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John Florez: Students and teachers are collateral damage

Published: Saturday, April 26 2014 4:30 p.m. MDT

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Teachers are collateral damage of each Utah legislative session. They suffer in trying to follow the 60-plus laws lawmakers usually pass each year; and the end losers — the students.

Lawmakers (the same lawmakers that rail against big government, waste and regulations) don’t seem to care that with each law passed they bloat education even more. Each law requires staff to write regulations and policies, publish them, and monitor them for compliance. Then staff is needed to service the “data warehouse” where extensive data is kept in case someone complains so they can show how administrators “followed regulations.” Then all educators have to gear up for next year’s wave of laws, even though they haven’t finished with the last ones. It’s a full-employment program lawmakers have created.

The most serious result of their lawmaking is the collateral damage they cause; teachers who must follow the laws or be in violation for not following them. Nine years ago I wrote about the “Utah Educator Supply and Demand Study, 2004” commissioned by the Utah State Office of Education and Higher Education. It found that 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years. I wrote, “I suspect teachers on exit interviews give courtesy answers similar to what politicians say when they leave — to spend more time with their family. … The truth is that many are leaving because of the oppressive and stressful working conditions now prevalent in today's schools.” That was according to my talking with front-line teachers.

The article received many responses from teachers and administrators agreeing with the observations. Here is a sample: “… A student teacher from our school quit last year at Christmas. Why? The students wouldn't work, when she phoned the parents, they swore at her and the principal didn't do an awful lot to back her up. She was the top of the pack as far as student teachers go, so when we had an opening this year we phoned to see if she wouldn't try again at our school. The reply, "Thank you, if I ever came back it would be there, but never. I have a job now with great opportunities to grow and a great working environment."

A third-grade teacher wrote, “This is my 30th year and I have discouraged four of my nieces and nephews from taking up the career. … What a shame when there is so much possible with all these young minds. Thank you for seeing the truth!” Another said, “During my career I have seen education deteriorate as far as being a desirable career. Teachers are no longer supported in the classroom by the parents, administrators and the legislature ….”

Today, not much seems to have changed, except the teaching environment seems more oppressive. Now, about one-third of new teachers are leaving after five years. The teaching profession is a science and an art, and should be treated as such. Individuals enter the profession because of their passion for teaching others. However, because of overwhelming regulations, teachers find they are not able to practice their profession with the passion and creativity needed to challenge and motivate students to become constant learners — and it’s the students that lose.

Our lawmakers should apply the same standard as they do with the business environment — deregulate. All business people ask for is a stable regulatory environment that they can depend upon. Teachers and students should expect no less.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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