For a long time, I tried to fight it.
Whenever someone had the temerity to criticize public schools and schoolteachers, I stood staunchly in the corner of those who practice my profession. I noted that in my 12 years as a teacher, I have had the privilege of serving with some of the hardest working, most skilled professionals in education.
Though I have only worked in two school systems in those dozen years, I spent the previous 22 years as a newspaper reporter and had the opportunity to observe dozens of schools, all of which were doing outstanding jobs of serving their communities.
After more than three decades, I have finally had my blinders removed and I no longer have the same glowing view of public education.
It has nothing to do with test scores, considering most of the schools are taking poorly-worded tests from companies that are making a mint off selling both tests and practice tests. After all, if the tests are any good, there would be no need for these practice tests, which have turned out to be a lucrative sideline for the test companies.
It has nothing to do with lazy, incompetent teachers who received tenure and cannot be fired. On the contrary, that is a phenomenon of some large, suburban schools whose failures are then exploited by those who wish to see public education destroyed. From what I have seen first hand over the years, many young teachers who are not cut out for teaching quickly discover that and move to other work. Others are encouraged by administrators to leave education, while others are removed before they can do more damage. Few incompetents receive tenure in Missouri and most of those are as a result of lazy, incompetent administrators not doing their jobs.
It has nothing to do with the spate of stories about teachers misusing their positions of trust to take advantage of students. Some public education critics have targeted teachers because of these few who have brought shame on all of us. The reason those instances are so well publicized is because they are still thankfully rare.
It has nothing to do with out of control unions who care about teachers more than children. It has not been my experience that union members put anyone ahead of children.
It has nothing to do with teachers working 8 to 3 everyday and getting three months off in the summer and long Christmas breaks. I don’t know many teachers who don’t take their work home with them and most arrive well before the first bell and are working long after children have gone home for the day. Summers are spent either teaching summer school or taking classes and attending seminars to keep up with the latest developments of education or to earn higher degrees. Of course, those higher degrees and the debt the teachers have run up earning them will be wasted once laws are passed, including one scheduled to be voted on next week in Missouri that will eliminate years of valuable experience and advanced degrees in favor of a system that relies on the same poorly written tests I mentioned before. Poverty, parents who don’t care, children with so many distractions that they find much more rewarding than learning- none of those things mean anything. After all, if you believe the rhetoric from our politicians, the sole problem in American public education is horrible, inept teachers.
And that brings me to the sole reason I have changed my mind about the competence of American public schoolteachers- If we were doing our job, somewhere along the line we would have taught the politicians who are systematically destroying public education, the greatest of all American experiments, something about decency, respect, and developing the mortal fortitude to resist the siren song of the special interests who are well on their way to making the U. S. into a world of haves and have-nots, where public education will serve to provide low paid feeder stock for non-union companies and taxpayer-financed private schools will continue to cater to the elite, with the middle class existing only in history books.
Public schoolteachers have failed miserably by producing the most incompetent, mean-spirited legislators in U. S. history.