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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There is no epidemic of bad teachers

Often when I read a piece about teaching from the Times Union editorial staff I roll my eyes and sigh. I wonder to myself how they would feel if came in and told them how to edit a piece or that the way they wrote their editorials was all-wrong. I wonder what they would think if I said, the number one goal of the Times Union should be to improve its editorial staff. Now sometimes they get it right but they showed today was not one of those days when they wrote, The American people get it. Improving the quality of teaching should be the No. 1 goal of American education. The truth is the American people do not get it and neither does the editor who wrote the piece.

I do get it though. The public education system in the United States is failing and teachers are the ones on the front line. The last decade has seen education produce a generation of kids ill prepared for either college or the work force and seen the United State's standing in the world drop dramatically. Citizens, and rightfully so, are tired of crime in their streets and a lack of civility in our neighborhoods and in our stores, something that education needs to take at least some responsibility for. Likewise they look at the KIPP and other charter schools and see amazing things happening and wonder why that can’t be replicated at PS this or PS that. Then they hear about things like vouchers and merit pay and I admit in a vacuum they sound like good ideas and wonder why teachers as a whole are resistant. Furthermore there has been a well coordinated and I believe very misinformed campaign to improve teacher quality, waged by prominent Americans like Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and even President Obama among others. I get it, Americans are tired of kids failing and dropping out, they are tired of kids that can’t read or do much more than play video games and the person standing in front of them with a “who me” look on their face isn’t Alfred E. Newman it’s a teacher. I understand their frustration, I feel their angst and I too worry about the future.

What the public doesn’t get and what the author of today’s editorial doesn’t get, is where teacher quality should always be an issue and we should always strive to put our best and brightest in the classroom, is the fact they have been hood winked, as we already have many of our best and brightest and perhaps just as important willing already in our schools. Sure there are bad teachers and we should do our best to remove them but nothing will improve as long as we continue to do things the way we are doing them now.

You ever wonder why the school district hasn’t just switched the faculty at Stanton one of the best schools in the whole country with one of the faculties at Ribault, Raines, Jackson or Forrest high schools, supposedly some of the worse that are about the same size. Why haven’t they done it, just pulled the trigger? Well it’s because they know it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. At the end of the day Stanton would still be one of the best schools in the nation and those others would still be struggling. Friends it’s not teachers that are destroying the American education system, it’s the policy makers, those in far off ivory towers many of who have never been in a classroom or if so it was in an era long past that are in the process of signing educations death warrant.

Teaching is the only profession I can think of run by non teachers and the only profession that anybody thinks they can do. Where is the man on the street when it comes to cancer, it’s been around for a while, shouldn’t doctors have cured it by now, you know what doctor quality must be a problem, lets replace all the doctors. Firemen and the police by-in-large, contractors, garbage workers, scientists, and engineers, and speaking of engineers where is my jet pack, if Gilligan had one in the seventies we should all have one now, the quality of our engineers must be abysmal, all get a pass from the man on the street and the editor typing away but teachers don’t.

Also if teaching is so easy, why do forty percent of teachers not last five years. If teaching is so easy why until the economy soured was there always a shortage, and if teaching is so easy, what were the five teachers who quit my school before the first nine weeks was over thinking? The truth is teaching is not easy, there are no summers off anymore and very few, despite the day for most starts well before nine, are home by five.

The system has put teachers in impossible situations and then told the public to point their fingers at them and demands their heads when they can’t succeed, well the system and editors of papers that is. Neither of who, actually get it.

Teachers did not decide to destroy discipline, I had a kid put his hands on me earlier this week and threaten to beat me up and because I was to slow getting the referal to the office they sent this charming young man back to his class and then when I asked a dean to come with me to confront another young man who refuses to come back to class after lunch, I was told she couldn’t be bothered.

Teachers did not put all kids into a one size fits all curriculum. Why are kids who want to work with their hands or who are interested in the liberal arts forced to take classes they aren’t only interested in but will never use. Not every kid is going to go to college and we need to start servicing their needs instead of sitting back and hoping somebody comes along with a magic wand and turns them into the kids we wish we had. Friends we have the kids we have, not the kids we wish we had and must plan accordingly.

Teachers did not systematically strip away the joy of learning from many children. Electives, the arts and trades have disappeared from many schools and we are forcing kids who we should be elated by if they read a comic book to read Ethan Frome or some other classic they neither want to nor can relate to.

