I was a teacher. I’m worried my daughter will follow in my footsteps.

Kristi Rangel | October 21, 2015

Credit/caption: Image via flickr/BES Photos.

Credit/caption: Image via flickr/BES Photos.

The following is a guest blog post by Kristi Rangel, a former principal of Kashmere Gardens Elementary in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Rangel left her position at the end of the 2014-2015 school year and today works as an educational consultant on the My Brother’s Keeper program at the City of Houston Health Department. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research or its staff.

My daughter grew up helping me decorate my classrooms. She was the extra pair of hands at school events. She helped me read countless letters from students about what a great school year they had. As she grew up, I shared with her all the funny stories from my school day and occasionally some of my disappointment when my students were not doing their best.

Our house has always been a place filled with talk of school and learning. So I think my daughter has been surprised by my insistence that she consider avoiding a career in education.

The state of teaching has taken some unexpected twists and turns that would make any parent concerned about it as a career choice for her child. What I have not shared with my daughter are the stories of administrators and teachers who have been marginalized by a system that values testing more than people. I haven’t spoken with her about the ambivalence many leaders have about the vast turnover of teachers who leave schools year after year. Often, it’s an issue that goes unaddressed, since the unspoken assumption is that those who left were not good enough to stay. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A different path

As parents, my husband and I have worked hard to make sure our daughter is a confident, bright and ambitious young woman. She has always been an academically gifted student with a talent for making friends everywhere she goes.

Despite my own career in education, it’s not a path I want her to follow. Why not? I fear she – like many other teachers – will be scapegoated as the reason public education is failing.

Teacher effectiveness has been touted as the single most important factor in determining whether a student is going to be academically successful. What is often not further clarified is that the quality of the curriculum, the effectiveness of the teacher and the funds that pay for both are closely intertwined.

Funding hurdles

In Texas, our state’s funding of education has been deemed unconstitutional by more than one court. There is a lawsuit pending that includes 600 school districts. State education funding faced a $5 billion budget cut in 2011. Though two years later some money was restored it was not enough.

Texas schools pay $9,559 per student, well below the national average of $12,040 per student, according data compiled by the National Education Association. Our funding per student ranks 38th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Texas, on average, spends $54,582 less per elementary school classroom than the national average.

We have created schools that are functioning well below their capacity because of a lack of funds. Teachers are forced to make due in schools that lack adequate staffing and educational resources. Their classrooms are now filled with more poor children of color, who research shows need more resources, not less.

Almost none of the schools I have worked in have had funding for real counselors or social workers. Instead, we had to figure out how to manage behavior and get our parents to pursue outside assistance. This is a harrowing task when you encounter extreme circumstances like a fifth grade student who discovered her father shot dead in her driveway.

Teachers’ responsibility

Classroom management has become a difficult art for teachers and administrators alike to master because of the limited resources to address students’ emotional needs. Many teachers cannot figure out how to manage the weight of student learning needs coupled with the often heart-breaking realities of their home lives. I have cried with teachers who decided to transfer to “easier” schools in “better” zip codes because they simply could no longer take the stress.

The choices teachers must make about which students may receive extra assistance is driven by the need to meet accountability standards set by the state. “Bubble” students – those whom show more potential of passing the state exam – are given more additional help than those students who are two or more instructional years behind.

The reality is that teachers sometimes must make the agonizing decision to cut their losses and direct their limited time and resources to those who still have good odds of passing. The system, ironically, may keep students who need the most help from receiving it.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if a teacher wants to survive and do well, the best place to be is a school with a student population that is less at-risk and has strong parental support. This means that new teachers, like my daughter, are urged by veteran educators not to begin their careers in the types of schools where we found our passion for students and learning – the sort of places that need eager, energetic teachers the most.

They don’t have time to dream and believe that their sheer will and effort will make a difference. Instead, they are bombarded by colleagues with stories of first-year teachers being terminated mid-year because of low benchmark scores. Their contemporaries tell them of the horrors of being tasked with creating the “no excuses” environment that tells students to simply shake off the effects hunger, homelessness and gang violence in order to perform well on the state tests.

A frustrating cycle

Once a teacher enters a school that is struggling to meet state standards, she is caught in a cycle where she’s forced to prove she is good enough to be in the classroom. She must answer why historically under-performing students are not performing well on district benchmarks. It is her charge to ensure that students’ personal issues don’t flood the classroom and disrupt the day’s lesson.

Teachers are told it is their low expectations for students that are responsible for subpar results. All this stress and strain leads to teacher burnout and low teacher morale. Inevitably, many can’t withstand the unrealistic charge to do more with less – whether it’s staff, funding or other resources.

