American Public School:
Frustrating to Work In,
Frustrating to Think About

Today, I'd like to talk about a subject that I can just never come to a solid conclusion about: public schools in America.

It's such a bothersome subject, because without taking the time to actually look at the stats or the large-scale history of changes in education, I really have no basis to make any claims. So instead, I'll talk about my attempts to draw a conclusion once again.

This morning, I saw a video from NBC10 Philadelphia, published 2019, Nov. 19, which stated 59% of surveyed teachers had considered leaving the profession since late 2017. Apparently they were frustrated by having to teach to the test, and of kids "running around the school like a pack of wolves all day long". Prof. Richard Ingersoll, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, said "The rate of teachers is about double that of professors, for instance. It's even higher than nurses- it's even a little higher than police, which surprised me...". His research in teaching employment showed that 40% of teachers throughout the nation leave the profession within the first 5 years ("There Will Be No Teachers Left").

Now, I'm inherently skeptical of anything that has production value like this. However, things being pretty gnarly at times when I was in school. Middle school was horrific; students never shut up, teachers yelled at the whole class constantly, and the whole place felt like a prison. I once had a teacher who couldn't get the class to calm down enough to teach a damn thing; all I remember is her yelling at us to quiet down and my peers just ignoring her. I heard horror stories about my 8th grade math teacher. Then, magically, high school had almost none of that. It was likely because I took the honors courses; all the respectful students were in them, but the misery stuck around in the lower courses. My math teacher once said he only taught to one side of the class in the normal course because he knew the other half wouldn't care. Basically, I wouldn't be surprised if what NBC is saying here is true.

What gets me, though, is that whatever solution I think of has possible consequences, and I have no real way to know how likely the outcomes are to arise, nor how severe they would be.

I'll start with what I am confident in: I do believe grave actions deserve grave consequences. Not necessarily prison, but something appropriately punishing. Some time after I graduated, a band of students damaged the school's front door during their senior prank. Now, this was a public school, but it was modeled after a castle, so the front door is quite expensive to maintain. It wasn't something you can just fix, from what I know; the prank involved hot tar or something, causing the door handles to deform and tarnishing the wood. These doors were made decades ago, so it's not like they could just reshape the handles, making this pretty nasty vandalism. That's not okay.

It gets a bit harder to say with other actions, though. Teachers can't touch students, which is well-founded: teachers hold more power than students on paper, so we don't want them using that to enact physical abuse. However, an issue is that some teachers have experienced physical abuse from their pupils, and this policy gives them no way to defend themselves. Moreover, it discourages teachers from helping students out of dangerous situations, like lowering a young child from a high place. Teachers also are discentivized from using touch to aid learning, like holding their hand to help them learn an instrument. This suggests that teachers should be able to make some level of physical contact in certain scenarios, at the least. But again, teachers have power, and it can be abused. How do we make sure it doesn't get out of hand without threatening the protection of the student or the teacher? Is it possible? Is it feasible?

Any positive change is open for abuse. In my junior and senior year, the high school experimented with "flex lunches", where we had two periods of lunch time that we could spend in a myriad of ways. The idea was that you would use this either for remediation, extracurricular meetings, or to hang out and relax. However, they apparently removed this feature when they realized the students who needed remediation the most weren't choosing to go for it. They put their hopes in students wanting to learn, and the worst failed to do so. But then, there was some genuine good done for the best and brightest on the campus. I got a lot out of flex time, and a lot of the people I knew did as well. Did the negative impact of students abusing the system really outweigh the benefit it gave to the ones taking the most advantage of it? And was it so bad that it demanded a complete rework to make it effectively valueless, as opposed to an opt-in or earned-privilege opportunity?

Then there's whether or not high scholars get a say in how they are taught. On one hand, they do deserve some degree of control on their future. I encourage the idea of students choosing their electives, or having flex time so long as they show they can use it responsibly. However, some classes have to be taken no matter what, like algebra or english, because it's vital for society as a whole that the populace is educated, can think critically, and knows at least something about history, culture, and art. Moreover, students are not teachers; they have no right to be telling teachers how to do their job. But students should be able and willing to ask a teacher why they do the things they do, or why they take these courses they don't get to choose on. They should have protections in place when a teacher isn't sufficient for the job, even if students aren't trustworthy to handle it directly.

It's a really frustrating topic to think about because I really don't know what's going on. Are students just making demands without asking why they're being treated the way they are? Are teachers making unreasonable claims about students who are just trying to think like adults? What's going on here? I can't make any conclusive claims about it because I really just don't know the situation. I am aware that students have done really terrible things, and that they can be super annoying to deal with, but I just have such a limited scope for this sort of issue since I'm not a god, and I can't see every speck of space in every moment of time. The ideal middle ground is basically an area where students don't feel like they completely lack agency, while also not completely trouncing the role of the teacher as both instructor and class coordinator. But when I look at it without any evidence to support anything, I just can't tell how feasible that world is.

That's not to say it is or isn't possible, just that I don't know. What I do know is that teachers report having issues with faculty, parents, and students, and that even before the pandemic, a lot of them weren't having a good time. So perhaps it'd be a good idea for me to look into this, come election season. I just wanted to go over it since it was on my mind. If I talk about it again, though, I'm bringing some serious stats.

- Eldridge Jameson
2022 May 30


"'There Will Be No Teachers Left': Philly Educators Talk Quitting, Violence | NBC10 Philadelphia" YouTube, uploaded by NBC10 Philadelphia, 19 Nov. 2019,