Does American Education Have a Soul?

I am a high school mathematics teacher in the state of Georgia. I have taught in Virginia, California and, now, Georgia. I have taught since 2000 and have a total of 13 years teaching in the classroom. During this time, and during my student teaching, I sometimes wonder if administrators and licensing agencies really know what they are doing or, at least, know the implications of there policies and actions. Some of my experiences of the past few weeks have settled that question for me. However, I feel it is better to give you the facts, and let you decide for yourself, rather than preach my views.

It all started in early September. This is when I defended my essays for my dissertation. If you don’t know, this is when I defend what I have learned as a graduate student and my committee decides whether I am ready to do research for my PhD. The results of this were very good for me. All the professors agreed that I had passed this portion of my education. Not only that but they strongly suggest that I write a book on teaching when I was done with the dissertation. This experience made very excited about what I had accomplished. When it was over, I realized that the time had come to upgrade my teaching license.

In Georgia, teaching licenses are at seven levels, according to the teacher’s level of education. I am currently at level 5 for earning a masters’ degree. As a result of the essay defense, I was termed ABD (All But Dissertation). ABD is a level 6 certification. At my school district, this meant the teacher’s annual salary increases by $6000. So I applied to the state of Georgia for this certification. When they received electronically, their website said that I would have to wait awhile because they were backed up with applications. I thought, “That’s cool; they apply the certification to the raise retroactively so I’ll be patient and wait.”

So I waited, checking my status every few days. Finally, after about five weeks, I received a letter from their office. I thought it was a letter telling me that my license was upgraded. How wrong I was!! (Silly me!!) It was a letter stating that I was ineligible for a raise because my university was rated as “Carnegie High or Very High Research University.” I was very upset. I wanted to…well, I am not sure what I wanted to do with them but I knew my thoughts were not pretty. I ended up writing an email to their representatives that basically told them that their decision was not good for education and was very short-sighted. I then told them it was no wonder good teachers leave the profession every year.

I was upset so I decided to move forward. So I asked this representative whether this applied to earning a PhD. He said that it did. (A PhD is worth another $6000 of annual salary.)  I was at a loss about what to do. Graduate school is very expensive and what’s the point if I don’t get my raises? How can I justify attending and earning PhD? Then my Jungian mind kicked in; What if this meant that my life’s purpose was not to teach high school mathematics? Maybe I should be doing research. Maybe I should work on getting my papers published. Maybe I should work on teaching college psychology. But how do I make that decision?

With some prodding from a mentor, I decided to ask professors at my university. My university is Saybrook University in California. I chose this school because it has the reputation as one of the best universities in the world to study Jungian psychology. During my time at this university, I have interacted with the best professors I have ever met. Several of them have told me that I am doing “important work” and that I need to take it to its end. So, in this situation, I felt that these people were the best place to get advice for my dilemma. So I emailed them.

The consensus of these professors was that I should transfer to a Georgia university that would be recognized by the state licensing board. They suggested another humanistic university, West Georgia University. The y even gave me a couple contact persons in their psychology department. With this information in hand, I responded with the state licensing board and asked them, “If I get a degree from West Georgia University, will my license be upgraded to a level 7?” They responded by saying that yes, on the condition I pass the state test to teach “Behavioral Science.” Therefore, this is what they said to me, if you read between the lines,; “Your psychology is only valuable to teaching if and only if you are teaching psychology.” To me, that proves to me that they really don’t understand what happens in a high school classroom. They believe the one or two psychology courses that student teacher takes is enough to handle what happens in a high school classroom. (Have they ever heard of teen suicide? Or how about the number of fistfights in a high school?  I could go on but I’ll save my breath.)

So what to do? I considered the transfer. I contacted the head of psychology at West Georgia. I asked if it could happen. Meanwhile, I talked with my mentor of seven years. He told me how this could delay my graduation by about a year and a half. He also asked me the most important question; “Are you doing this for the money?” I answered with an immediate “No!” At this point, my decision was clear; I would finish my degree at Saybrook and just see where it takes me. If it was all about the money, I would go to a more lucrative job that pays me for my math degree from a major university. It’s not about the money; it’s about having a job I love very much, teaching kids that I love very much.

So then I turned back to my professors. I emailed them, directing them back to my original question; “Am I in the right position to lead my crusade to better American education?” Their answer was beautiful and perfect; “I am praying and meditating on your issue. “My thoughts and prayers are with you as you go through this process.  I encourage you to do as you describe: consider all the ways you can do your work and do your own inner work and wait for the answer to emerge.    I am sure that the universe’s life force has a way for you to make the contribution you so desire.  The important thing is to be patient and open so that you see and follow your path.  In this changing world there are many ways to make a difference!” How can you argue with that! Therefore, on with Saybrook, whether Georgia recognizes or not!

 

Thanks for all support and guidance; Peter Burmeister, Bob Schmitt, Ruth Richards and Stanley Krippner….and my wife, Donna Hayes. You all have my life so much better through guidance.

Does American Education Have a Soul?

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