You need look no further than the reader response to the Joplin Globe internet story on Rep. B. J. Marsh's proposed legislation which would allow schools to waive making up five snow days to realize just how much success has been realized by those who have made it their mission to undermine public schools and public schoolteachers.
The comments are full of people belittling the work teachers do. You have those who claim teachers work one year, and then repeat their lesson plans year after year until they retire.
You have others who talk about how little work teachers do. After all, they have three months off in the summer, they don't work weekends, they get two weeks off for Christmas and a week for spring break, and they don't have to go to work when there's snow or ice on the roads.
At one time, teachers were among the most respected people in the community, and to some extent, that is still the case, but as the comments on the Globe website prove, years of undermining public schools and public schoolteachers are finally taking their toll.
So let's take a look at the truth about teachers:
Yes, there are a few who use the same lesson plans year after year, but those are the exception, not the rule. Most teachers look for ways to improve their lesson plans, trying new techniques, adding technology, or using the latest educational research to improve their results. During those three-month summer vacations, many teachers are attending seminars or taking classes aimed at improving themselves and therefore the quality of the instruction they offer to their students.
One thing the politicians' constant sniping at the "failures" of public schools (most of the schools are not failing, but you would never know that from listening to the rhetoric being offered by voucher supporters) has done is to give the impression that teachers are slackers who are living off the public trough. While there are teachers who fall short, the push for "qualified teachers" fails to take into account other factors that are playing much greater roles in the scores of students who are not making the grade, including:
-Students who come from broken homes, homes in which they are exposed to drug and alcohol abuse, and homes where the children are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
-Students who come from homes where there are no books, only the ever-constant presence of television and the Internet.
-Politicians who demand that the schools handle all of society's ills, whether they be sex education, information on alcohol and drugs, personal finance information (which has become necessary thanks to politicians' coddling of those in the banking, credit card, and payday loan industries). Every time a politician adds something to the school's schedule, it takes away from the three R's that they say should be our focus.
-Fears that students, teachers, and administrators have each time they hear of another school shooting incident
-Students who simply do not care whether they learn
I am so tired of the argument that teachers knew how much money they were going to get paid so they have no business complaining about it. It is true to some extent; we do know we are not going to become wealthy from teaching, but at the same time, do we ever accept that type of talk when it comes to other public servants, such as police officers and firemen? Obviously, those are high risk, stressful occupations, but nearly every study of stressful occupations puts teaching right at or near the top. Teachers who care about the success of their students (and I have only met a handful who do not fit into that category) agonize over the ones who are failing, the ones who are having problems at home or at school, even the ones who seem to resist everything we try and have no interest whatsoever in school.
Most teachers are not 7:30 to 3 people who take off for home the second the last bell rings. Many teachers work with children after school, sponsor activities (some of which they are reimbursed for, but many of which they are not) and work on lesson plans and grading long after they have taught their final classes for the day. We do have 48-minute planning periods, but much of that time is devoted to dealing with parents and grading papers. I know of very few teachers who do not do a great deal of work at home. It's part of the job. For the most part, we don't go around talking about it, but with the constant belittling that seems to be the norm these days, somebody has to tell the story.
Most teachers are in the business because they truly love to work with children and help pave the road for their students' later success. As long as politicians and sensation-seeking media (i.e. John Stossel) take a handful of public school failures and make them appear to be commonplace instead of describing them accurately as the aberrations they truly are, we will continue to see the kind of anti-teacher sentiment that was expressed this week in the Joplin Globe.
As long as self-serving politicians are willing to take those rare failures and use them as an excuse to open the door for vouchers and tuition tax credits, we are in danger of putting a torch to American public schools, the most successful experiment in the history of education.
When that happens, you can forget about No Child Left Behind. The children left behind will number in the millions.