For better or for worse adult education programming functions much like elementary and secondary education. States and local governments provide funding, accountability, and oversight. Politics at the national level set the stage for the scope and sequence of our work. They can outline performance metrics and indicators. They can determine future eligibility requirements and create policy to limit future funding. Unfunded mandates abound.

Much like elementary and secondary ed, educators are highly scrutinized and accused of performing ineffectively. Training, professional development, and certification are required, but there’s little investigation into the type and quality of training, professional development, and certification.

Educators advocate for higher salaries and more favorable working conditions. They express frustration with administrative staff who they feel fail to meet their demands or expectations.

Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) instructors echo the same complaints as their elementary ed counterparts:

  1. Low salaries and great demands prevent qualified educators from entering the field and cause exceptional educators to leave the field.
  2. The emphasis on standardized testing (CASAS, BEST & TABE) put too much pressure on students, and tests fail to properly assess students’ true abilities. We should move towards a more project-based, qualitative assessment of student growth and student learning.
  3. Existing curriculum fails to meet the needs of diverse student groups.
  4. There is too much paperwork and documentation. There is not enough planning time.
  5. There is too little support for students with special needs or particular learning challenges.

As someone who works closely with ESL and GED instructors, and as someone who has worked as an ESL and GED instructor, I echo the same complaints and criticisms.

I want to reduce the student teacher ratio so there is more structured time for personalized, individual interaction. I want teachers to differentiate instruction with groups of a more manageable size.

I want teachers to be compensated for their work and their preparation time, and I want more consistency within districts and among regions regarding pay scales and available benefits for AEL teachers.

I want legitimate full-time opportunities for AEL instructors to teach ESL, GED, or Digital Literacy courses.

I want the outcomes and performance measures to enhance AEL programming, to match the goals/needs/desires of our students, and to add value. These measures shouldn’t hold us hostage or create administrative burden that ultimately negatively impacts the quality of services for students, teachers, and staff.

More than that, I want adult education to be seen as a legitimate field, one that professionals aspire to enter and aspire to support.

Day in and day out I grow tired. There are too many unrealistic and too many unvoiced expectations. Deadlines are unrealistic and come en masse. Dissatisfied educators lack knowledge of the performance measures and outcomes, but express outrage at the processes and policies that are put in place to meet these outcomes. Ineffectual administrators apply a top-down, bully-centered approach to project completion. Students who often lack a specific focus or learning goal complain that their unvoiced needs aren’t being met.

I empathize, but I hunger for a community of practice that can offer solutions and provide support. I’m starting to compile resources so that I can be more informed and more effective. I’m starting to compile resources so I can have more joy.

If you’re here for the hugs and cookies, please get out. I confess, when I started teaching it was just that that I needed. I enjoyed the praise. I enjoyed feeling needed. I enjoyed making a difference in people’s lives. It made me feel important and significant.

Since the criticism of our education system usually falls on teachers, I was always cautious to protect and support the difficult work that teachers do. They are unappreciated, underpaid, and judged harshly. They’re held accountable for fixing performance deficits, deficits that arose and were fueled by social isms. They must be more than teachers, more than counselors, more than parent figures.

But here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter how much coffee a teacher makes, how many snack bags they bring, how many bus cards they give away, they can still be bad teachers. They can still be ineffective educators. They can still fail to meet students’ (unvoiced) needs.

Bleeding heart administrators are no better. I’m a mission-based person. Everything I do must have a purpose. Everything I do has to MATTER. There’s no greater joy than being able to support people who fundamentally and completely change the course of a person’s life. I trust and believe that the work that I do (although it doesn’t always…. okay, it doesn’t ever feel like it) changes people’s lives. It’s why I come early. It’s why I stay late. It’s why I redo things that were done poorly. It’s why I apologize when deadlines can’t be met, when teachers aren’t satisfied, and when students want MORE.

HOWEVER, it doesn’t matter how many donuts you bring to the staff meeting, or how many birthday cards you write. You cannot be here just for the hugs and cookies. Greater things are at stake.

I’m critical of the funding streams that support AEL programs. I’m critical of the customer service, of the curriculum, and of the creativity. I trust and support educators and staff who work tirelessly to provide opportunity and access. But we are not above reproach.

If you’re here for the hugs and cookies, please get out. Don’t be a voice for the voiceless. Pass the mic.


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