Taking On Tuchman
It is laughable that Gloria Matta Tuchman says she believes in less government [“Hasta La Vista,” May/June]. Two years ago, she successfully passed a ballot initiative that took from California parents, teachers, and local school boards the authority to decide whether to use bilingual education. Tuchman spearheaded a campaign to persuade a majority of uninformed voters with little investment in education to “purge” schools of effective instructional approaches she did not support. Her initiative even includes a provision that allows her fellow teachers to be sued for noncompliance.
Gloria Matta Tuchman should not be held up as a hero or a role model. We must carefully examine the consequences of such ill-founded policies and question the motivation of individuals who use such measures to promote their political ambitions.
Jill Kerper Mora
Assistant Professor of Teacher Education
San Diego State University
In “Hasta La Vista,” Gloria Matta Tuchman waffles on a key issue in order to further her agenda. She criticizes the lack of teacher training in sheltered-immersion methods. In reality, the California certification process required of English as a second language teachers includes just such training. However, Tuchman repeatedly has lambasted this certification as unnecessary.
Tuchman’s claim that sheltered-English programs work is an illusion. She and Ron Unz, the co-sponsor of the initiative that banned bilingual education, insist that before their measure, only 6.7 percent of second-language learners in California were reclassified as fluent in English. Since the initiative passed, the redesignation rate has climbed to a mere 7.6 percent.
Any discussion of bilingual education should include real experts. Instead, your story presented the opinions of a self-proclaimed “expert” with a mere B.A. in education obtained 30-something years ago. This expert doesn’t seem to know that it’s the role of the state, not the universities, to issue teacher credentials. This expert tried to get elected as California’s superintendent of schools; now she’s running for Congress. Am I the only one who sees something interesting here?
The article “Exodus” [May/June] noted that teachers are leaving Catholic schools because of low salaries. But it failed to mention an important contributing factor: lack of job security. Most, if not all, Catholic school teachers work without a union contract and can be dismissed or laid off on an administrator’s whim.
I found myself in this situation once. Though I met or far exceeded the goals set for me at the beginning of the year, I was summarily nonrenewed and given no explanation. I know of several others who have suffered the same fate. In public schools, even nontenured teachers have more employment rights than Catholic school teachers.
As a parent, I worry about the effects of high-stakes standardized tests on teaching and learning. I am even more deeply troubled by the view of test prep as legitimate educational work [“It’s Come To This,” May/June]. It’s wrong to surrender precious classroom time and money to help kids bubble in the same answer to a multiple-choice test. If it has come to this, we had better take another look. Educators should not prostitute themselves to the test-prep companies. Test prep will never substitute for real learning. There’s so much in the world to learn about; don’t waste my kids’ time.
As a teacher working on a doctorate, I challenge professor Bernard Bull’s assertion in “Time Is Money” [Letters, May/June] that teacher vacations should be factored into comparisons of their salaries with others. My mortgage payments and other bills continue no matter how many months I’m in school. During the summer, I find new material to present to my students, learn new methods and techniques, and attend seminars and workshops.
I have devoted the past eight years of my life to getting the education and experience to be a good teacher, yet I am making a little more than $34,000 a year. Idealism and a love of children bring me and others to education—not money.
I question any salary comparisons presented by professors, who often make a lot of money to teach just two classes. When professors step down from their lofty perches and join the educators who have to fight for every dime they earn, stand in picket lines to defend class-size limits, and dance to every standardized test dreamed up by out-of-touch academics, then they can criticize our salaries.
If I correctly follow Bernard Bull’s logic in his salary comparison, teachers in Tennessee deserve an immediate pay raise of $9,800 a year, or $980 a month. That would give them an annual salary of $38,950 and pay them the same monthly wage as other professional workers. I am sure that teachers would welcome this. Why doesn’t Bull make such a proposal?
