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Thread: What's Wrong With Teachers?

  1. #1
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    Default What's Wrong With Teachers?

    By Tamim Ansary

    The Chinese philosopher Confucius was known by many titles but his proudest honorific was "great teacher." In fact, over the centuries, teachers have been revered figures in many cultures and countries.

    I thought about this the other day when I ran across an online rant about teachers seeking more money in some school district somewhere. "FACT," this ranter wrote. "LAZY TEACHERS JUST WANT A THREE DAY WEEKEND! Just say NO to them, they are already OVERPAID and UNDERWORKED, and the public needs to remind them who they work for ..."

    Unfortunately, this fellow is not alone. A few years ago, when I wrote a column suggesting that teachers were underpaid, I got a flood of responses from readers. Some agreed with me, but they were mostly teachers. Others -- perhaps half -- not only disagreed but expressed quite a surprising hostility toward teachers. In essence, they said teachers had some nerve expecting to be paid like engineers when their work was more like filing and babysitting.

    Growing disrespect
    I was aware, of course, that teachers have long been under attack. In 1979, Pink Floyd recorded an immensely popular song that featured a boot-stomping chorus of children chanting, "We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!" interrupted by the singer shouting, "Teacher! Leave them kids alone!"

    When I first heard this song, my mother was an elementary school teacher in the last years of her career, and I was acutely aware of how she struggled every day to stay upright under the blows and buffeting she received from tyrannical bureaucrats, clamorous parents and unruly children. What made her struggle all the more grinding was the growing disrespect she could sense for her profession in the society at large.

    One such current took a seminal turn in 1978, when California passed a ballot measure known as Proposition 13. With that initiative, the state slashed its property taxes by one-third. Within five years, 37 other states had enacted similar legislation, and within a decade the prairie fire of tax revolt had spread to every corner of the nation.

    But property taxes had been the primary source of school funding; that has been an American tradition. When those revenues shrank, something had to give. No one wanted to cut necessary programs, so budget slashers looked for unnecessary ones. The pressure they were working under, however, predisposed them to see more and more programs as unnecessary, as "frills." They had to. Summer school classes vanished, arts programs dropped away, school libraries were closed and many extracurricular activities, such as music clubs and even sports, which had once softened the core programs of basic skills training, were eliminated.

    This sparser education gave students less to look forward to at school and less fodder, therefore, for fond memories later. When they became adults, these students were apt to remember school as bitter medicine: Good for you at best, but nothing to look back on with nostalgia, any more than one looks back nostalgically to root canal work, though one might appreciate still having teeth. This feeling surely infects, at least subliminally, public sentiment toward teachers.

    The tax revolt, however, was just one current. Coincidentally, in the years leading up to Proposition 13, school reformers were developing a set of ideas that ended up fitting in neatly with the coming funding crisis. They proposed to improve schools with measures that not only would cost no money but actually depended on spending less. In brief, they proposed to replace funding-driven solutions with punishment-based ones. The old view, in place since the 1930s, had held that the key to good education at the K-12 level was to research how kids learn and then fund activities that promoted learning, no matter what the cost. The new reformers by contrast recommended that we as a society decide what kids should learn and then punish those who failed to learn it, ultimately by withholding funds from schools and teachers.

    Someone to blame
    The new approach failed to deliver the desired results, and this has had consequences. It's true that today some observers see progress, but others see none. Both opinions probably reflect political agendas, and neither rests on indisputable evidence, which leaves the public free to believe, as it does believe, that America's educational system is in crisis. And if there is a crisis, someone must be to blame.

    But who is to blame? Potential targets abound, of course: bureaucrats, educrats, the left, the right, the spineless middle, "kids today," funding cuts, throwing-money-at-the-problem, society at large -- each of these is someone's favorite scapegoat. Teachers, however, hold pride of place as potential blamees: They're the hardest targets to miss.

