A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

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maestrob
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A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

Post by maestrob » Mon May 23, 2022 11:46 am

May 23, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET
By Margaret Renkl

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

NASHVILLE — My grandmother was still a teenager when she started her teaching career. She went to college for a year and then taught for a year to save money for tuition. After another year of college and another year of teaching, she married my grandfather. The wedding, everyone assumed, marked the end of her career. She was 21 years old.

Down here we call someone like my grandmother a natural-born teacher. She loved her job. The family desperately needed her income, too, but the country was in a Great Depression by then, and there weren’t enough jobs to go around. Women in her Lower Alabama school district — as in many others around the country — weren’t allowed to work for pay once they married.

As discriminatory policies so often do, this one backfired. There weren’t enough licensed teachers to staff the schools, especially in deeply rural areas. From time to time, the superintendent would beg my grandmother to come back and finish out the school year for a teacher who was leaving, and my grandmother always did. When her youngest child was old enough for school, she was offered a permanent job teaching in the two-room schoolhouse in her tiny farming community. Years later, she went back to college to finish her four-year degree. She finally retired from teaching in 1970, more than 40 years after she taught her first class.

My grandmother loved to talk about her teaching days, and perhaps that’s why four of her five grandchildren became teachers or college professors, too — and why three of them are still in the classroom. I once asked my mother why she’d never considered teaching. “I watched my mother grading papers every night, and I listened to people gripe when their children didn’t get good grades,” she said. “Do you really think I’d do that to myself?”

This is a question that teachers themselves are asking now. “I’m too tired to keep fighting,” one longtime teacher told me recently. Her last day in the classroom is this week.

It’s not just the lesson plans or the relentless grading that trouble her, and it’s not just the parents with unrealistic expectations. It’s not the crowded classes or the endless paperwork or the meager salary, which in this real estate market means that many teachers can’t afford to buy a home in the communities where they teach. It’s not the wrenching family poverty that teachers have no power to alleviate but are nevertheless expected to help children overcome on standardized tests. It’s not even the active shooter drills.

These are the struggles that have been wearing teachers out for years, sometimes decades, but what’s wearing them out now is even more insidious. Teachers have become prisoners in the raging culture war.

State and local politicians pass laws and issue policies that stipulate which concepts teachers absolutely must teach and which they absolutely must not, which storybooks their students absolutely must read and which they absolutely must not. Administrators are in and out of the classroom, making sure that lessons are being covered exactly as prescribed. And this kind of scrutiny is stripping all creativity and innovation from the profession.

Worse is the unprecedented scrutiny now directed at teachers by parents, political groups, even legislators. Virtually all the people ostentatiously monitoring teachers are people who have no training in education and no experience in a public-school classroom. The unspoken belief underlying such ideological policing is that teachers can’t be trusted, that teachers don’t deserve to be regarded as the skilled professionals they are. In many ways, today’s culture war treats teachers — and, increasingly, school librarians — as the enemy.

Consider the veteran educator in East Tennessee, fired for teaching his students about white privilege in a class called Contemporary Issues, a course he had taught for nearly a decade without a word of complaint from parents. Consider the assistant principal in Mississippi, fired for reading “I Need a New Butt!” a funny children’s book, to second graders. Consider the country music star who testified before the Tennessee General Assembly that educators today are predators, akin to “a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out.” Consider the candidate in the Georgia governor’s race who said in a debate, “We’re going to get rid of kindergarten teachers — men with beards and lipstick and high heels — teaching our children. We’re going to get back to being moral in Georgia.”

These stories from the red states make a recent bit of satire from The Onion — “Teacher Fired for Breaking State’s Critical Race Theory Laws After Telling Students She’s Black” — hard to distinguish from real life.

Maybe you’re thinking this is all hyperbole, a few isolated incidents in a country with more than three million teachers in public schools. It’s not. PEN America, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes and defends free speech, has documented the introduction of 185 educational gag orders — most related to race, gender, racism and American history — designed to control what may or may not be discussed in a classroom. Combined with the more than 1,500 book bans issued in the past 10 months alone, these bills “represent an orchestrated attempt to silence marginalized voices and restrict students’ freedom to learn,” according to a statement released last week by PEN.

Not all of these gag order bills have been signed into law, but they have had an unsettling effect on the teaching profession nonetheless. They put teachers on notice: Big Brother is watching you.

And all of this comes on top of the burnout exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, the epicenter of yet another culture war. The pandemic has led to mass teacher absences, contentious mask debates and chaotic “plans” for how to teach remotely. No wonder a poll by the National Education Association found in January that 55 percent of teachers in public schools are ready to leave the profession altogether.

Many won’t, of course. They need the paycheck. They need the health insurance. They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.

