The reality of teachers who are 'behind'

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003

That "Alaska teachers fall behind" story is a non-story. "Behind" what? They are not doing the same job that urban teachers do - one subject to 20 or 30 kids the same age.

Rural teachers do amazingly well teaching classes with multiple grade levels, ages and subjects in very small schools. It is unreasonable to expect that those teachers could somehow become college qualified in the seven to 10 major subject areas they are required to teach in small schools of rural Alaska. They couldn't be certified in that many subjects in a lifetime or two lifetimes. That is not to say that they can't become "experts," because they do become very skilled by doing their jobs creatively and well. Rural districts have developed excellent curriculum documents, good connection of teaching materials to the learning objectives desired, and they hire the best people they can find who also can function successfully in a multicultural rural setting. It often works well.

What goes unsaid and unexplained in this kind of article is the political motive behind the need for teacher qualification as defined by universities - an impossible goal which is anti-rural, anti-small school, anti-teaching generalist. The political motive has used the "school improvement" movement to carefully create a structure which will, by definition, discredit rural school programs and force them out of business, closing the "molly hootch" high schools and inspiring more Mt. Edgecumbe-type boarding school programs for rural high schoolers. It's a forced cultural change agenda couched in school improvement jargon. The forces are gathering.

There are, and have been for many years, many excellent very small rural high schools in Alaska. Many of us who worked in boarding schools like Nome Beltz Regional High School believe the Hootch HS is, in most cases, far superior. But Hootch HS days are numbered because of the inexorable culture change agenda of the Alaska Legislature and the federal political pressure for nationwide K-12 equity, i.e. sameness.

So there is much more to this story than the article mentions and it should not be frivolously headlined "Alaska Teachers Fall Behind Others" when in fact Alaska's Bush teachers have always gone far, far beyond what other teachers do in many ways. The headline serves the current winds of change - but doesn't reflect the realities of the rural Alaskan schools I knew.

Tom Ryan

Lakebay, Wash.

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