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.



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.




Reflections on the First Day of School

Back to School

Back to School

For the school divisions in my immediate area, today was the first day of school. I know some districts have gone back earlier in August, but around here, today was the day. This morning, I viewed multiple postings from teachers and moms. The teachers were anxious to get to work and meet their new classes and get another school year started. The moms (and dads) were posting photos of their kids headed off to another school year. For some, they were sending their babies off to kindergarten. For others, they were sending their “babies” off to high school.

The one thing that ran through the posts as they piled up over the morning hours was the sense of excitement and anticipation, and it reminded me yet again that ours is a profession where you really do get “do-overs” and you really do get a fresh slate from which to start. That goes for teachers AND students.

The first year I taught, I was so nervous I woke up sick. I mean, literally sick. I was throwing up every five minutes. My mother had to call the principal and report in “sick” for me. I missed the first day of school for the first–and last–time in my life!

That first year of teaching was definitely a learning year for me. I learned about school culture. I learned about tight resources. I learned from colleagues. I even learned from my principal who was probably the weakest of the lot in my 37-years as a public school teacher and librarian.

Each year after that, I met the new school year and especially the first day of school with anticipation and joy. I loved going to the school supplies store and buying stuff for my bulletin boards–yes, with my own money. I loved buying pencils, pens, and things for my desk.

The end of the year has its own special qualities, but there is nothing like starting over with a whole new class and a whole new set of expectations every year. Everything is crisp and white and feels like new at least for the first day.

Of course, sometimes there can be tears of fear and tears of sadness. After a summer of bonding, it can be tough on moms to let their little ones go. And for many teachers who have to leave their own little ones at day care while they come to school to take care of others’ little ones, it can also be a tough adjustment.

I have been retired for two years, but this is actually the 6th first day of school that I have missed since I went to work for the Virginia Education Association. The first year I was with the VEA, I volunteered to spend the first day of school with my colleagues because I was missing going back so much. I missed the first faculty meeting of the year. I missed catching up with friends and colleagues and meeting new people who were joining our staff. I missed getting ready, and I missed the hustle and bustle and energy and excitement of the first buses rolling in and the kids hopping off looking happy and scared all at the same time. I missed walking the little ones to their classrooms. I missed watching the ones who knew where they were going marching off determinedly to start their new year.

There is something special about the first day of school. I miss it. And I wish my friends and colleagues and their students the best year ever.

“Happy New Year.”