Bloggers, pundits, and news organizations jumped all over the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher released recently.
As one might expect, the supporters of the so-called “reform” movement found the survey to be indicative of the laziness, incompetency, selfishness, etc. of America’s teachers. At the aptly named, Dropout Nation, we read,
There’s also the differences be [sic] a newly-hired teacher, a longtime veteran heading into retirement, or even a mid-career teacher . For the latter two, in particular, the changes to the profession brought upon by systemic reform — including the use of objective student performance data in teacher evaluations — can be quite a cause for dissatisfaction, even if the changes being wrought are beneficial both for kids and their younger colleagues…The reality is that the teaching profession is changing — and must change — in order to help all students get a high-quality education. Which means that those in the profession and aspiring teachers coming into it must have the talent necessary to deal with the sophisticated, hard work it always was (as well as becoming). And not every teacher currently working in the profession will want to adjust to these realities.
I agree that the job of the professional educator is changing…and change is hard. However, change is but one cause of dissatisfaction. Lack of resources or lack of respect can also make someone unhappy in their work. Furthermore, not all change is good, and some veteran teachers might recognize inappropriate or damaging change and raise an objection. We call that the voice of experience. Experience is sometimes a good thing.
Note the suggestion that veteran teachers are against or afraid of “Objective student performance data” — an obvious reference to standardized tests. Anyone who has ever spent time teaching in a real public school classroom (unlike most of the so-called “reformers”) knows that standardized tests are not necessarily objective. In addition, those who know and understand tests, measurements and statistics, understand that standardized tests were developed to judge students (however poorly they might do that) and are inappropriate tools to use to measure teachers. In simple language, tests should be used to evaluate that for which they were developed. Using a standardized achievement test developed for student assessment to evaluate teachers is like getting an x-ray to check for kidney disease. You’ll get some results but it’s not what you need.
This attitude is also present in responses to articles about the survey. In an Answer Sheet article, U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction craters — report, Valerie Strauss writes,
It’s no wonder so many teachers have low morale. They say that modern school reform — with its emphasis on getting rid of bad teachers, assessing teachers by student standardized test scores, and rewriting tenure and collective bargaining laws — essentially demonizes them.
A comment which expresses the same feeling as Dropout, though with quite a bit less thought behind it, is one from captclamdigger…whose name is apparently a reference to his or her level of achievement.
Boo-freaking-hoo, they feel stress and don’t love their jobs. That’s why they get paid and why it’s called work. They have jobs where they don’t get fired unless they cause a major, major screw up and they have a retirement plan and solid benefits.
It’s called real life.
Another comment from Theplantruth [sic] is only slightly more rational.
Really my heart bleeds for the over paid glorified baby sitter’s that continues to receive raises of 5% annually in the school district that I pay taxes too. I guest getting every weekend, holiday , and summers off isn’t enough. Or the Monday – Friday daylight schedule is so terrible too. That school teachers benefits are costing them an arm and a leg vs the rest of the national work force. No I believe that out of any profession that school public school teacher should be happy with what they got and quit whining about their demoralized levels of stress from work. They got it really good.
[Too many errors in the above to note each separately. Apparently Theplantruth has trouble with punctuation, sentence fragments, and noun/verb agreement as well as facts.]
Given the obvious lack of knowledge in the above two comments about what teachers actually do and what the job of teaching is actually like, I understand their anger. If I was working every day at a difficult job, clam digging, for example, and came home each night stinking of clams, turned on the news and listened to someone tell me that teachers were overpaid, only worked 6 hours a day for 9 months of the year, could never be fired and were only in it for the money, I’d be angry, too. The fact that teachers’ jobs are nothing like that doesn’t matter. In my low status, low wage job as a clam digger, I am angry that I don’t have it better and I WANT to be angry at someone.
Politicians, pundits and policy makers are expert at using that anger, and turning it towards someone else instead of themselves. Here are a couple of illustrations…
Let’s look at another comment, this one from Rubytunes…
The most telling part of the teacher survey was that those who teach in challenging neighborhoods feel the most stress. Why? Because they and their students are the ones getting inundated with constant ongoing test prep, more meaningless meetings, more tests of all kinds (weekly benchmarks, quarterly benchmarks, pre-tests, post-tests, state tests, grad tests, end of unit tests, etc., etc., etc.), constant endless nitpicking data analysis, parent initiatives, all in the vain effort to achieve 100% proficiency or be deemed a failing school. The message clearly is: Don’t go to work in a high needs area because this will be your life!
The “reformers” don’t want anyone to bring up the fact that poverty is a factor. They call it an “excuse” and deny that it matters. The fact, as Rubytunes writes, that teachers in the “most challenged neighborhoods” are the most at stress is due to a myriad of social and economic factors. Students, their parents or guardians, and communities in poverty all have issues that need to be dealt with. School systems and states often don’t provide the necessary resources to counteract the damage done by serious community problems.
It’s much easier, as the so-called “reformers” have illustrated over the last several decades, to blame the teachers. Not only do they have a scapegoat in teachers, but they can use the social and economic problems which they’ve left untreated as an excuse to privatize public education, get more money for private schools, and/or publicly sponsored, privately run for-profit charters*, and leaving the children with more serious problems to languish in the failing public schools.
John Kuhn, on of my favorite superintendents (Perrin-Whitt CISD, Perrin, TX) also wrote about the MetLife survey [ and the first sentence in the paragraphs below is a gem!] He said…
The American teacher stands on the front lines of poverty and inequity that our fellow Americans refuse to acknowledge, on the front lines of the real social condition of our nation–not the advertised one–and we stand together. When we look over our shoulders, there’s no one there backing us up. The rest of the army is off pretending there is no fight to be had here, no excuses to be made, no hardships to decry, no supply lines to worry about, that things in American society are just hunky-dory outside of the fact that the teachers just don’t care enough…
What the reformers need to know about teachers is that we are in this together, and they’re on the outside. They are not one with us. They’re interlopers. They aren’t change agents–they’re foreign agents. They aren’t leaders. They are cheerleaders for the business lobby, not for the child. When we look at one another, we see people who strive and try and cry for kids, who face them and embrace them on a daily basis. When we see the most hostile of the reformers, we see pontificators and armchair critics. When the Church of Reform chooses to place teacher-bashing into their book of orthodox behaviors, they declare teachers to be their enemy. And they have their wish. We will be their enemy, but we will be allies to one another to the end. We will circle our wagons.
Yes, we’re demoralized. But, unfortunately for those who would cast us aside, we are still very, very united. And we are the last people in America to know the good that we do, and to disbelieve the lies that are told about us to an unsuspecting public.
*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.