Bad Teachers (Part II)

I am a product of public education. I have mostly positive memories ( although if I’d hated school, public education would have been an odd career choice), and I had good teachers. They weren’t all outstanding, but in all those years, I didn’t have any whom I would say were ‘bad’.

Marshdale Elementary (CO)

K- Mrs. Noble, 1- Mrs. Brant, 2- Mrs. Lyons, 3- Mrs. Smith, 4- Mrs. Ball

Boeckman Creek Elementary (OR)

5- Mrs. Briggs-Crispin

Wood Middle School (OR)

Mr. Woods- 6,7,8, Mrs. Patterson- 6, Mr. Goldstein- 6, Ms. Blodgett- 6,7,8, Mr. Levy- 6,8, Mrs. Goldstein- 7, Mr. O’Connell- 7, Mrs. Markee- 7,  Ms. Greeno-7, Mr. Bailey- 7, Ms. Moura- 8, Mrs. Hickman- 8, Mrs. Branch-6 and Mr. Sagers- 7,8.

Wilsonville High School (OR)

Mr. Kennedy- 9,11, Mr. Shotola-Hardt- 9,11, Mrs. Gardner- 9,11, Mr. Meeuws- 9,10,11,12, Mr. Wilcox- 9,11,12, Mr. Derry 12, Mrs. LaCroix- 10, Mr. Groves- 10, Mr. Otis- 9, Mr. Guay-11, Mr. Fowler- 11, Mrs. Bach- 11,12, Mr. Schauer- 11,12, Mr. Fitzgibbon- 12, Mr. Ford- 10, Mr. Myers 9,10,11 and coaches as well…  (okay I know I’ve forgotten a few there, sorry).

That’s a lot of teachers.

No bad ones in the bunch.

I do remember hearing that there was a 4th grade teacher at Marshdale who would clip his toenails during class and flick them at kids while they were taking tests. But, I can no more prove or disprove that rumor than the one about our custodian having been an NFL-caliber football player as well as an amazing ballet dancer…

All these men and women added positive things to my life… Just as I hope to do for my students.  I could tell you specific stories about each of them, and the things I remember from their classes. But I won’t, because I have a freakish memory sometimes, and I’d rather you didn’t stop reading now..

I have been teaching for four years. I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, I am still new. But I’ve learned so much. I finally finished my three years of formal evaluations, I finally would have gotten a raise (if the salary schedule hadn’t been frozen two years ago). I know my strengths and weaknesses, I am passionate about my work, and I continue to push myself.

And this week, I’ve been thinking seriously about finding a new career.

The problem is not just in Idaho. It is not automatically going to be solved if I go to another state to teach.  The bills that our state superintendent of schools drafted were reckless and short-sighted, but they reflect an attitude that is growing across the country. The belief that something must be done about the overwhelming problem of bad teachers. Our test scores are not improving, our children are not keeping up on a global scale, No Child Left Behind is not going to make it’s target of 100% proficiency by 2014.  The problem?? The teachers.

It is a brilliantly simple case to build:  The general rhetoric says that tenured teachers essentially cannot be fired. Unless they’ve clearly broken the law or something equally drastic, they are guaranteed a job. Therefore, anyone who is granted tenure obviously has no reason to try, and certainly no reason to improve. They grow complacent and lazy. They sit around feeling entitled and protected by their union. They complain when they don’t get more, when they’ve done nothing to earn it. They have no reason to be excellent, when mediocre is enough, and even poor performance won’t cost them their job.  Something must be done!

Who wouldn’t get mad about that?

Here’s the part I’m ashamed to admit:  Even I was buying into this. I rented Waiting for Superman last week, and I got so fired up over it that I couldn’t sleep. How do these conditions exist in our country?? How were all these bad teachers being ignored or accepted? The teachers in the “rubber room” in New York, collecting their full salary for years while awaiting judgement on dismissals. The bad teachers shuffled from one school to another because no one could fire them. The districts where the only kids who were succeeding were the ones lucky enough to get into a charter school.

I processed all this information for days, wondering how I could feel that we really do need major education reform, while simultaneously knowing that what is going to happen in Idaho is wrong. I was very… conflicted.

Until some pieces started coming together.  It began as I started thinking about all the good teachers I’ve had. It grew as I tried to pacify myself by saying that things would be okay in our district, at my school. We have good teachers. We have a superintendent who maintains open lines of communication with his staff, the administrators, and the teacher’s union, and more importantly, who thinks before he acts. And I started thinking about my school, about my coworkers, and about how well we work together, and how much success we’ve had with our students.

And I realized why the rhetoric of the BAD TEACHERS works so well. It creates a boogeyman. Something for the public to fear, and to rally against. If parents believe that their children are in danger of being stunted by bad teachers, and that their contracts protect them from being fired even if they deserve it, why would they not want to see that change? When they are told that if we reform education we must take the power away from these bad teachers, by severing their union protection, why would they not agree, even if they do want to support good teachers?

It will be too late before the public realizes that the percentage of ‘bad teachers’ in the workforce is miniscule. And a good administrator can fire a bad teacher without too much difficulty. Teachers are not the problem. The vast majority of teachers are good at their job, and take pride in giving back to their communities. The full repercussions of these bills will come to light, they have inadvertently taken away the voice of teachers- the group of people who are nearly as vested in the children as their own parents (sometimes more, truth be told).

These teachers, most of whom have families of their own and children in public schools, they will have heard the message loud and clear: “You are not good enough, we will continue to test you. You do not deserve our trust, we will make the decisions. You do not deserve a grievance process. You can be fired arbitrarily, and in fact an accused criminal has more right to due process than you.  Gather your value and your place in society from that.”

I’m not feeling conflicted anymore. My wanting to be protected is not something to feel guilty about, worrying that it could make me one of those ‘bad teachers’ is ridiculous. My belief that our union is not trying to protect bad teachers, that it is trying to protect all of us from unfair treatment, like these bills, is not naive. So with time running out, I found myself out on a busy street corner this Saturday in the rain, with maybe 60 other teachers (of the ~800 in Nampa) waving picket signs at passing cars, asking for the support of strangers.

Yep, I became a picketer. First time for everything.

I honestly don’t believe that most of the voting public in the state of Idaho supports Tom Luna’s reform. (Again, remember there was no whisper of this plan during elections). I have to believe that the people of this state don’t hate teachers… I have to, or it gets pretty hard to get out of bed in the morning.

I’m off to look up the symptoms of an ulcer.  But Part III will be coming, very soon.

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~ by Lindsey on March 8, 2011.

One Response to “Bad Teachers (Part II)”

  1. Believe me, the majority of people don’t hate teachers. What we have in Idaho is a legislature that is hell-bent on making political hay. They will, no matter what it costs the state, pursue an agenda of destroying the people who can vote against them. The cynicism in our statehouse is despicable. The legislators, the majority of them, are on a cutting frenzy – unfortunately, they’re out to destroy whole groups of people – the disadvantaged and the scapegoats. Their party platform has no soul.

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