They may be teaching with whiteboards instead of chalk and computers instead of books, but in this sense, teaching has not changed since my grandmother’s day. Policymakers are still out of touch with actual schools, and natural-born teachers are still in love with learning, still in love with sharing the excitement of ideas. Most of all, natural-born teachers love kids. And we cannot afford to lose a single one of them.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/23/opin ... chers.html

Holden Fourth
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Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 5:47 am

Re: A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

Post by Holden Fourth » Mon May 23, 2022 4:38 pm

An interesting article and I am one of those who teach because they love it. Other ways that governments seek to constrain teachers is given a brief mention but is so true is
Worse is the unprecedented scrutiny now directed at teachers by parents, political groups, even legislators. Virtually all the people ostentatiously monitoring teachers are people who have no training in education and no experience in a public-school classroom. The unspoken belief underlying such ideological policing is that teachers can’t be trusted, that teachers don’t deserve to be regarded as the skilled professionals they are.
Governments (here in Australia at least) over the last four decades have tried to set up schemes where a teacher's performance is judged on an annual basis. Every single one of those schemes has failed for the obvious reason that you can't judge something that does not in the remotest way conform to a business model. How can you judge those skills that a teacher needs in their everyday work that rely on an inter-human interaction. Simple things like empathy for example. A teacher who can't put themselves in the shoes of their students is disengaged. And there you have it, the secret skill that all good teachers have - the ability to engage their students. How can you put a teachers ability to motivate, inspire, show understanding, demonstrate humanity, show passion for an idea, etc, on some sort of of continuum or give it a grade. Quite simply, you can't.

Yet politicians still try to find ways to 'control' teachers. Are they scared of them? Probably!

The current tactic (as briefly mentioned above) is to drown teachers in a veritable ocean of adminisitrivia. A mountain of paperwork that when examined does not improve the outcomes for students in one single way. 'Accountability' is the buzz word. Accountable to who and why?

The only shining light for education in the western world appears to be Finland. The first thing the Finns have done is pay teachers a wage that reflects the myriad of skills required to just stay ahead of the game. They are subliminally telling their educators "We trust you". Their teachers are required to be highly qualified (a minimum of a Masters in Education). Their curriculum takes into account that assessment can only give a faded snapshot of how any child is performing at one specific point in time. Assessment is used to analyse a students strengths and areas where they could improve. Students below the age of twelve are not graded in the Finnish system as the Finns understand the stigma that is attached to grades.

Their curriculum is very broadly prescribed and takes into account that younger children especially are curious creatures who want to go on journeys of exploration and that encouraging this curiosity is to eventually create citizens who have a wide and healthy range of interests and views. You can see how that approach would not go down well for many of our western governments - the last thing they want is a citizenry with the ability ask deep and meaningful questions.

It is this last point that I think sums up most governments approach to education. They want conformists, not thinkers. (We'll do the thinking for you) and by continually pushing teachers into being ever more conformist, this conformity filters down to their students. They see it as a way of creating a law abiding, complacent and cooperative public.

jserraglio
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Re: A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

Post by jserraglio » Tue May 24, 2022 4:47 am

Holden Fourth wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 4:38 pm
How can you judge those skills that a teacher needs in their everyday work that rely on an inter-human interaction. Simple things like empathy for example. A teacher who can't put themselves in the shoes of their students is disengaged. And there you have it, the secret skill that all good teachers have - the ability to engage their students. How can you put a teachers ability to motivate, inspire, show understanding, demonstrate humanity, show passion for an idea, etc, on some sort of of continuum or give it a grade. Quite simply, you can't.

Yet politicians still try to find ways to 'control' teachers.
Right on! Empathy is one of the intangibles, as it is for clergy, doctors and nurses.

Teachers somehow manage to retain their nobility despite the well-intentioned efforts of education’s adult ‘stakeholders’ to render them contemptible by destroying academic freedom.

It is axiomatic: Those who can’t teach, administrate. Those who can’t do either, end up running for a seat on their local school board.

Holden Fourth
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Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 5:47 am

Re: A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

Post by Holden Fourth » Tue May 24, 2022 3:50 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Tue May 24, 2022 4:47 am
Holden Fourth wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 4:38 pm
How can you judge those skills that a teacher needs in their everyday work that rely on an inter-human interaction. Simple things like empathy for example. A teacher who can't put themselves in the shoes of their students is disengaged. And there you have it, the secret skill that all good teachers have - the ability to engage their students. How can you put a teachers ability to motivate, inspire, show understanding, demonstrate humanity, show passion for an idea, etc, on some sort of of continuum or give it a grade. Quite simply, you can't.

Yet politicians still try to find ways to 'control' teachers.
Right on! Empathy is one of the intangibles, as it is for clergy, doctors and nurses.

Teachers somehow manage to retain their nobility despite the well-intentioned efforts of education’s adult ‘stakeholders’ to render them contemptible by destroying academic freedom.

It is axiomatic: Those who can’t teach, administrate. Those who can’t do either, end up running for a seat on their local school board.
Love it!


PTAs also have the same problem - parents with an agenda that only takes into consideration their own child.

Rach3
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Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: A Thank-You Note to Teachers After a Year Under Attack

Post by Rach3 » Tue May 24, 2022 5:07 pm

A teacher and 14 children were murdered at a school in Texas today by an 18 year old gunman. RIP.

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