exhausted that “imagining their possibilities” takes a back seat.
Many, however, do strive to expand their subject knowledge, in terms both of content and of analytical skill. But this is an uphill battle. Until policymakers fully recognize that the needs of precollegiate-level teachers include being permitted time to develop their own scholarly goals and follow them, no one—including Mr. Banner—should be surprised that the grant proposals from teachers they review lack imagination.