Why Teachers Can’t Win

Detroit City school teachers called for a sick-out and closed 94 schools in the beleaguered city today. The sick-out is the result of the teachers learning over the weekend that Detroit Public Schools will not be paying them after June 30th unless the legislature comes to the rescue with additional funding. The problem with that is that the teachers will have already earned the money that they won’t be receiving for July and August.

Ironically, Teacher Appreciation Week began this week.

Teachers can’t win because they are halfway expected to work for free and to do it without complaining. The public has grown used to a paradigm that involves teachers sacrificing everything and working their hearts out, and even using their own salaries to pay for classroom supplies that their districts won’t provide.

It is ridiculous.

What is even more ridiculous is that the commentators on the news this morning…the pundits who have an opinion about all things whether they know what they are talking about or not criticized these teachers when none of them have a clue as to what kind of sacrifices teachers make daily. Additionally, politicians and legislators won’t own up to their culpability. Somebody has mismanaged millions of dollars or else the money would be there to pay those teachers. Where is the outrage about that?

I was a teacher for over 30 years. I never had to go out on a sick-out. I also never had to go without a paycheck, although I worked second jobs for two-thirds of my career in order to make ends meet.

The narrative that charter school supporters and education reformers have created is that teachers should be selfless. They should be super human beings. They should be the Superman that everyone is waiting for, and it is beyond ridiculous!

Let’s face it…without a sick-out today in Detroit, the rest of the country wouldn’t know about–or care about–what is happening there.

It is true that when teachers don’t show up to teach, it takes a toll on their students. I guarantee that there isn’t a teacher on the picket line today who isn’t aware of that fact.

Having said that, taking the news of no paycheck this summer without taking some drastic action would only embolden legislators to take the risk that they won’t have to ante up to pay their teachers for work already performed.

Teachers can’t win because if they fight for themselves and their own families, they are criticized for being selfish. If they don’t fight and just keep working for nothing, however, they embolden other legislatures to do the same to their teachers.

They can’t win.

And it is ridiculous.

 

 

Are We Headed Toward a Teacher Shortage?

Bureaucrats at state levels of government have been warning of an impending teacher shortage for years. As they eye the bubble of teachers who belong to the Baby Boom generation, the numbers are self-evident. As Baby Boomers retire from teaching and take off to reinvent themselves for new endeavors (like I did), the number of new teachers in the proverbial pipeline doesn’t come close to matching the number who are leaving.

In this article posted in Huffington PostAFT President, Randi Weingarten,  argues the case for how a teacher shortage could become a national crisis.

I would suggest that the corporate reformers and members of the anti-union coalition around the country will cheer at the notion that their tactics are working. Legislators who have been offering anti-public school legislation based on ALEC‘s boilerplate templates won’t be sad to consider a teacher shortage, either. Instead of seeing a teacher shortage as a national crisis, they will see it as a win in their column and a way to further their agenda which is, I believe, to dismantle public education altogether. They will then be able to turn education over to charter schools (both public and private), private and parochial schools, and virtual schools that will assist the home-school movement.

Those in the media won’t be sad to see a teacher shortage either. Many in the mainstream media have deliberately and consistently contributed to the deterioration of the teaching profession as a profession for over 30 years, starting with their promotion of the negative narrative first presented in The Nation at Risk Report (1983).

I have been a public school advocate my entire adult life. I am a product of public school education and earned two masters degrees and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. From 2008-2012, I was the President of the Virginia Education Association. I went to battle with the then Governor and then Republican-led legislature during those years, trying to explain why due process for teachers doesn’t translate to tenure (a job for life). Most of the laws that were passed during that time were counter to what was in the best interest of public education and the children who attend our public schools. Additionally, the attack on teachers was vicious and personal. It was all part of a larger agenda which is to discredit public school teachers so that public schools can be dismantled and turned over to corporate entities who want to cash in on the charter school movement.

I left that position worn out and weary from the battle. The idea of returning to the classroom to teach again made me want to weep from weariness. I knew I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to do justice to my prospective students. I decided that for me, returning to what I feared would be an environment centered on testing more than teaching was a bridge I could not cross. So I left. Since then I have been coaching and counseling teachers who are burnt out and ready to find something else to do with their lives.

Teaching has ceased to be a truly professional endeavor. Teaching has become more about following a script, keeping up with the pacing guide, and testing for the sake of testing. It is ridiculous, and everyone involved knows it, but the political will to fix the systemic problems and address the underlying social issues that contribute to the problems in education leave teachers feeling helpless.

Teachers feel beaten down by what has happened to them and their profession. Some are still fighting the good fight, and I cheer them on because I want them to win.

Many are leaving the profession in frustration, however. They leave because, in spite of the fact that they still love their students, they hate all the other trappings of teaching in today’s data-driven environment.

I admit that I feel guilty on occasion about offering assistance to those who want to leave. I detest the idea that their leaving might speed up the dismantling of public education. I know in my heart, however, that life is just too short to do anything you no longer enjoy. I also believe that children deserve to have teachers who want to be with them. As a result, I want to help those teachers who no longer want to teach to figure out a way to do something else. Do I believe there is an impending teacher shortage? Yes. Does that make me sad? Absolutely. Do I believe that we can fix the systemic problems that are causing teachers to leave? I am not sure.

