Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Defense of Teachers

Here's a topical re-run from my old blog that I'm quite fond of. Each new day brings more attacks on the teaching profession, attacks given voice by a news media that is notoriously shallow in its analysis. I am glad that Matt Damon's recent comments have been given a wide circulation, but the discourse still needs to be shifted.

The journalistic world is a highly predictable entity; some social issues have been discussed with exactly the same tropes as long as a I can remember. Case in point is education reform, which is nearly always portrayed as a battle by innovative administrators trying to change the system for the better who are arrayed against intransigent teachers and their obstructive unions. The New Yorker has published several such articles in recent months, including a profile this month on Arne "Katrina is the best thing that happened to the New Orleans school system" Duncan. According to the standard trope, our current ranks of teachers are lazy time servers who refuse to make the necessary changes to rescue the education of our children.

Today I'd like to defend teachers, and to ask the media to consider the voices of actual teachers in their reporting.

This article, like practically every other I've ever seen, does absolutely nothing to consider the thoughts of rank and file teachers. Union reps might be consulted, but they are usually speaking in their capacity as labor leaders, not classroom leaders. There's also an assumption that all teachers who support the union are goldbrickers. This is simply not true. My mother, little sister, and wife are all teachers who put in 50 hour weeks and constantly look for new ways to engage their students. They also all happen to be active in their respective unions.

According to the standard narrative, this is a gross contradiction, but it's not when the realities, rather than myths, of the classroom are considered. Rather than avoiding change, teachers are forced to change every two years or so with the pedagogical seasons and with whatever new half-baked idea that their administrators foist on them. School administration itself is a highly volatile profession whose members are constantly looking to climb up the greasy pole towards more prestigious jobs. To do so, they must burnish their resumes by applying whatever new trend happens to be in vogue at the time to their faculties. The teachers, who actually know the classroom and through years of experience have gained an idea of what works, get understandably resistant under these circumstances.

Case in point: the government and large portions of the media pushed the test-centric No Child Left Behind initiative, but at the time I did not know a single teacher who thought it was a good idea. Guess who was right?

So please, members of the journalistic profession, stop being so lazy with your reporting. Do not take the sanctimonious drivel spouted by school administrators at face value. The majority of them are careerist hacks who care much more about enlarging their power than improving education. Actually take the time to talk to career teachers, and stop assuming that they are inferior to 22 year old Ivy League graduate Teach for America types, who make up in arrogance what they lack in classroom experience. Stop treating teacher unions solely as defenders of shiftless layabouts; the NEA and AFT often deserve criticism, but hard-working teachers support these organizations because they are the only thing protecting them from capricious administrators and fickle parents. On the last point, start levelling your sights on parents, too. They block meaningful change by howling whenever their precious snowflakes are held to high standards by teachers. Perhaps worse, they are failing to get their children to read outside of school or develop any kind of respect for knowledge. When children are raised to be secure in their stupidity, there's not much a school can do for them.

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