Teachers did not decide that the massive volume of paper work that have very little to do with actual teaching is what they should be doing, nor did they decide to strip out their creativity and flexibility to adhere to learning schedules and pacing guides.

Teachers did not decide to institute high stakes testing, which is all education has become. They know a test should be a component of education not the end all be all that it is today.

Teachers did not put so many kids, influenced by their neighborhoods abandoned by their parents into yet one more no win situation, their schools. No friends, that was you man and woman on the street and editor of the paper, you did it by allowing special interests to hijack and people who have no business being anywhere near a school to be in charge of education, you did it, teachers are just playing the hand you dealt to them.

That’s not to say teachers haven’t done some things. Teachers did decide to enter the profession because they wanted to help children and because they wanted to make a difference, not to get rich or garner some authority or celebrity. Teachers also decided to sacrifice their precious time and money for the sake of their students often while their own children wait in extended day or go without and teachers by and large are doing the best they can with what they have been given, which sadly in many cases is not that much. It's should be a credit to the fine men and women who show up everyday, underappreciated and the targets of the uninformed that they are holding things together as well as they are. This is what the public and Times Union editors should get about teachers. This is what they should think about before they start talking about improving teacher quality.

Paraphrasing Lieutenant Colonel Martin Jessup: Friends we live in a country that has schools many of which are struggling and those schools have to be manned with teachers. You going to do it man on the street, you going to do it editor of the newspaper? Teachers have a greater responsibility than you can fathom. You might weep for those children left behind and fallen through the cracks, I weep too but you have a luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. Because you don’t know the truth, because you do not want to know the truth.

I hope you get me, because anybody who feels teacher quality is the problem, obviously doesn't get what is happening in our schools.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! Today I wrote the following (prior to reading your blog):

    "Most people become teachers because they want to make a difference. Contrary to some people’s misconceptions, we work long hours (longer than most), do not make much money ($32k a year for someone who has a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is not adequate) and definitely do not receive these great benefits or perks that people tout about these days.

    We, teachers, do not ask for much…a bit of respect and gratitude would be nice though. At the very least, I ask that we be given the respect to at least do my job. (And, yes, this is very much a rant.) Everyone speculates about the problems in education, which are many. But, in my opinion, all of these issues can be resolved in one place, the home. Until parents learn to parent, it will only get worse. Parents complain about everything and, worse, do it in front of their children. The days of “my dog ate my homework” are over. Nowadays, children don’t even have to give you an excuse because their parents will even do that for them too. It has gotten to the point where we can’t discipline a child in our classrooms because it somehow demeans students or hurts their self-esteem. (If my 4 year old can handle time-outs, why can’t your 7th grader?) I am so sick of hearing the excuses, like a kid’s ADHD being the reason for his disruptions in class. (I have taught many kids who have disabilities and have been some of my BEST students. Believe me, there is a huge difference between having autism and having autism AND being spoiled.)

    As devoted as I am to fostering a love of learning in ALL my students, I am beginning to think that, given the current state, it may very well be pointless. This is not due to children who can not learn or children’s individual handicaps. (I believe all children, given the right tools and resources, are able to learn.) As a teacher, I am confident in my ability to help students overcome their individual obstacles and be successful. But the only handicap I can’t seem to overcome, however, is that of the crippling parent*. The schools will always side with the parent and parents know this. Teachers are increasingly called to comply and “deal with it”.

    More and more laws are created to protect children, and rightfully so in many instances. But where do we draw the line? Aren’t we doing a disservice to our children when we coddle them so much? Is this what education has become, essentially a day care? How will kids ever learn to be individual thinkers...problem solvers…leaders? What’s going to happen when they are adults, in the “real world” and no one has taught them to be accountable for their actions? There are no 504’s or IEP’s in the real world. For anyone in the front lines of education, it is a scary thought.

    As for me, I will always be a supporter of teachers and education, knowing first-hand the sacrifices (and the beating) educators take each day. I love the wonderful things that can be accomplished within this profession but I have come to the realization that this is no longer working for me. My passion has been eradicated by a bureaucracy more focused on avoiding lawsuits than on doing what is truly best for children.
    *Crippling Parent: a parent who is uninvolved, involved but enabling of negative behaviors or otherwise negligent when it comes to their child’s upbringing and/or education.