Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The lies they tell about teachers

Thirty-three percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years.

Fifty percent leave within the first five years.

These statistics, and as far as I know they are accurate, have been trumpeted for years, most often as an indicator that our best and brightest are forsaking their classroom careers for other, more lucrative, positions.

At some point over the past few years, the teacher flight percentages changed into something far more ominous- an indictment of tenure laws.

As I have listened to the drumbeat of criticism of public education reaching a crescendo this week, I have heard many trumped up charges that have little or no basis in fact. And one of those that keeps being featured in the sound bites is this myth that young, talented teachers are being pushed out in favor of incompetent instructors who cannot be fired because they have earned tenure.

This portrait is backed up only by anecdotal evidence that shows when teacher layoffs were forced by our current economic situation some good teachers were put out on the street while tenured teachers remained employed.

That record never indicates if the tenured teachers are competent. As far as I can tell, no one has bothered to look into it. It is far easier to make the accusation.

Undoubtedly, good young teachers have lost their jobs while tenured teachers (most of whom are qualified and competent) continue working.

That being said, that number makes up just a small portion of those who are leaving the teaching profession.

As a reporter, a job I held for 22 years before entering the classroom, I talked to many teachers about their jobs and I ran into some who were overwhelmed by the responsibility of dealing with children hour after hour, day after day. The best teacher preparation programs in the world can never completely prepare a teacher for that day when he or she stands in front of 30 children. The responsibility is staggering and some people find that teaching is not what they thought it would be.

Even with better preparation and far more mentoring programs, there are still thousands of teachers across the U S. who decide the classroom is not for them after surviving a year or two in the trenches.
This weekend, I heard the teaching profession unfavorably compared to law and medicine, with the talking heads noting that those professions police their own and do their best to rid their fields of incompetents, leaving the impression that teachers circle the wagon and protect everyone from the teacher who cannot impart knowledge to his students to the ones who cannot keep their hands off the children.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In the first place, the people who were making those statements cannot really expect us to believe there is not some wagon-circling occurring in those other professions. But like doctors and lawyers who want the best for their professions, the vast majority of teachers do not want to have our reputations besmirched by people whose lack of competence or moral character endangers children and their learning.

Many of those 33 percent who leave in the first three years and 50 percent who leave within five years are those who are removed due to their failure to improve as teachers or due to character flaws that make them poison to any faculty.

When good administrators are doing their jobs properly, and that is what takes place most of the time, the bad eggs are never in the classroom long enough to receive tenure.

The tenure laws also play no role in the number of teachers who leave the profession because they cannot make ends meet on their salaries. I have been reading education critics talk about the myth that teachers’ salaries are actually much better than what the public normally hears. Perhaps that is true in some districts, but those of us who teach in Missouri, where schools can still pay as little as $24,000 a year to a beginning teacher and less than $40,000 to teachers with as much as 20 years of experience, are not seeing that level of luxury.

Many teachers are also leaving because they see the change from education that stresses learning to hour after hour of teaching test-taking skills, something they know is going to be of minimum benefit to the children when they enter the adult world.

They are finding other professions because they are tired of being beaten down by a public that is rapidly losing respect for those who care for their children because of an unending coordinated attempt to destroy public education and teacher unions.

When the lie that teachers are incompetent, selfish, and care more about themselves than they do about the children in their classrooms, when they find that lack of respect coming from the parents who hear those lies, and eventually, from the children who view much of the world through their parents’ eyes, is it any wonder that many young teachers decide enough is enough?

Obviously, there are many reasons that young teachers are leaving the profession, and sadly, sometimes the best and the brightest are the ones who choose to take their talents elsewhere.

But many of those who leave the classroom behind are those who found out they were not cut out for teaching or those whose incompetence or lack of character made them a danger to the students.
Tenure laws, contrary to another of those lies that has been told about the teaching profession, do not prevent incompetent, lazy teachers from being fired. They simply offer those teachers, as well as competent teachers who come under the gun, due process, something that Americans should hold in high regard.

The direction in which the so-called educational reform movement is taking this country will end up causing more talented young teachers to seek other employment than any problems caused by tenure.


Put a sock in it said...

Oh puh-leeze. Give it a rest, Turner. We prefer to believe out own lying eyes than your lying self-serving silliness.

I have no doubt that you are as honest and competent of a teacher as you were a newspaper editor and journalist. Neither self-awareness nor honesty has ever been your strong suit, Turner.

The public simply can't afford you corrupt liberal idiots turning our children into fools and wastrels and whiners. We need to close down the public schools other than simply teaching the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic in an Internet age. Four years of public-financed public education from when the children are ten or eleven and lasting until puberty at fourteen and fifteen are more than enough. Let the free market, not the local, state or federal government run these education solutions. The parents are the only ones who get to decide what their offspring's politics and religion will be. That way property taxes can be cut and those teachers better than you can compete in the open free market.

Time to end licensing and credentialing through the government and its bureaucracy. The US citizenry used to be much better educated before the education kleptocracy was established through force and fraud.

