(The following is my latest Daily Kos post.)
Bad teachers must be fired.
That message was printed numerous times on the cover of last week’s Newsweek and it is a sentiment with which all of us, especially teachers, can agree.
Unfortunately, that cover, and the articles that accompanied it, gave the impression that subpar teachers are the cause of every problem that faces education today.
And in an effort to tackle this problem, we have the Obama administration’s simplistic solution- if schools have problems, fire all of the teachers. When it was done in Rhode Island, first Education Secretary Arne Duncan and later the president himself praised the “courage” of the school board that took this step. I might add that the board was following the recommendation of a superintendent, who only a few months earlier had been singing the praises of the same teachers that she put on the unemployment line without a moment’s hesitation.
Now that shows courage.
The problem is that it is much easier politically to go after so-called “bad teachers” than it is to deal with some of the other problems that are preventing students from receiving a quality education:
-Students who do not care and do not invest anything in the learning process. Through television and movies, we have had this myth of the self-sacrificing teacher who keeps knocking his head against the wall with recalcitrant students until somehow he manages to make the big breakthrough that sends the students on his way to a happy and productive life. Sadly, that does not happen as often as we would like. Even the most gifted teachers are going to have problems finding the “on” switch with a student who has tuned out education.
-Parents who have little or no interest in their children’s education. Teachers can make their best efforts, and do, but are thwarted by students who come from homes where education has no value.
-Students who are subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. When our children have these problems in their home lives, it is easy to see why algebraic educations and the works of Shakespeare and Dickens have no meaning.
-The teach to the test mentality. By constant drill of test-taking skills at the expense of learning, we may achieve some short-term gains, but in the long run we are turning off students by robbing them of the chance of becoming engaged in learning.
Much of the blame for this demonization of teachers rightly should go to politicians, such as Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham, who has proposed a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure in my state, and others who file one bill after another designed to make the public think the educational system is a 2010 version of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But the blame can also be placed on teacher unions that have not taken proactive steps to get rid of the deadwood that does, from time to time, find its way into our classrooms.
It is the teacher unions, not the legislatures, who should take the lead on getting teachers who can’t teach and teachers who break the laws out of the classroom. Instead, union leaders throw roadblocks in the path of the removal of teachers who have had improper relations with students, or teachers who have resorted to violence, or who simply do not have any idea of how to teach.
As long as we show no inclination toward policing our own ranks, we are throwing the doors wide open for demagogues like Jane Cunningham in Missouri or Arne Duncan in Washington to turn the ranks of American teachers into a shooting gallery.