Because everybody has gone to school, knows a teacher, or has met them at parent teacher conferences, people think that they’re education experts. Many people think that they can play Monday morning quarterback; they can second guess the teaching profession. Wrong. Most discussions about school are based on false assumptions, based on incorrect or outdated ideas, are into teacher bashing, and scapegoating unions or misunderstanding the role of professionals.
One thing we need to do is to get to know teachers as human beings, folks just like us with the same needs, desires, expectations and ambitions. We need to understand that they’re people first; then highly skilled professionals second. We need to remember that we have changed our expectations for doctors and nurses. We have taken doctors off their pedestals and increased our admiration for the nursing profession. We need to do the same for teachers.
Some of the public’s assumptions are part of the problem. Schools, even the best, are too big. The curriculum is too narrow. In high school, more time and energy, effort and funding is devoted to the 100 (perhaps just 5% of the total school population) athletes than to the rest of the PE program. We spend the most money on the students who come to school the most prepared and the least amount on the students who need it the most and then demand similar results. We’ve tried to tweak the old factory model. Seating in circles instead of rows of desks, tables for group work, but basically the factory model persist—in a school of 200 or 2,000 we still routinely move everybody eight or nine times a day from one station to another. A teacher and his students can barely settle down and get started and it’s time to move again and then again.
The teaching profession has been so disparaged that nobody takes a teacher’s work seriously including her students. So while school remains the most important part of a teacher’s day it has become the least important part of her students’ day. From elementary school to graduate school the ubiquitous cell phone trumps the teacher. Facebook rules.
In the meantime, the bell just rang and the teacher is off. He tries to keep the big picture in mind—what the Finns are doing, what’s happening in Naperville, what’s going on down the hall, what will he make for dinner, and what about one of his favorite students who blew is knee out yesterday in the game; how is he, will he ever play again, will he ever walk normal again, will he dropout (he did.) shouldn’t someone have told him he wasn’t ready to play yet, that he still needed time for his injury to heal?
There’s the second bell; “So who can tell me where we left off yesterday and in the meantime here’s your graded and recorded homework while I’m passing back yesterday’s homework can you all pass in last night’s work. Thank you very much and again who is Gordon Parks?”
The assumption is that teachers don’t care; don’t give a fuck. Again, wrong. One teacher reads a story in the Sunday paper about the deplorable state of students’ vocabulary. The next day, “Starting today, class, we’re going to do a vocabulary unit every week until the end of the year.” I thought well plenty of students read the newspaper, after all it’s written at a sixth grade reading level. But they don’t read world news, the real news. Maybe they don’t know the specialized vocabulary. So I designed units with ten words a week. The fist week (the civil war in Lebanon was raging) the list was Beirut, Lebanon, the green line, the PLO, the Maronites, Syria, Israel and the Phalange. (Thirty years later the vocabulary is the same) It was a hard sell. Later a second teacher would read an article complaining that “Johnny Can’t Spell” Teachers took that to heart as well and they instituted spelling lessons. Then someone read that “Johnny Can’t Read.” So all the teachers not just language arts teachers incorporated reading units in their class work. Most teachers take every criticism seriously and try to respond.