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Friday, March 18, 2016

The denigration of the teaching profession

By Laura Mayberry

The teaching profession is under attack. Union thugs. Lazy, tenured teachers and their bloated pensions. It wasn’t always this way. Our profession used to be respected. Oddly enough, many of the people who label our system broken and call for major reforms were taught in this very system. This can mean one of three things: (1) Why are we listening to people who are clearly undereducated, having been brought up in such a broken system? (2) These individuals are the oh-so-rare exception to the rule - they are smart and successful despite this system and we should listen to their sage words of advice, or (3) The system isn’t really broken and these individuals have something to gain from the reform movement.

The change in attitudes towards teachers is fairly recent. While unions and their employers have always butted heads, the general public was brought into the fight after the Great Recession. Cities across the country found that they could not meet their public employee pension obligations. Never mind that the underlying cause was that many of these pension funds made investments in assets that were later found to be toxic - a fact known to the banks and investment companies pawning them off on these unsuspecting municipalities. Teachers, police, and firefighters bore the brunt of the public’s anger.

I am the daughter of a 43-year teaching veteran. When I decided to go into teaching 12 years ago, my dad didn’t try to talk me out of it. I think he was proud. I’ll never forget the moment we were walking through a store and a teenager walked by and said “Hey, Mayberry!” My dad looked confused and said “I don’t remember teaching her.” I said, “No, dad, she was talking to me.” We both laughed, and I knew that the rest of my life would be full of these encounters. In my 11 years of teaching economics, I’ve had the privilege to teach almost 3,000 students. Every time one of them tracks me down after graduation to tell me that they started an IRA or saved money on a car loan because of what they learned in my class, I know that I’ve made the right career decision. What other profession can claim this type of impact on their community? I love what I do, which makes it painful for me to hear my own students say that they want to go into this embattled profession. Some of my colleagues discourage them. Some of their parents do too. I try to remain neutral, but it gets harder each day.

When society attacks teachers, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are accused of being minions, manipulated and controlled by their union, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are given scripted lessons and reduced to little more than test monitors, what message is being sent to our students? When schools and teachers are graded on things that are not entirely under their control, what message is being sent to our students?

But schools are failing! We have to have accountability!

Are schools actually failing? Throw out all the bogus school grades, based on ever-changing factors with arbitrary cut-off scores. Throw out all the comparisons to other countries, who have drastically different education systems and criteria for which students get tested. Throw out the “bad teacher” anecdotes that have proven to be the exception, not the rule.

Let’s look at schools as a whole and our children as individuals. Are you happy with your child’s teacher? Are you happy with your child’s learning environment? The survey below says it all.

“Americans continue to believe their local schools are performing well, but that the nation's schools are performing poorly. More than three-quarters of public school parents (77%) give their child's school an "A" or "B," while 18% of all Americans grade the nation's public schools that well.”
This makes no sense. If the majority of parents are happy with their child’s education, why does the public have such a negative view of the public school system? The answer is that we are under attack. 

The education reform movement (dubbed the “deform movement” by many in education) has successfully convinced the average citizen that major changes are needed. Teachers are finally waking up and fighting back, but most of us are too overworked to deal with anything beyond our individual classrooms. We have not been good at being our own advocates, but that is slowly changing. The high-stakes testing pendulum has finally swung too far and many parents are joining the fight.

So what is this lazy, tenured, union minion advocating?

Treat us like professionals and let us do our jobs! Teachers are actually begging to be able to work harder. We want to create our own lesson plans based on our students’ needs, not read from scripted curriculums. We want to create our own classroom assessments and evaluate our own students, not take them to a lab to take another high-stakes test. Perhaps this scares people who think that testing is the only way to hold teachers accountable. Accountability rests at the local level. Parents, mentor teachers, and school-level administrators are in the best position to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Just imagine how much feedback and mentoring teachers could receive if their administrators were not so bogged down with testing and the pressures of gaming the school grade system.
So next time you are tempted to disparage an entire profession or an entire system, please consider a few things:

1.Who is telling you that we are failing and what do they have to gain from that failure?

2.Think about your favorite teachers from your school days. Would the things that made them special be able to survive in today’s high-stakes, micromanaged system?

3.How will starving our public schools of funding and forcing them to compete against charter schools make them better? When crime goes up, do we defund police departments? No. We know that the police didn’t cause the higher crime rate and areas that suffer more need more funding, not less.

4.When teachers push back against specific reforms, it does not necessarily mean that they are against change. The very nature of our profession is change. We readily embrace it when we believe that it is in our students’ best interests. We fight against it with a passion when we know that the only ones who will gain from it are those outside our classrooms.

Proud but tired public school teacher, Laura Mayberry

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