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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

There is no epidemic of bad teachers

I get it, people are very frustrated with education and it is a frustration I share.

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.

Then they hear about things like charter schools, vouchers and merit pay and I admit in a vacuum some of these sound like good ideas and since the corporate reform public relations staff is selling them hard, many wonder why teachers as a whole are resistant.

Then 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, 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 "big" problem, obviously doesn't get what is happening in our schools.

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