A Teacher’s Lament and Taking the Long View
I was reminded again about how national pundits and political reformers misjudge the dedication and competence of most teachers when I read the following remarks posted by Rebecca Wallo Rose, a veteran music teacher in a small city district in upstate New York:
Something that has bothered me for a long time now: When did we as teachers get so hated and second-guessed in our careers? I am in my 17th year of teaching. I have a Bachelors degree, 2 Master degrees, and I am constantly looking to learn new things to bring back to my classroom. I love what I do, and I am proud of the job I do every day. I start each year wanting to do the best by my students and to give them the life skills they need to be a contributing, productive member of society. From the State Education Department, to the Governor, to the press, I feel that teaching as a profession is always being attacked, and we rarely seem to be trusted to do the job that we are trained to do. Personally, I have 8 years of training for my job, not including the hours of workshops, staff development, and extra classes/courses I pay for myself. A dentist does not get judged by the number of cavities hir patients have. A doctor does not get judged by how many illnesses her patients contract. Yet I am measured by the students who DO NOT want to learn, even though I WANT to teach. I want to be trusted that I am doing the job that I am trained to do, I am doing that job well, and that we are appreciated -- not vilified.
In addition, I was reminded again abut how national pundits and political reformers misjudge the intelligence and intentions of most educational leaders when I read the remarks of James T. Langlois, President of the New York State Council of School Superintendents at the Fall Leadership Summit last month. In regard to his role as head of the Council, Dr. Langlois asked how he can best support school leadership. “Does it mean help you to thoughtfully implement the reform agenda … or does it mean defend you against ill-conceived directives from on high?” he asked the assembled school superintendents. “Does it mean lead you towards an embrace of challenging national standards, or does it mean support your defense of the historically effective role of local control of schools?”
That is the difficulty school people find themselves in. While wanting to embrace new ideas that will help them educate students, the job they are committed to, there are large parts of the reform agenda that many see as wrong headed, even damaging to education. In addition, school people are rankled by the notion that they have become scapegoats for everything that is wrong in our society.
Dr. Langlois responds this way to those concerns:
…we must never lose sight of one of the most important bedrocks of public education – the brilliams\t, mysterious and unquenchable radiance that illuminates each successful encounter between a student and a teacher. It can’t be quantified or measured or tested. But it is the beacon that draws us forward. It is the true source of excellence.
And, says Dr. Lanlois, there is comfort in the long view:
... the current battles are simply the next chapter in the profoundly important work that becomes the American history of education, a history that will continue to be written long after you and I – and the Race to the Top and the Annual Professional Performance Review – have been patted on the head for the last time and been let out to pasture … and the next round of battles – on entirely different topics – has been engaged.
Take heart, Ms. Rose. The vilification of teachers and other school people will eventually pass, and perhaps politicians and reformers will focus on solutions to the real problems that plague city schools. At any rate, I’m holding that thought.