Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to See if it's Really the Teachers' Fault - Blame Teachers for All Schools' Ills

So, one of the purported goals of this blog is to address the problem with education in this country. I don't know anyone who doesn't think there is a problem with education in this country; the trouble is, what can we do about it? It would be great if we could blame the teachers; that would be so easy. And, to be honest, teaching was not drawing the best and the brightest for quite some time. Teachers were not of the best caliber, especially in hard-to-staff schools. Because, let's be real, who wanted to go into tough and sometimes dangerous schools for peanuts for pay? There wasn't exactly a bunch of Ivy League graduates lining up for those gigs. When I was considering a career, there was a stigma about teachers; I didn't view them as smart. But, now there's a recession and a teaching gig is seen as a secure career, with a tenure. So, suddenly, people who weren't interested (like me) consider it desirable.

It's NOT the teachers! Are there bad teachers? YES! When I first started, I knew 6th grade teachers who couldn't add fractions, teachers that somehow managed to FALL ASLEEP while kids were rioting around them, and teachers who just had kids decorate things and draw rather than teach. As long as the school could get a body to supervise a classroom, they didn't really care what was going on inside. Of course, in schools where taxes are high and parent involvement is much higher, you could always get competent people. It has been a LONG time since I have seen a terrible teacher merely babysitting students. I have worked in some tough schools and seen some really stupid people (lovely people, with good hearts, but dumb) in front of a class. I still work in a "tough" school, and teachers are no longer slouches, let me tell you. There is competition for teaching jobs now. Schools can find people with skills and experience and work ethic, and they no longer have to settle for anyone desperate enough to want to work at an inner-city school. Everyone is desperate nowadays.

So, can we just establish that it is not the teachers? If anyone doubts this, I propose an experiment. If teachers really have that kind of power to improve children's skills to the degree that the powers-that-be would like you to believe, then proving it is simple. Take the teachers whose students are scoring the highest on standardized tests (from the wealthy schools) and those who are gettting the lowest (in the 'hood), and interchange them for a year. Just one year. Let's see who the better teachers are then, okay? Do you really believe that the teachers from the well-to-do schools are going to show gains with the at-need students? Really? And do you expect those inner-city teachers to suddenly post less-than-stellar scores for the better-off kids? This defies logic.
I dare any politician to propose this test. It's common sense, so I know that no one would ever dream of doing this. I've taught in poor, crime-ridden, gang-infested neighborhoods. I've had homeless children, and children living without parents in shelters. The scores of those students were, not unexpectedly, not good. I've taught in middle class schools were my students scored unbelieveably well. The factor that changed was not the teacher. Teachers are always perfecting their craft, so how can you explain experience cannot account for my students' variation in scores? I'd love for a talking head to answer this directly and honestly. A woman can dream, can't she?

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