Legislative attacks hurt Iowa students, teachers

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

On that first day of school in 1979, I oozed anxiety. After all, there were 30 sets of unknown eyes waiting for the show to begin. I was the show. Am I going to be the tough guy not smiling until Halloween or the open arms teacher? Will my deodorant hold so I don’t pit-out before first period?

That was then. Now, Iowa teachers have much more to worry about than pit stains

Educators are in the crosshairs of politicians aiming to please a base that didn’t exist when I was teaching in the 1980s. It’s scary, and it’s making teachers as scarce as liberals in Orange City.

Some political attacks are noisy and noticed by concerned parents and students. They spark walkouts and protests. That’s important.

But quiet attacks also cause the fabric of the teaching profession to unravel. Those threats aren’t as noticeable because the others are so egregious. But these threats to the teaching profession are really attacks on our public schools, our kids, and our Iowa values.  

Here are a couple of the quiet attacks.

The Iowa House approved House File 255 on a mostly party-line 61-36 vote on March 8. This bill provides two new routes to become a teacher, which may sound like a step in the right direction. It isn't. 

The first option is by having a bachelor’s degree in anything with work experience for three years in any field. This allows a person to become a teacher intern to teach in grades 6-12. Since veteran teachers have full loads, it’s not clear who would mentor these new interns.

The other new path is to have a four-year degree in anything with an online teacher license. The only other requirement would be a mentoring program and some other courses through the Iowa Department of Education.

This weakens the quality of teaching. Research shows the quality of the classroom teacher matters in outcomes for students. Would anyone feel comfortable going to a doctor who had only taken online courses? I wouldn’t.

No doubt, most teachers will say their education classes were dreadful and student teaching was hard. But like military basic training, this is the crucible educators must endure to begin readiness for the classroom. I began learning to teach with a veteran teacher as a safety net. Honestly, I learned what didn’t work.

Student teaching and education classes don’t fully prepare a teacher, but it helps people understand if the profession is a good fit. I can’t imagine going into a classroom with a degree in fashion design and trying to teach special education, math, English, or science. Those are the teaching jobs where Iowa has a critical shortage.

Those that choose this new route may be doing it for all the right reasons, or they may be trying to escape because they saw an old teacher movie like “Dangerous Minds,” and decided teaching would be a cool adventure.

That’s not the only under-the-radar bill directly targeting educators. House File 430, which the House approved on a mostly party-line 68-29 vote, gives parents seats on the state Board of Educational Examiners. That board governs the profession by investigating and disciplining educators who violate standards, and is currently comprised of education professionals appointed by the governor.

Under House File 430, the eleven-member Board of Educational Examiners would have five parents or guardians, five licensed practitioners (including an administrator and a special education teacher), and one school board member. 

Why is this an attack? Most of Iowa's professional boards are governed solely by professional practitioners. Governor Kim Reynolds has made clear that she only listens to parents who share her political ideology. The Board of Educational Examiners sits in judgement of licensed school employees and is supposed to be unbiased, basing its decisions on the facts of a case.

This bill sends the message that educators cannot be trusted like every other profession to handle disciplinary measures. It also puts innocent educators who are falsely accused at risk.

These bills might not be as high-profile as other legislation debated this year, but they could have long term consequences on the quality of public education in Iowa. This state's once proud tradition is dying a slow death by a thousand legislative attacks. 

Top photo of teacher with student by Monkey Business Images, available via Shutterstock.

  • I join Bruce in Teachers Lament

    Well said, Bruce. I “came up” the same path as you, but about 10 years before. If I recall, you went to UNI, which is one of the best teacher preparation colleges in the nation. As a young teacher, I was haunted by the truism that “you can’t teach what you don’t know.” And “knowing” goes beyond subject matter to include the ins and outs of engaging kids in important material. In Finland, teacher have a full year of clinical preparation beyond a BA degree, and before gaining a teaching license. The nation ss a whole including its government takes teaching and learning seriously.

    In Iowa, the governor and members of her party envision public schools as places a kid goes to learn reading, the rudiments of writing, arithmetic, the rudiments of science, and “the ability to succeed in life.” There’s no mention of learning beyond the basics. In fact, crucial knowledge and understandings are banned. Learning, for the GOP, is not critical thinking, but completing a workbook under the supervision of a watchful monitor. Hence, no special preparation needed.

  • Do keep this in mind...

    Governor Kim Reynolds, in a debate with (the one who deserved to win the last election) Deidre DeJear, criticized student loan forgiveness by saying, “It does nothing to reduce the high cost of education. It does nothing but encourage bad borrowing practices. And if you're a truck driver, or a machinist, or a nurse, or a person that decided not to seek a college education, why should you be responsible in paying somebody else's off, especially when they often make more than you do? I just it's not right. It's not fair.”

    Get that? She didn't think truck drivers or machinists or nurses get post-secondary education. Such ignorance in not realizing RNs go to college; trade schools generate student debt, too.

    This is the ignorant mindset educators in this state are battling.

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