“If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization.” —Robert Noyce
Vincent Cheeks is the host of “Conversations in Education.” Vincent has a degree in criminal justice from Florida A&M University and a degree in education from Georgia State University. He is currently a music, TV, and talk radio show host and a community activist. He is a huge advocate for youth and for education.
Vincent uses his influence in education and entertainment (Edutainment) to help youth excel in school and in society, and to unify and uplift the community. He is a former educator within the Atlanta Public School system who survived the hype and scrutiny innocent teachers faced from the cheating scandal.
I had the chance to ask him a couple of question on how he survived Atlanta’s cheating scandal, as well as tips on how school districts can effectively implement school turnaround strategies.
What are some challenges classroom teachers faced before and during the cheating scandal that are still relevant now?
One challenge that classroom teachers are facing that is still relevant now is a lack of individual creativity. Teachers are stripped of their ability to create fun and innovative ways for their students to learn. Teachers are given cookie cutter policies and procedures that are supposed to work for all children but hardly ever do.
Another challenge is too much government oversight. Much of this oversight is by politicians who have never taught nor have education backgrounds. If the education system is to improve, teachers should be brought to the political table when it comes to creating policies and curricula. Teachers are inundated with paperwork that often times require the teacher to stop teaching during class time which affects student learning.
Another challenge is a lack of resources and innovative technology. Old, tattered books with missing pages, a computer lab with half the computers not working and no innovative technology to keep the students up to par with the changing times.
How can we expect students to be engaged without the proper tools?
In what ways did the culture and climate of the school mentally and physically affect teachers?
The culture and climate of the school created an atmosphere of stress, fear and greed. There was a “teach to the test” mentality where teachers did not teach a regular curriculum. “Teach to the test” meant that a teacher would only teach the materials that would be seen on the test for most of the school year in order to increase the student’s chance of passing.
If a school scored a certain percentage on the state wide tests (CRCT at the time) then every employee at the school received a bonus the following school year prior to Christmas break. For example, if the percentage of a school that passed in April was 75-80 percent, every employee at the school would receive a $500 bonus the following Christmas break. I believe it maxed out at $2,500 if your school scored 97-100 percent.
For a lot of teachers, the money incentivized the need to cheat. For many teachers, especially the new ones, it created stress and fear. The stress of trying to get the students prepared, the stress of what’s going to happen to me if the students are not prepared and the stress of should I speak out against what’s going on.
Stress has all types of physical effects but the one I can speak to is fatigue. Teaching has such a high turnover because teachers are being burned out too quickly. Teachers also fear being fired, the possibility of being blackballed or both if they spoke out against the system.
Some teachers, like me, chose to quit rather than continue to miseducate children.
What experience and/or story would you share with other educators around this?
The thing I’d like to share with and remind educators of is that teachers are put in a very high position of trust and responsibility when we take on the challenge of educating young minds. Educating those young minds and preparing them for the future should be our top priority. If you are an educator for any reason outside of sincerely caring and nurturing children, you’re in the wrong profession.
Being a teacher is not easy!
You are disliked by the students at times, under appreciated by the parents and over worked by the administration. However, the reward of seeing a child progress and succeed is invaluable! You should never feel pressured to do anything amoral or illegal no matter what the situation but especially when it comes to the lives of children.
Share your views around school standardized testing, equity and school turnaround strategies
I think school systems need to change and evolve from the antiquated methods of teaching they have been using for the past 150 years. Testing is good but not all students test well. There need to be more creative ways to assess a student’s learning and progress. Placing well qualified and caring teachers in the classroom would help as well.
Allow teachers creative and innovative ways to engage with their students. We would need less school turnaround strategies for schools if we put the things back in schools that students enjoy such as recess and the arts. Use the things that students enjoy such as sports and entertainment to keep them engaged in the school process and learning.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.