    Public school teachers are all the more vulnerable to blame because of another current in that perfect storm of social forces I mentioned above. Throughout the 19th century, when few people went to school beyond eighth grade, teachers were almost universally women; society regarded them as hobbyists working for "pin money" to supplement their husband's incomes, or they were marking time while waiting to get married. Since they supposedly weren't supporting families or even themselves, they didn't have to earn much and they weren't paid much. Things changed, deepened and diversified in the 20th century, but it wasn't until the late 1960s that the teaching profession became unionized. After that, teachers' salaries and benefits improved at a pace exceeding the national average for a period. Teachers never reached parity with high-end professions such as medicine and law; even so, by the 1980s, compared to most workers, they enjoyed enviable benefits including job security, health plans, pensions and summer vacations.

    The trouble was, they were flowing against the tide. Teachers were developing dynamic, politically influential unions just as union strength in general was fading: The bulk of the old industrial unions lost ground as manufacturing moved overseas. Many workers, unionized or not, were losing benefits just when teachers were gaining theirs. In the 1980s, private companies began scaling back health plans. Employers cut down on pension contributions. Economic changes eroded job security. Technological changes forced many workers to contemplate not just changing jobs but careers. These trends, which continue to this day, cannot help but feed resentment toward teachers. (It's those summer vacations people seem to find most galling.)

    But there's more
    When industrial unions struggled for higher wages, they were going up against the owners of specific private businesses. People outside those companies had no stake in the struggle and no personal reason to care which side won or who got how much of the company's profits.

    Teachers, by contrast, get their money from taxpayers. When they seek a raise, they seek it from "us," not "them." Teachers and parents may have a natural confluence of interests, but teachers and taxpayers have an inherently adversarial relationship. For a taxpayer, the question is never simply, "Do teachers deserve more money," but "Do teachers deserve more money from me?" Anyone who feels a reluctance to say yes is predisposed to assign a lower value to teachers' work and consider it easy. And indeed, when people reacted to my column about teachers being under- or over-paid, their opinion correlated pretty precisely with whether they saw teaching as difficult and sophisticated or as a rote, near-clerical job that anyone could do.

    Want More Tamim?
    Read other columns by Tamim Ansary.
    And now, to complete the perfect storm: School reform based on standards, testing and accountability, the movement born in the 1970s and still going strong, tends to reduce teachers' decision-making powers and their creative role in the educational process. It's the accidental but inevitable by-product of a reform project that seeks to systematize education by establishing exact, detailed curriculum objectives, mandating how these are to be taught, testing to see if they have been learned and dispensing funds according to test scores. This approach tends to reduce teachers to mere conduits between curriculum development specialists and kids, between kids and testing experts, between tests and funding agencies. Their job can be codified into a function. This prevents the worst teachers from wreaking damage but prevents the best teachers from soaring. The metamorphosis in the teacher's role helps to validate limiting their earnings but also reinforces whatever disregard the public may already feel toward teachers.

    Best and brightest
    Lee Iacocca once said, "In a truly rational society, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest would have to settle for something less." Although this is clearly not how it works now -- people whose grades and SAT scores give them broad options tend to favor more lucrative professions -- some extremely gifted people do still go into teaching, simply because they feel a calling. It's the same reason some people become artists. But if the concept of "Great Teacher" doesn't exist in the public imagination, what will draw the best and brightest into this career?

    Cont'd

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    In a 1969 survey, 75 percent of parents said they would be proud to see their children grow up to be public school teachers. By 1982, that number had dropped to 46 percent. I haven't seen more recent surveys, but I would bet money it's dropped further still. If the best steer away from teaching, teaching will justifiably strike the public as a lower-grade profession: It's a vicious cycle built on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Many people feel that bad teachers should suffer appropriate consequences. They're frustrated that our current system makes it hard to demote or fire a teacher. I agree. Why should teachers enjoy immunity from the consequences of doing terrible work?