In case you still care about public education as a public good, whether you are a teacher, a parent or just an interested citizen, if public education is to survive, more people need to be willing to speak up for and defend it. So far that hasn’t happened, but I haven’t given up hope completely. Just this past weekend, a group of dedicated teachers gathered for a conference of members of the Network for Public Education. I am also aware of a group on Facebook of which I am a proud member:  BATS for “Badass Teachers.”

Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Julian Vasquez Heilig are just a few high-profile individuals who continue to advocate for public education and public school teachers. They, along with leaders in each of the teachers’ unions, the NEA and theAFT, are working hard to try to carry the message that we should not give up on public education. I am so glad they are still fighting.

At the same time, however, I get calls from teachers who are asking for my help. “I still love my kids and if I could just teach, I would be happy to stay. I can’t stand all the other stuff that goes with it, though. The endless testing, the meaningless paperwork, and administrators who no longer support me have made it an untenable job. I can’t do it anymore.”

If there is an impending teacher shortage, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

 

 

Send the Consultants Home and Let the Teachers Teach

You Are FiredPlease find an article that was posted today in Education Week that caught my eye and made me realize that it has been far too long since I last offered something here. The article is entitled, “Cast Out Consultants:  Give Teachers More Input.” I have rephrased the sentiment, but it remains the same. “Send the Consultants Home and Let the Teachers Teach.”

For too long, now, consultants have been given full rein over classroom teachers, and the teachers have been in the terrible predicament of not wanting to be found insubordinate and therefore without a job while doing things that they know from everything they ever learned about teaching that what the consultants are telling them to do is ludicrous.

This is not a new phenomenon, unfortunately. The author of the article that I am sharing says he has been teaching for seven years. I was in public education for 37 years, and while it simply got worse, the last people who were ever consulted about what should be done to improve education in our country have been the teachers.

The criticism, of course, is that teachers are members of the union and the union doesn’t care about kids. WRONG. The union cares about that which the members care. That would include learning environments since students’ learning environments are also teachers’ environments. Teachers also care about making a professional salary commensurate with the level of their education and the level of responsibility that they have on the job. That isn’t a union thing. That is just, well…a thing that all professionals have in common. For some reason junior executives are eligible to make six figure salaries project managing the production of widgets, but teachers with a similar educational background and responsible for the teaching and learning of whole generations of young people get what’s left over AFTER the administrators have negotiated their salaries, and the consultants have taken their part of the budget, and the testing companies get their piece of the action. Given the shrinking pie, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if the public actually trusted the teachers to TEACH and paid a salary that would attract the best and the brightest (as opposed to making it something that is only attractive to Teach for America “missionaries” looking to pad their resumes for law school or administrative positions) candidates to the teaching force, we could actually have teachers being paid what they are worth and we could have buildings that are safe and secure as well as nurturing and welcoming.

I also get that the author of this piece isn’t interested in hearing from anyone like me who has been out of the classroom for six years already. He wants to hear from colleagues who are facing the same day-to-day challenges he has to face. He doesn’t want to hear how it “should” work. He wants to hear about what WORKS.

Our entire educational system has been hijacked by people who may have had good intentions in the beginning, and these days, I even question their intentions. The testing companies have nothing to gain from having teachers take over teaching and testing, now do they? That’s why they send lobbyists to convince the policy makers who know nothing other than what they read in the papers about our “failing schools” and they convince said policy makers that the solution to the “crisis” facing America today is that we need more testing.

A good teacher will tell you that is hogwash, however. What we need are good teachers who are incentivized to stay in the classroom and who are receiving the support they need with an increasingly needy population of children.

I am hearing horror stories of kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders who are biting, kicking, and hitting their teachers, causing real bodily harm and creating untenable learning environments. This is increasingly an issue with which consultants can’t help. Parents need to help. Parents need to learn that they need to parent. They aren’t their children’s best friend. They aren’t their buddy. They are their parent! They need to teach respect for authority…not blind respect but respect for their teacher so that their teacher can TEACH.

Teachers need more support. They need increased financial remuneration. It is time to take the limited resources that school divisions have been given and reallocate them. Send the consultants home. Re-think the crazy idea that kindergarteners need to be tested instead of nurtured through their formative years, and let’s let the teachers teach. It’s way past time.

 

 

 

Why Teachers Don’t Like Arne Duncan

Both of the national teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT, have declared their official, collective frustration and disapproval of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This article succinctly articulates the reasons for their frustration and outlines the false and misleading narrative that Mr.Duncan has been using ever since he stepped into the role of Secretary of Education. He routinely speaks of the “problem” of our public schools in terms of their “low expectations,” specifically as it pertains to the “fact” that we are “tolerating” poverty as an excuse for poor achievement. Poverty isn’t a reason for the disparity between the children who are achieving and those who are not, says Duncan and his cronies at the USDOE. It’s an excuse trumped up by teachers who are also not up to par, at least according to Mr. Duncan. If they were, the US would be at the top of the heap with regard to performance on international tests that compare one nation to another. There are many reasons why Mr. Duncan’s narrative doesn’t work. This summary points out the fallacies in the narrative. Please feel free to share.Fgrade