Some of the most passionate, hard-working, and talented teachers I know are finding it very difficult to keep a positive perspective surrounding our profession. The ‘Waiting for Superman’ effect has amped-up what has become the popular sport of teacher bashing. Even U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan seems to have joined-in on the ‘fun’ this past week when he declared that teachers’ advanced degrees “aren’t worth it.”
John Van Hecke, Executive Director and Fellow for Minnesota 2020, a liberal think tank wrote this week about how conservatives are attacking teachers as part of their policy strategy aimed at dismantling teachers’ unions, whom many conservatives blame for the current state of education. While I agree that unions appear to have adopted a policy of ‘let’s hunker down and protect every job we can’, they are not responsible for every flaw and fault in current education policy. Unions are however responsible for protecting teachers who probably shouldn’t be protected and that fault belongs to all of us involved in education.
This week, Teacher Magazine posted an article titled Teachers Wonder: How Much More Can We Take? It is a selected collection of perspectives from teachers across the country who are considering retirement from the profession, but not because they are nearing retirement age. Their decision to leave teaching is more to do with the increasing challenges of the job coupled with the hostile and unsupportive culture where they’re expected to their job.
There is a part of me that really believes that the mounting tension and attention to all matters surrounding teaching and education in our country is essentially healthy. It is a chance to engage our citizenry in debate about what should be done to improve our schools and help our students learn. However, if this debate is to lead to productive policy changes for the future, all of the stakeholders need to be engaged and the politics from all sides need to stop because the real losers are students and to some degree the teaching profession itself.
One thing which researchers, parents, students, and politicians seem to agree on is that good teachers matter. With the baby-boomer bubble of teachers nearing retirement and fewer young people entering a profession where the environment is increasingly hostile, I’m fearful about what’s going to happen.
Michael Hartoonian (Scholar in Residence, Hamline University) may be right when he writes in his recent essay American Exceptionalism, that “we have lost our way,” and that “the charge of the professional educator and the citizen policy makers that guide them, is to be clear about first purpose.” Right now the policy debates surrounding education are murky and many of those engaged in the debate are more interested in political gain than they are about education’s ‘first purpose.’ If we continue down this path then I fear there will be increasingly difficult and unhappy days ahead.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Theodore Roosevelt titled The Man in the Arena; the message is that it is not the critic who matters – it is the people doing the work; those who are actually in the arena. Good teachers matter! The teaching profession matters! Instead of casting broad generalizations across the entire profession which are increasingly negative, why not become more involved in your school community and get close to the real work that is accomplished every day. ‘Waiting for Superman’…really? There are many, many great teachers who have devoted their careers to educating students – Supermen and women. Why not tell their story and engage the public debate from a positive perspective?