News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 1, 2011

MS. TAKES: Reflections on short career as a teacher

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — I am a graduate of a teachers college and confess that I don’t know everything about public education.

I spent six months in a classroom in Southeast Missouri trying to impart the nuances of the English language to kids who were going to inherit a few hundred acres of prime cotton land and who had no need or intention of going on to college.

It was a tough job. I was unable to get through to kids who needed to know more about figuring a balance sheet than how to write a business letter, but English was a required high school course in Missouri. Any effort to suggest a bit of classic literature was out of the question. I finished my six months 40 pounds lighter and figured I’d better get out of the classroom before it killed me.

I had better luck and a lot more enthusiasm for a class I taught in square dancing. It was a hit in cotton country. Dances were held down on the piers after cotton bales were loaded on barges, shipped down the Mississippi and the grinding work of getting in the crop was over until spring. I found that when kids aren’t interested in what you are selling, there is no way to produce educated individuals.

I’ve thought a lot about my teaching experience now that everyone seems to know more about it than I do. It may be that you can’t solve problems by throwing money at them, but you certainly can’t cut the lifeline and expect results.

Teachers do not — and never have — made a salary commensurate with their required education. Preparation time for a teaching degree is about the same as that required for a degree in business or engineering, but there is no parity in starting salaries.

Turning it over to the business of a charter school compares with the testing service which provides ISTEP in Indiana and similar tests throughout the country. That is a big business — one which approaches teachers to provide the questions and pays only with the honor of being asked. It has become a multi-million dollar business.

And, while I am on my soapbox, where did this new “online university” come from? Why are we freezing state funding of already-established state colleges and universities which already offer online classes but we have the money to start a new enterprise?

Was this approved by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education? When?

I admit, I have more questions than answers. I’d like to see our Indiana elected officials work together to solve the problems — if there are any beyond political posturing.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star education reporter. Her column has appeared on this page for more than 20 years Send e-mail to