Monday, December 08, 2014

Ed Emery and the 20 minutes I'll never get back

It was during one of those early book signings, back in the days when being an author was still something new to me.

I can't remember which book it was, but I do remember it was near the front of the now defunct and sorely missed Hastings store in Joplin.

I had sold a few books and had a steady stream of people either stopping to buy a book, stopping, looking it over and moving along, or just stopping to say hi.

I recognized the tall man who came through the front door and made a beeline for where I was sitting. I had seen his photo in the news and on his government website.

He introduced himself, sat down and for the next 20 minutes, not noticing (or caring) that a line was forming behind him, proceeded to lecture me about the dangers of public education. The man favored educational vouchers and completely eliminating teacher tenure so school districts could finally remove all of the "bad" teachers who he seemed to believe were filling the classrooms in Missouri schools.

A couple of times during that marathon session, I tried to contest his points, but I soon stopped trying. It only kept him around longer (and there were people patiently waiting) and besides, it was obvious that to him, my opinion did not mean anything unless I came around to his opinion.

Finally, he left. Twenty minutes gone from my life, never to be recaptured...and he didn't even buy a book.

Several years have passed and that man whose presence darkened that book signing, then a state representative, now a senator, has not changed his opinions on public education one bit.

It doesn't even matter that Missouri voters soundly rejected Amendment 3 last month, which would have eliminated teacher tenure and forced school districts to evaluate teachers based on student scores on standardized tests.

The years have not mellowed Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who has pre-filed SB 27, which would eliminate tenure to any teachers hired after the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. Emery also wants to eliminate the current type of salary schedules, based on years of experience and advanced degrees, which are used in nearly all Missouri schools, and replace them with a "merit" type plan, which would be based on supposedly non-subjective evaluations, which would include student test scores.

Those who oppose teacher tenure always use the same arguments:

-Once a teacher has tenure, it is almost impossible to fire him or her. If you are able to do so, it costs a fortune.

-The problem with public education is bad teachers. (Poverty, crime, and poor home environment don't play any role at all.)

-Administrators could run wonderful schools, if only they could hire and fire people whenever they wanted and didn't have to worry about tenure and seniority.

-Why should teachers have tenure when no one else does?

And teachers have not done a good job of defending themselves and their profession. Once you eliminate tenure, you are not only eliminating protection for teachers, but also for parents and students.

Good teachers are often the only thing standing between misguided policies and curriculum decisions that might boost administrators' resumes, but will not be in the best interest of the children. And for anyone who has been around education, there are administrators who fall for every fad that comes around, even if that fad was first tried and failed under a different name 20 or 30 years ago.

After all, the administrators who always seem to land the positions at the bigger schools are the ones who tried something totally different from what everyone else was doing (and then landed the next job before the results were in on whether this innovative approach actually worked).

If left to their own devices, some administrators would remove any teachers who raised concerns, replace them with compliant rear-end kissers, and then flee the district in a few years, leaving an almost entirely new faculty with no experience at standing up for what the children and the community need.

It is almost never mentioned that while some states give teachers tenure after two years, it is a much different situation in Missouri, where a teacher has to teach five years in one school district before tenure is reached on the first day of the sixth year. It certainly should not take five years for administrators to find out they have a bad teacher on their hands. It is also not true, as some have claimed, that teachers earn tenure and then become burned out and lazy.

Those instances are few and far between. Good administrators should be able to catch the poor teachers and remove them from the classroom, and in fact, many teachers realize they are in the wrong profession and are gone long before they have reached the five-year mark.

Contrary to the message that people like Ed Emery have been sending, there is nothing wrong with having a core of veteran teachers in a school district, teachers who can provide the foundation for a solid education for thousands of students for years and also provide welcome advice and instruction to younger teachers.

All bills like SB 27 do is remove the incentive for people to become classroom teachers. Why would young people want to join a profession where they are blamed for everything that goes wrong even when much of it is totally out of their control?  Why would they want to become teachers when all they hear in the news is how legislatures are stripping their low-paid profession of the things that made it an attractive option- tenure, incentive for continuing higher education, health benefits, and pensions and also their power to unionize and fight for their rights?

It is time to send the Ed Emerys of Missouri a message that teachers are not the problem facing education. Look in a mirror, Sen. Emery, and you will see a large part of the problem.

One of the things that irritates me the most when I see Ed Emery's anti-public school legislation is that as a classroom teacher at the time I had that book signing at Hastings, I didn't just send him on his way.

All of us can look back on time we have wasted and have regrets.

I can never get those 20 minutes back..

No comments: