Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Think Again, Ms. Tucker

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Cynthia Tucker's latest column (online here) which I first read in the Albany Times Union (7/29/14) is titled "Ineffective educators need to go". Brilliant.

Consider: Ineffective______________ need to go. I dare say you can pretty much fill in the blank with almost any profession and obtain a fairly accurate statement. For that matter, do not limit it to professions: fill it in with "toasters", "golf balls", "politicians", "garden hoses", "parents"...

The title of Ms. Tucker's column is probably meant to ignite the reader's passionate opinions, either for or against teachers. So be it. I agree with her title, but little else in her column.

One of her statements is:
It pains me to say this since I hail from a long line of educators, but schoolteachers have become a huge stumbling block to classroom reform.
She forgets to add the statement "Schoolteachers are some of the biggest proponents of classroom reform."

She also adds:
Good teachers deserve our whole-hearted support — higher salaries, better working conditions, more respect. But they ought to stop defending their weaker colleagues. Bad teachers need to be forced into another line of work.
A few items Ms. Tucker ought to recognize:

  1. Teachers are not the ones who hire and fire other teachers. Neither do teacher unions. That responsibility falls in the hands of administrators and school boards. 
  2. By state law (at least in NY) teacher salaries are the negotiated by unions with the districts.
  3. Nobody trusts anybody to be the judge of good teacher vs bad teacher.  Yet, someone would have to judge, if Ms. Tuckers utopia is to become a reality.
  4. No teacher gets tenure when hired. It is granted by school boards, generally upon recommendation by administrators.
Greensboro, NC newspaper "News & Record" had an article in its May 31, 2014 issue that included the statement 
Critics say teachers too often get tenure simply by continuing to show up for work and that bad teachers can be too expensive to fire.
Whose fault is that? Who gets the blame? That article, from the Associated Press, also talks about an ongoing North Carolina push to get teachers to waive their tenure rights in return for a pay raise. Imagine the general idea of giving up a right in exchange for cash!  

If the truth be told, spending all this time and energy addressing teachers, tenure, accountability and reform, is time spent addressing a symptom. If we want our schools to be more successful, we need a culture and society in which education is respected. A small start in that direction might be news media in this country taking a portion of their sports budget and instead reporting on successful students in the local schools. Imagine media slowly spreading the word about what academic success looks like and what it entails.

I am not saying that the world of teachers does not have room for improvement. What I am saying is that the end result will not be better if all we do is appease the gripes of those who blame it all on teachers, and it could, indeed, be much worse.

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