Betsy DeVos has zero teaching experience and no clue about education
When Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, I started bitching on Twitter. A lot. My tweets attracted some trolls. However, they also attracted conservatives who simply didn’t understand my position. I had some conversations with them. It turns out that a lot of people in the general public have no fucking idea what teachers do. I know, shocking.
My longest conversation happened with a restaurant manager. First, he criticized my stance on DeVos’s lack of experience. “Lots of successful business leaders have gone into government,” he wrote. “They did great things.” Just so you know: DeVos has zero teaching experience. It’s true. DeVos has never taught a day in her life. But her business experience qualifies her, in many people’s eyes.
Ironically, higher education has been thinking this way for a while. Universities across the nation have hired CEOs and politicians with dreams of higher student retention and success. What happens? I can tell you how things have gone at my university. We’ve abandoned our original mission of helping working class and non-traditional students. Our deans and provosts have chased after rich white kids, offering them all kinds of deals. They think it will pump up our graduation rates.
What about our first-generation college students? Our veterans? Our under-privileged students who can’t pass the ACT or Accuplacer, because standardized testing is a piece of shit way to measure learning? Our administration has been throwing them under the bus left and right. As one of our deans said in a college meeting, “We don’t want to be seen as that kind of university anymore.” What kind, you ask? The kind that accepts the under-privileged. The ones that couldn’t get into the flagship school. Here’s what I say: Give me those students any day of the week. They actually want to learn. They know the importance of an education. They require more effort and attention. In the short run, they cost more to educate. In the long run, though, they’re the ones who pay it forward.
Our leadership has also been making a lot of cuts. And hiring freezes. Their motto: Until this university starts to generate cash, they’re not going to fund anything. The big problem with that? Our courses are all full.
Many of our programs receive more applicants than we can admit. We ask our deans to let us hire new teachers to replace the ones who retired last year. They look at our current enrollments and say, “You don’t have enough students to justify a new hire.” We show them last year’s enrollment figures. You know, the ones from when the retired faculty member was still teaching. They look at them and say, “Your numbers have declined. You can’t hire anyone.” They refuse to see the obvious: When teachers retire, and we don’t replace them, then we lose enrollments.
Our chancellor recently called a meeting of all department heads and berated us for not recruiting enough students. “We hired outside consultants to design a PR plan,” he said. It cost about twenty grand. We tell him that we already have hundreds of students waiting to sign up for classes that we can’t offer. We tell him that twenty grand would pay for about 8 adjuncts. Our chancellor says, “We can talk about that later. Right now, we need more applicants.”
Here’s where I’m going: Most of our administrators haven’t taught a class in years. They don’t know anything about our students. They don’t know how important it is to have working computers or a projector in a classroom. All they see are the numbers. They don’t see the realities behind it all.
They hardly even see students. They spend all day in a sixth-floor office in a shiny new tower they built for themselves with tuition and taxpayer money. Meanwhile, the faculty offices in my department don’t even have a bathroom. When it rains, two of the offices leak so badly we can’t use them. All of our adjuncts work in a room that smells like a dead rat.
Parents would be outraged if they saw what I see. We have countless chancellors, provosts, and associate and assistant this and that. These people make decisions without ever stepping foot inside a classroom. They never ask teachers for advice. At best, their decisions have zero impact. For example, they designed a new policy a couple of years ago that faculty aren’t allowed to bring their own lunches to campus. We have to either eat in the dining center, or leave. Nobody takes that rule seriously.
“These people make decisions without ever stepping foot inside a classroom. They never ask teachers for advice. At best, their decisions have zero impact.”
Other times, their decisions hurt us. Last year, they voted to cancel fall break. What did we see? A big uptick in Ds and Fs. Shocking, right? When you don’t give students a break to relax and catch up on work, they fall behind and fail. My university has also continuously declined to raise adjunct pay for the past five years. Some of our part-timers quit. They got better paying jobs at other institutions.
I’m telling you what happens when you place people in charge of education who don’t teach. Here’s what I know as a teacher who also helps run a department: I know that teachers work far more than most people think. Their work is invisible. You don’t see them planning their lessons, grading papers, answering emails, or reading about new classroom management strategies.
It’s sad. Most people believe a teacher’s work begins when they walk into a classroom, and ends when they dismiss their students. If you’ve ever taught, you know that a teacher’s brain never rests. You’re always thinking about your assignments, your groupwork activities, that handful of students who missed a deadline. Were my instructions clear enough? Did I provide precise feedback on that last paper? Did I really emphasize the importance of sources?
A teacher never clocks out. If you don’t teach, you have no fucking business running education. We aren’t here to make profits and please shareholders. We didn’t get into this line of work because of a single issue like school choice, or because we weren’t good at something else. We were hired because we were good at teaching. And good teachers usually make the best policymakers. They advocate for students, and they advocate for teachers. And unlike DeVos, they don’t play politics with the future.
Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.