The most convenient scapegoat for all problems in our nation’s education system seems to be public school teachers. Whether the issue is test scores or graduation rates, many would have you believe that it is teachers who are at fault. In his new book Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture, Kevin K. Kumashiro examines the current narrative around “bad teachers” and what it means for those who seek to improve education in this country. There are people who want to disenfranchise all unions, and going after teachers is a fashionable and effective thing to do, since there are so many parents out there. Unfortunately, many parents do not understand that the first and most important step towards solving issues for their children is to directly approach the classroom teacher and begin the process face to face with that teacher.
In addition to teachers, school and district administrators, state and federal governments, textbook publishers, testing companies, and massive educational foundations like the Gates and Broad Foundations all play decisive roles in determining how funds are appropriated to districts and schools, how curriculum is written and implemented, and how teachers are hired and evaluated. When education is thought of only in terms of the individual classroom, teachers become the convenient scapegoat for all problems in public education. And that is precisely the group that corporate education “reformers”, including Teach for America and New Teacher Project, would like for everyone to focus on and thus ignore the bigger picture. Sometimes, demise arrives in the guise of a benefactor.
In a new survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit opinion research organization, public school teachers say they love their work and are confident in their ability to reach and teach most but not all students. But a majority feels that they are unfairly being held accountable for raising student achievement when so much that affects learning is beyond their control.
Stand by Me: What Teachers Really Think about Unions, Merit Pay and Other Professional Matters is one of the most comprehensive examinations to date of American teachers views on unions, tenure, pay-for-performance, alternative certification and other issues. Public Agendas research consistently finds teachers to be strong supporters of standards, and teachers acknowledge that not all of their colleagues perform at acceptable levels. But a sense of vulnerability, along with fears of politics and favoritism, make them loyal to the tenure system, loyal to their unions and highly skeptical about pay tied to student test scores. Some argue that tenure is important because it protects teachers from being fired for personal or political reasons. Anyone who thinks that teachers don’t lose their jobs because of personal friction, politics, or other untenable reasons should think again.
In light of all the recent publicity about law enforcement officers who act inappropriately in the line of duty, my first response was, “Who would want the job of protecting the community and keeping people safe when we live in such a finger-pointing litigious society?” I think that something similar applies to teachers. “Who would want to educate our youth when we live in a world that casts aspersions and blame quicker than an at will employee can be terminated?
So the cautionary message here is to pay your union dues and be part of a teacher organization that fights for teachers rights, benefits, and equity. Stepping one toe into a classroom in a 21st century classroom without that protection is a foolish notion, indeed.