Monthly Archives: August 2014
The more I talk to teachers around the country, the more I am convinced that School Reformers and Government Officials are making a systematic effort to drive the best veteran teachers out of the profession, both to save money and destroy the historic memory of a time when teachers had real autonomy and input into decisions about pedagogy and curriculum. The harassment and micromanagement such teachers experience is sometimes subtle, sometimes vicious, explicit and direct, but it is taking place in almost every school district in the country. If you are such a teacher, and the harassment has not yet reached intolerable proportions, I have two pieces of advice for you: 1. Start identifying lawyers in your area who handle employment issues, in case you need to retain one and 2. Start cultivating a political base among your former students ( if you teach in high school) and parents of former students ( if you teach in elementary school or middle school) who can get involved in putting pressure on the principal, the school district, and the press should you come under attack. The latter strategy is one I have followed in my University ever since I began teaching there in a field ( African American Studies) which administrators didn’t respect and it has helped protect me, and my Department in very difficult moments. Of course universities are not directly comparable to public schools, but having a team of supporters ready to come to your defense is something that I think teachers have to do in this toxic political climate. Many great teachers already have these connections so I am not asking you to reinvent the wheel- just prepare to use your networks to prevent cynical administrators from driving you out of a job you love.
For the next month, teachers and principals are going to be given instructions, by their state education departments, about curriculum, instruction, and methods of evaluation which are complicated, poorly formulated, contradictory, and virtually impossible to implement without stifling anything creative going on in their classrooms. They will be wondering if they suddenly landed on a different planet, or whether aliens took over their schools. Welcome to the start of a new school year in the United States. The people in charge have no idea what they are doing or else are trying to discredit public schools so they can be more easily privatized. No you’e not crazy. They are!!!
Most people who know me think I am pretty good at two things- playing tennis and teaching history. I worked really hard to acquire those skills and feel pretty good about the result. Now imagine if, based what competence I had acquired in those areas, I was put in charge writing new protocols for every highway engineer in the United States, and creating evaluations for those engineers to assess the quality of their designs.. Would you feel confident that new highways in the country, designed under my administration, were going to be safe and efficient? What I just described is a good metaphor for what is happening in education in the US. Every dimension of education policy has been put in the hands of people who have had success in other areas, leaving long time professionals in the field devoid of input. Is it any surprise that the results are a complete disaster. That everything that makes students excited school is being pushed out, while mind numbing testing is being pushed in. Or that school after school is being closed in neighborhoods under stress that desperately need stability? Many of the most powerful people shaping the direction of education in the US, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, have never been classroom teachers. Is it any wonder that what they are presiding over has destroyed teacher morale in the country and made children hate school?