‘Impossible’ working conditions for teachers

I have just returned from giving a three-day workshop on student history research papers for English and Social Studies teachers, both high school and middle school, in Collier Country, Florida.
They assessed and discussed four high school student research papers using the procedures of the National Writing Board. We went over some of the consequences for a million of our students each year who graduate from high school and are required to take (and pay for) non-credit remedial courses when they get to college.
I talked to them about the advantages students have if they have written a serious paper, like the International Baccalaureate Extended Essay, in high school, and the difficulties with both reading nonfiction books and writing term papers which students (and college graduates) have if they have not been asked to do those tasks in high school.
It was a diligent, pleasant and interesting group of teachers, and I was glad to have had the chance to meet with them for a few days. They seemed genuinely interested in having their students do serious papers and be better prepared for college (and career).
At lunch on the last day, however, I discovered that Florida is a “right to work” state, and that their local union is rather weak, so they each have six classes of 30 or more students (180 students). One teacher is being asked to teach seven classes this year, with 30 or more students in each (210).
After absorbing the fact of this shameful and irresponsible number of assigned students, I realized that if these teachers were to ask for the 20-page history research paper which is typical of the ones I publish in The Concord Review, they would have 3,600 pages to read, correct, and comment on when they were turned in, not to mention the extra hours guiding students through their research and writing efforts. The one teacher with 210 students would have 4,200 pages of papers presented to him at the end of term.
It made me both sad and angry that these willing teachers, who want their students to be prepared for higher education, have been given impossible working conditions which will most certainly prevent them from helping their students get ready for the academic reading and writing tasks which await them in college (and career).
The Washington Post
25 August 2010
Valerie Strauss