Anonymous said...

People just don't have the money any more to support all these government workers.

I looked at the Education conference on MSNBC and the gorilla in the living room is that non-white kids are just too stupid and disruptive to put a lot of resources into educating. Then the chaos and expenses means that those able to be educated are given short rations.

Choices are going to have to be made and it will mean, inevitably, cutbacks in education to stave off bankruptcy and collapse of the entire overall system.

No, Randy, you can't have another candy bar. We can't afford it. Have some more beans. Beans are cheap and nutritious.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems in Missouri is low pay. They are either locked in by tenure or starve out as a young teacher.

I know when my son was in school at Cabool years ago, he had a teacher early on that every parent would tell you was worthless and had actually harmed their child in spirit, then in High School is had a Supt. was was equally worthless and a smartass beside. He was a Baptist Republican and was safe until the lord called him on to bigger and better things. So there are two sides to every story. I did have the satisfaction of tell the old boy what I thought of him and his style of education, but it wasn't anything he hadn't heard before.
David Rust

Anonymous said...

But Mr. Rust. How is giving some of the teachers more money going to help when you refuse to cut the pay of the worse teachers? And who decides who is the 'better' teacher? The teacher's union? The school board? Anybody except the parents?

There simply is no longer the money to raise the inputs. Rather, there will increased conflict as the tax funding withers and budgets are cut. Whining about these realities won't change anything.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (that names is for someone who is afraid to put their name on way they say) said: "But Mr. Rust. How is giving some of the teachers more money going to help when you refuse to cut the pay of the worse teachers?"

I did not say I refuse to cut the pay of the "worse" techers, you said that. If a teacher is sorry, fire them, its that simple.

A good teacher can not be paid enough, anything paid to a poor one is too much....period.

When a child does not want to go to school that should be the first alert for a parent something is wrong in the classroom. Take it from there, get involved, gather up support either for or against a teacher, but do something.

That is the problem now, both parents have a job or maybe two just to try to put food on the table and getting involved in the education process. There is often no time for the classroom, but there is damn sure time for sports.

David Rust...now Anonymous put your name on your post or keep it to yourself, because you don't want to be involved.

Anonymous said...

Anson Burlingame writes:

Attacking teachers, students or parents as individually causing huge problems in our public education system is wrong, IMHO.

The "system" itself is the problem. The "end product" of that system is the symptom we all see, a poorly educated (by almost any standard) graduate that is poorly motivated to work and cannot "think" their way out of any reasonable "box".

God forbide that I would mention the Bell Curve, a brilliant statement of the problem and analysis to back it up. Professional educators will not even discuss the box, much less consider it as a guide for some possible resolution.

You said "the classroom is not for them after surviving a year or two in the trenches", meaning why young teachers leave the profession. To some extent I agree.

But I am sure we will disagree on why they have difficulty "surviving". My view is the students, parents and administrators contol what goes on in the "trenches", NOT the teachers. Young teachers have no idea how to "take the high ground" and control the "trenches" on their own using reasonable social standards of behavior and DEMANDING hard work by all in the class.

And when students do NOT work hard, meet reasonable standards of behavior and gain reasonbale expectations of knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge, teachers canno "flunk" them.

They just move them to another "trench".

Your blog defends teachers. Fine. Now write one that defends our current "system" for public education.


Alias Smith and Jones said...

For 'Mr. Rust':

You leave no sure means of identifying yourself, but if that is a problem, call me 'Mr. Smith' or 'Mr. Jones.'

Like Mr. Burlingame says, Turner defends the system which creates the current situation. Yapping mindlessly about how "A good teacher can not be paid enough . . . " indicates that you never learned anything in Economics class because (1) you were much too stupid to learn anything, and (2) you had a 'good teacher' like Randy Turner.

The proper answer is that the entire System is broken and must be re-thought in its entirety. Good paying jobs need to be taken back to this country, women freed to take care of their children, and illegal immigration ended and those migrants repatriated to their own foreign lands. Along with this, there needs to be a rethinking of the entire public school system, especially ending local property taxation and government monopoly towards an inexpensive minimum of teaching children to read, write and do basic math -- something which at present isn't being done, regardless of the current expense.

Now acting like an idiot and yapping cliches isn't going to accomplish anything. Demanding more in the way of input of tax money in an age of declining tax revenue and systemic poverty like Turner wants isn't going to happen.

The choice is simple: Systemic reform or Systemic collapse.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, you wrote a brilliant piece about nothing.
Congratulations, now take you ideas to the legislature or the State Board of Education, they will welcome your solutions no doubt.

Alias Smith and Jones said...

To Anonymous @ 9:14 pm:

The legislature and the State Board of Education will take my recitals of the current reality as well as the animals at the zoo will take the news from the new-hire zoo-keeper that rations will have to be cut.

You can't explain to stupid animals like Turner who has no self-control or integrity that the System is about to go under. Rather, you keep that news to yourself and let the System go under and hope that it will take the problem-makers with it who got the rest of us in this situation.