    By the same token, however, teachers ought to be able to look forward to reaping appropriate consequences for doing great work, and I’m not talking about money. I'm talking about respect. I'm saying, as a society, let's find our way back to making "teacher" an honorific, so that our greatest teachers will enjoy a prestige equal to that of our greatest artists, generals, orators, inventors and sports heroes. If we do that, I predict we’ll wake up one day and say, "Hey, what ever happened to that 'crisis in the schools' people used to fuss about?"

    From Encarta.com.

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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    *Sigh* a topic near and dear to my heart, and if I could be so bold as to add a prayer here, God bless the students of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system because our schools are abysmal and they are fighting an uphill battle. My oldest is in first grade, and he's already learned a few choice curse words,gestures and threats, on top of coming hom once and saying : "oh no you Di'nt" and "I axed you a question" like he was from the projects.I put a stop to that crap really fast. With all that being said, I humbly offer up the following true story.....

    Back in Ninteen-Eighty-*cough*cough*cough* My father had to come up to my High School to pick me up as I had been suspended. I sat in the Principals office sullenly, with my teacher, the principal and my father who was seething (this was terrifying, as my father is ex-NSA and scared the bejeepers out of me).

    My Dad asked what I had done (this time),and the Principal told my Dad I had told my history teacher she was full of shit.The teacher just sat there with this hurt look in her eyes like I had assaulted her.

    Well, My pop looks at me, says "Why'd you tell her she was full of shit?"

    I said "She told the class Sherman never burnt Atlanta to the ground"

    My Dad turns to the Teacher and says "You ARE full of shit", and with that, he collected me and we went home. I dont think I ever loved the old man more than I did on that day.
    Last edited by Keystone Two-Eight; 01-09-2009 at 01:09 PM.

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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    The problem in the UK is most parents have abrogated all responsibility for anything to do with children. They think it is a teachers responsibilityto instill discipline and teach their kids everything. When I went to school I already read and understood right and wrong. Don't let any bleeding heart tell you kids don't understand right and wrong, my generation (sounding hugely ancient I'm 46 it's not so long ago) did. Also since the government decided education should be about preparing kids for work schools have become a bloody nightmare it's all targets and crap, no fun. Kids particularly boys at a young age are bored witless by target centred education. By the time they are 9 you've lost most of them and you'll never get them back. I wouldn't teach for twice their money and know few people who would. My ex was a teacher she left home at 06:30 and returned at 18:30, often worked at night and always at weekends, those long holidays people winge about are often spent working too. Sure there are bad teachers but no more (and probably less) than failures in any profession.

    31. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division


    "War does not determine who is right - only who is left."

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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    In essence, they said teachers had some nerve expecting to be paid like engineers when their work was more like filing and babysitting.
    Good thing I'd finished drinking my tea when I read this. I'm an engineer, and teachers get paid significantly more than I do with lower qualifications .
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    Obviously! They (teahcers) have only one thing on their minds...


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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    Teachers, in my opinion, are one of the most important jobs in society;
    they shape our children, which is our future.

    Good teachers do not get the respect they deserve, for they are the ones who sweat and toil for the benefit for the future generation.

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    Default Re: What's Wrong With Teachers?

    My wife has been a teacher since the mid-1970s. She was a founder of a teacher's union at a time when doing such a radical thing would have threatened her job if she had been in a less suppportive school, but fortunately it was a slum school run by some socially progressive and determined nuns who shared her commitment to social justice for both students and teachers.

    There is no more wrong with teachers than with any other group of important public servants such as police and nurses, but there is a great deal wrong with the public service drongoes who control teachers and with some of the parents to whom teachers have to report several times a year.

    Such as the parents of children who are persistent troublemakers but who are always defended by their parents whenever accused of misconduct, which just emboldens the little *****s even more every time mum (because it's usually a mum, and often a Mediterranean mum) comes down to the school to give a precious part of her small mind to the teachers on why they are not fit to be on the same planet as the fruit of her womb.

    Walk a mile in their shoes.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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