And by "can of worms" I am referring to the can o' crazy that many people must be drinking when they whole-heartedly support the mass firing of teachers.
A bit ago, I saw two blog posts presented in juxtaposition - one which was super pro-teacher and the other which stated that firing teachers isn't always a bad idea. Natch, I had to check out the situation. Because as you know, while I believe that blindly firing entire groups of teachers for poor test scores (or even for having less years of experience) is HEINOUS, I also believe that there are some teachers out there who are not pulling their weight and do not deserve this job.
Right now I can't decide if we've oversimplified the issue or over-complicated it with all sorts of politics but either way, our current state of Blame-y von Blames A Lot blows.
Clearly, I read the pro-teacher piece first. And I have to say, you get more flies with sugar. (Strange words uttered from someone who can also be the Queen of Mean and Negative, I know, but I did listen to what you were saying when I was little, Big Mama Mimi.)
The blogger of that piece starts with this: "I am becoming more and more distressed by the conversations I am seeing in the national media that blame "bad" teachers for all the ills in society. Not only do these messages misappropriate blame and over-simplify the very complex problems we face in schools, they unintentionally kill good teaching."
After I stopped applauding (alone in my office...no joke), I kept reading. In this blogger's opinion, schools currently don't work for many reasons, but firing teachers while keeping the same outdated systems which discourage good teaching in place simply does not solve anything. And you have to admit, sister-friend has a point. I mean, just getting rid of a bunch of people, deserving or undeserving, without changing anything else doesn't make any sense. Who do we think is going to fly in on a beam of rainbows and save they day?
If the community stays poor, the tests stay all consuming and the curriculum stays suffocating, what do we really think is going to change besides the cars in the parking lot?
The blogger continues by quoting Seth Godin in his latest book Linchpin (which I haven't read, so major disclaimer but I loved the quote so I threw caution to the wind), "Great teachers are wonderful. They change lves. We need them. The problem is that most schools don't like great teachers. They're organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average."
She suggests several things teachers (and those that choose to support them if they ever wake up, smell the freaking coffee and do the right thing) CAN do to change the outcomes of schools, including:
* Stop teaching scared. No more worrying what the principal is going to say if s/he "catches you" doing something that isn't in the normal script. What is it with us being so afraid of the administration anyway? It's this strange, unnamed (and quite creepy) power thing in which, somehow, teachers end up acting more like children afraid of being disciplined rather than the professionals that we are. We've all seen it - it's bizarre and sad.
* Ignore the noise outside, close your door and teach rockstar style. Preach on! I was all about what went on behind closed doors, because at the end of the day, I have to be able to live with myself when I send these kids on to their next teacher.
* Stop conforming and doing what is "safe." I think this one is easier said than done, because the Powers That Be so desperately want us all to conform to this image they have in their collectively screwed up heads...one which is shoved down our throats and becoming increasingly mandated.
* Be really good at helping children actually learn, not just at our jobs. I heart this one. Heart it. Teaching isn't just a job. It isn't. The paperwork, all the bullshit, that's the job stuff, but teaching. Actually teaching, isn't something that can be defined by a job description...it's so much more than that.
* Continuously try to get better. Which sometimes means embracing change, being open to the ideas of others and loving learning. Amen to the nerdfest!
Now, in the other corner, weighing in at a lot of pounds that have never taught in the classroom is a blogger and ed policy guy (Frederick Hess...he's kind of a big deal) who thinks that firing teachers isn't always a bad idea.
And you know what? His piece didn't start off all bad. He talks about agreeing with the idea that schools need to better support teachers in their growth rather than blame them for all the ills of public schools. I mean, we have to give him points for that, right? He also says that sometimes firing teachers isn't a bad idea. Like I said before, sometimes I agree with that too. Just as in any other profession, we have people who suck and should go.
He continues by stating that states and local districts over-extended themselves financially early in the 2000s by hiring too many teachers in an effort to reduce class size and now, with the whole recession business, we can't afford to pay them. Not having a bunch of numbers to refer to myself, this doesn't sound totally illogical. Although when the banks ran out of money, taxpayers bailed them out. Why is the idea of keeping a promise to these hired teachers (meaning paying them) so ridiculous? It feels like the news is filled with stories about increasing taxes for all sorts of reasons but THIS is where we draw the line?
Also, he keeps saying that the NYC public schools currently have a teacher student ratio of 12.5 to 1, which just totally throws me off. I mean, on paper, if you divide the number of children currently enrolled by the number of people employed as "teachers", that could totally be true. But then why did I always have 20 kids? And people from other schools looked at me enviously with their rosters of 25 and 30? I'm thinking that boyfriend really hasn't visited too many actual classrooms and is relying on some simple math which conveniently proves his point without reflecting the truth.
Methinks the numbers may work out they way that they do because they are counting the dead weight who don't actually work with children in meaningful ways but instead float around the building according to their mysterious and ever-changing schedule that no one has ever seen a copy of. No, I'm not talking about the out of the classroom teachers who are KILLING IT and showing up in a billion rooms everyday to support children in meaningful ways, I'm talking about the OTHER PEOPLE. Those that are not pulling their weight. Those people who make me think that this Hess guy isn't totally out of his gourd when he says firing teachers isn't always a bad idea.
In the end, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Hess says that so many other organizations have accepted cut backs and laid off people due to our current economic distress. And he's right, a lot of people have lost their jobs...people in my family and probably in yours too. BUT (and there's always a but with me, isn't there), those people weren't blamed for the downfall of their business, portrayed as lazy by the media and villainized by the general public. They were just quietly let go. Why is this guy acting like what is happening to teachers is the same thing?
At the end of the day, schools just aren't another business which have to suck it up in a bad economic climate. They are investments in our future and, in my little opinion, excellent teachers are one of the best investments we can possibly make right now. So let's just stop all the political grandstanding and actually make meaningful change.
* drops microphone to the ground and walks away*