Sunday, September 04, 2011

In Honor of Teachers

Here's Randi (oops, I mean Charles Blow) with an op ed in today's NYT with all the union's woe-is-us talking points:

The report highlights two example of this diminished status:

• "According to a 2005 National Education Association report, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years teaching; they cite poor working conditions and low pay as the chief reason."

• "High school teachers in the U.S. work longer hours (approximately 50 hours, according to the N.E.A.), and yet the U.S. devotes a far lower proportion than the average O.E.C.D. country does to teacher salaries."

Take Wisconsin, for instance, where a new law stripped teachers of collective bargaining rights and forced them to pay more for benefits. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, "about twice as many public schoolteachers decided to hang it up in the first half of this year as in each of the past two full years."

I'm not saying that we shouldn't seek to reform our education system. We should, and we must. Nor am I saying that all teachers are great teachers. They aren't. But let's be honest: No profession is full of peak performers. At least this one is infused with nobility.

And we as parents, and as a society at large, must also acknowledge our shortcomings and the enormous hurdles that teachers must often clear to reach a child. Teachers may be the biggest in-school factor, but there are many out-of-school factors that weigh heavily on performance, like growing child poverty, hunger, homelessness, home and neighborhood instability, adult role-modeling and parental pressure and expectations.

Ironically, after writing all of this, he then tells a wonderful personal story similar to Michael Oher's about how he was a typical black boy in the system, a victim of lousy teachers, low expectations, etc., until an amazing teacher turned his life around:

I couldn't remember a teacher ever smiling with approval, or putting their hand around me, or praising my performance in any way.

It was the first time that I felt a teacher cared about me, saw me or believed in me. It lit a fire in me. I never got a bad grade again. I figured that Mrs. Thomas would always be able to see me if I always shined. I always wanted to make her as proud of me as she seemed to be that day. And, she always was.

In high school, the district sent a man to test our I.Q.'s. Turns out that not only was I not slow, but mine and another boy's I.Q. were high enough that they created a gifted-and-talented class just for the two of us with our own teacher who came to our school once a week. I went on to graduate as the valedictorian of my class.

And all of that was because of Mrs. Thomas, the firecracker of a teacher who first saw me and smiled with the smile that warmed me on the inside.

So to all of the Mrs. Thomases out there, all the teachers struggling to reach lost children like I was once, I just want to say thank you. You deserve our admiration, not our contempt.

By the way, other than a few idiotic talking heads on Fox "News", who views teachers with "contempt"???  In fact, Blow contradicts this at the beginning of the article when he writes:

A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released this week found that 76 percent of Americans believed that high-achieving high school students should later be recruited to become teachers, and 67 percent of respondents said that they would like to have a child of their own take up teaching in the public schools as a career.

My friend Doug Newman sent Blow a good response:

Charles, heartwarming story but you missed it on several key points, here's just a few.

1. You completely ignored the teachers union that lobbies (fight to the death rather) for adult entitlements that run diametrically opposed to what kids need.

2. Why is it that high performing charters can get it done when they are dealing with the exact factors you cite \"that weigh heavily on performance, like growing child poverty, hunger, homelessness, home and neighborhood instability, adult role-modeling and parental pressure and expectations\".

3. Ironically Sam Dillon's op-ed also published today, A School District Mimics Charters, Hoping Success Will Follow, gets it right. I suggest you and your readers read this.

4. Politics don't belong in education but sadly that is what rules the day. Public Charter Schools govern differently, fee of the typical school board political appointees and political decision-making that follow.

5. If a teacher today hugs a kid like Mrs. Thomas did to you, they risk being subject to a law-suit by today's parents.

Doug Newman

Guilford, CT


September 2, 2011

In Honor of Teachers


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