If my daughter does continue her education career, it’s my hope that she and other novice teachers are strong enough to take a chance to serve our most needy students. But we owe them the respect of speaking of the realities they face. We must empower them by giving all teachers a voice. It is our obligation not to allow our politicians to continue to short-change our students and schools. Who is teaching, what is being taught and how those key elements are being funded is the formula for producing an effective teacher in every classroom. Money does matter. We must advocate for fair school funding.


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9 Responses

  1. Omowale Luthuli-Allen says:

    WOW !Nitty gritty. Inconvenient truths. Searing.
    Similarly, I was not thrilled to hear that my daughter was considering becoming a DC fellow and taking an assignment in a low performing school. I was prescient about the inevitable fatigue and ego deflation that would follow being in a vise grip in a low-performing inner city school. I did not think that she loved teaching, but was bending to the ruthlessness competiveness of the job market for young professionals in DC. Above all, I did not think that she was temperamentally compatible with a system that eviscerates its educators.
    My mother was a teacher, and to be truly effective one must love to teach. One’s primary motivation has to be the flowering, growth and success of children. Otherwise, the lure of money, a test score increase will not make you double down to increase effectiveness.
    The key is to mobilize entire communities, unleash the productive forces, chiefly the people. That is parents, students, seniors, business leaders, faith based leaders along with those that realize that communities working with schools can build an achievement culture. Bring all hands on deck, support and fight for the teachers and administrators that fight for our children.
    Yes, there is funding inequity. We must take the attitude that we must run while they walk. What we have is motivation and energy to channel into change. The elites who produced some of the savage inequalities that we have in education are not about to be morally or legislatively persuaded to rectify the funding inequities. Therefore, we must use unconventional means to break the failure cycle. To do this, it will require a new force-citizen teachers, new laboratories at home and at the community center and church.
    Yes, lets advocate for equitable funding, but regardless of the per pupil allocations, we must run while they walk.

  2. Noel A. Pinnock, II says:

    When you peal the onion…one will have tears. Thank you for sharing.

  3. M says:

    Thanks for sharing your views (and realities). It raises respect for the teachers more.

  4. Brian says:

    It is rough for sure but most states are not as tough as Texas. I am the principal of a challenging school. We ( in Oakland) do not rule by fear and test scores. We do feel under resourced too, but more money is not always the answer. Well planned school ” zones” like Berkeley has can spread out the resources needed at all schools.

  5. Mike says:

    When I think about the state of education and the pathetic teachers salaries in many parts of the world, it disgusts me to hear this drivel. American teachers unions ensure that schools will never have the money they need. If teachers truly care about students, how about taking a pay cut or forking over your pension.

  6. Jim says:

    I somewhat disagree. I worked in a private school that operated on less than $500,000 per year (avg pub school costs much much more). Those students thrive because mom and dad are immediately and actively present in their child’s education (I knew each parent by name b/c 99% were driven to school by mom and dad: no exorbitantly expensive school bus: in each public school I’ve worked at, hiring the school bus for field trips is the biggest obstacle to taking field trips!). Also (and I can’t say how important this is) students must arrive at school in kinder with a working knowledge of English. How can we expect our students to succeed when much of the language of instruction is unfamiliar?

    Finally, daughter with the disgruntled mom, if it is your dream and passion to teach, do it anyway. There are terrible circumstances in any profession (that’s one reason it’s called work). Kids need passionate teachers and despite all the shameful politics and the handful of parents who should not be parents, your student who has a good teacher will thank you for it.

  7. Chef Chris Garcia says:

    Excellent Points, my sister was a teacher for a number of years and ran into almost every problem you have described.

  8. carolyn thibeaux says:

    Well said Kristi Rangel; not “disgruntled mom.” You spoke as an impassioned educator who has “walked” as a new teacher, experienced teacher, and administrator. Some new teachers who go into the field are blindsided by the sometime harsh realities that some kids have to endure and all the other “stuff” that is expected of teachers. Having entered the educational system later in life, I have always said that teachers and administrators have to have courage – you have it! Your wonderful daughter has been exposed all of her life to the educational system. She has been well equipped by her parents to make the best decision. Personally, I would want a well-informed teacher like you and hopefully her to teach my grandchildren and any other child. Keep this conversation going!

  9. Jim says:

    The most important factor in academic performnce is genetic which accounts for about 50-70%.of the variation. Most of the rest is due to non-shared environment which consists of environmental factors not shared between siblings. The precise nature of non-shared environment is not presently clear. Shared enviromnet which includes SES, family structure, type of schooling etc. has very little impact.

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