Published here with permission from The MOORE REPORT INTERNATIONAL - September/October 1999

The Moore Foundation, Box 1, Camas, WA 98607

Why I Wouldn't Want to Be a Public School Teacher

by Dorothy Moore

Fresh out of college, I was hired to teach a mixed second and third grade in a public school in Southern California, beginning in the fall of 1937. I taught for five years and received my lifetime state certificate. There were some problems then, but conditions were considered different than they are now.

I would be concerned about age-segregation. I didn't know as much about it then as I do now, but I realize that when children are the same or near the same age, their socialization is limited to their age mates, causing them to value only the thoughts and opinions of their same age group and to devalue the ideas of people younger or older than themselves. Usually, it alienates siblings from each other.

Young children who have not yet achieved good moral and social values are very vulnerable to the influences around them. When left to themselves, they learn the bad more easily than the good and the things that they see and hear are indelibly impressed on them. These negative peer influences are called "social contagion" by Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner. Though I did my best to teach and model good moral and social skills, I was limited in my influence, for I was outnumbered by 24 of each child's age mates to one of me.

I would be troubled about the readiness problem, because I would see all the children, especially the boys, in special education who are just as bright as the others in the regular classroom, but for one reason or another are delayed in their readiness for the usual requirements. One study found 13 boys to 1 girl in remedial classes at the junior-high level. Fortunately all of my first class were age 7 or older and I have a suspicion that the principal gave me the brightest group of the second and third grade because I was a new teacher.

At any rate, with my conscientious attention, since I had no husband or family to take care of, those 25 children scored the highest in the district on their end-of-the-year tests, especially in reading. Later when I found out that phonics as a method of teaching reading in that era was taboo, I realized that the reason for their high scores was my naivet  in not knowing the current mode and giving those children the keys to unlock words which they had not previously had. Because of my results, the next year I was given a whole class of fourth graders who could not read. Phonics in addition to the sight words which they had memorized for three years brought them all up to grade level and beyond.

I would be distressed by the emotional and discipline problems of the children caused by the breakdown of so many families. When I first started teaching, I visited the homes of all the children who were going to be in my class. As I remember, all of the children had a mother at home and a daddy who worked. Some were very poor, but all parents were cooperative and interested in their children's success and I became personally acquainted with some. They were welcome to come to school to visit any time. The children were emotionally stable and well-disciplined -- a real pleasure to work with.

Fortunately, there are solutions to some of these problems. Readiness could be addressed as I saw it done in one school district. There was a pre-kindergarten for children who were fully five years old, but just did not have the maturity to handle kindergarten, so this amounted to two years of kindergarten like kindergarten was meant to be -- a garden for children. This would bring the child to age 7 before first grade. Then if the seven year old were still not ready for first grade, there was a pre first which would delay entry to grade 1 until age eight. This could still be a problem for some children but was a step in the right direction -- almost as good as the multi-grade primary classes, where they stay until they are ready for third grade. They did not fail and have to repeat, they just kept moving at their own pace while maturing enough to be ready.

If a school had a garden or other industry or did some community service where children of all ages could be working and learning together, some of the age-segregation problem could be solved. It is good for people who can, retired or not, to volunteer in the schools.

I don't know the solution for emotional and discipline problems, caused by broken families, except for constructive work and mentorship. Many young people could be rescued from destructive behavior if there were adults of any age available to be a friend to those who fell friendless and need encouragement and support.