Your article “Call To Arms” [April] was very biased. You refer to author Alfie Kohn as a “hectorer,” “rabble-rouser,” “pious populist,” and “gadfly.” If you had spent more time reporting and corroborating Kohn’s claims, you would have found that his critique of the standards movement and testing is on the mark. My school district now requires more than three weeks of practice tests. This has left little time for my 2nd graders to study science, art, music, or drama. I feel compelled to prepare the children for “The Test.” Teachers, schools, and children are often publicly judged on the basis of one test. It’s only fair that the hundred or more concepts that appear on the test be drilled and constantly reinforced so that the children appear to have knowledge.
Let me get this straight: When one of her students on an exchange trip to Spain lost his passport, Chicago teacher Christine Matishek arranged for a chaperone to stay with the student while she returned home with the 18 other students in her charge [“Trip Slip,” April]. And district administrators think Matishek acted irresponsibly. Could you please tell me what the officials, with their 20/20 hindsight, think she should have done instead?
Play To Learn
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I noticed “Pikachu Goes To School” [April]. The suggestion by Bruce Cooper and Sheree Speakman that teachers create a Pokeman-style educational game seemed like a delayed prophecy. I made just such a card game to teach my 8th grade science students the periodic table. Called Elemental Combat, it centers around key elements, basic chemical processes, and the lab equipment used in everyday experiments. I created it after staring at the periodic table one afternoon, confiscated Pokeman cards in hand. The game became so popular that students outside my class begged for their own decks. This told me that I had done something right.
Bloomington Middle School
There is a delicious irony in your May/June [print edition] “Letters” section. Next to your announcement of Teacher Magazine’s nomination as a finalist for a National Magazine Award [“The Envelope Please”], a group of 5th grade students criticized writer David Ruenzel for arguing that gold stars and other reward systems don’t work in the classroom [“Gold Star Junkies,” February].
You call these nominations the “Oscars of magazine publishing.” Seems to me that you can’t get any more “gold star” than that. Later you talk about your “blockbuster” August issue that features a variety of changes to help “make our pages more lively and enticing.” I am sure Ruenzel would believe that, as a professional educator, I should be “intrinsically motivated” to read your magazine without the reward of a more lively and enticing format. Well, maybe not.
Bon Homme School District
Tyndall, South Dakota
Editor’s Note: Lynn Gatto, a teacher at Henry Hudson School in Rochester, New York, also noticed the student letters. “I was very upset,” she wrote. “I teach in an urban school and refuse to motivate my students with candy, stars, stickers, coupons, or prizes. Instead, I use exciting, challenging, and meaningful curriculum and lessons. My students value learning and are self-motivated.”
Gatto shared Ruenzel’s article and the students’ letters with her own class. Here is what they had to say.
I bet if you asked two kids—one that gets candy to do work and one that doesn’t—to take the New York state test, the one that didn’t get candy would get the best score.
I think you shouldn’t have to give kids candy, prizes, and other stuff to learn because if they don’t learn, let them not learn. If they don’t want the good things in life, don’t try to make them.
Trying to motivate your class with candy, points, and prizes is very bad. Your class may not agree, but ask them this: If you were not giving out candy and prizes and points, would they hand in their work on time?
The candy won’t help them learn. All it will do is get them hyper.
If some of your children don’t care [about school], it shouldn’t matter because if they’re like 16 years old and still in 5th grade, let them be.
I think giving kids candy for good work is bribing. That’s like making a dog do tricks for food.
“It’s Come To This” [May/June] incorrectly stated Test Master fees for test-prep services. The company charges schools $1,925 for unlimited access to its Web site for one year, but this fee may vary based on campus and district enrollments.
“Call To Arms” [April] misidentified the source of a poll of teachers regarding academic standards being developed nationwide. The Albert Shanker Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, conducted the survey.
Teacher Magazine welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Articles for the “Comment” section fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run approximately 1,000 to 1,750 words (four to five double-spaced pages) in length. All letters and submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814. Letters also may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 2000 edition of Teacher as Letters