Tag: teacher responsibility

Our Miss Brooks

After the War, teacher self advocacy remained muted but other sectors of the culture ramped up to alter public education as the primary tool for building a modern society, and with it, the public’s perception of what it meant to be a teacher.

 

high-school

The movie movement began in earnest to influence the perception of public education. In 1955 Hollywood chose to highlight violence in “The Blackboard Jungle”. Rather than providing an impetus to problem solving, it became a rationale for criticism and downgrading of public education’s image. On Broadway Continue reading “Our Miss Brooks”

TOP TEN SLANDERS OF TEACHERS

frog

The public has been encouraged to target practice on teachers and education in general because it is free of any accountability for accuracy or verification.

The ease with which I can find negative images for teaching in free graphics is one proof.

Here are the top ten slanders I hear from my point of view that demoralize teachers:

  1. They don’t teach what they need to.” Or “Teachers don’t take time to make the class interesting.”

This charge is leveled whenever there is any societal ill or agenda that patrons believe is not being addressed. This is a favorite no-win Continue reading “TOP TEN SLANDERS OF TEACHERS”

The 1930s

We see today the same resistance to women teachers’ authority and autonomy. This is the history of education in America. One surprise in the 1930s  was Hitler’s view of homeschooling.

50s school

Like today, those who went into the “profession” rapidly discovered the contradiction Continue reading “The 1930s”

A Teacher’s Anonymous Meeting

Welcome to the Friday night meeting of Teachers Anonymous

Hi, I’m Kathy. Welcome to the Saturday morning meeting of TA. Let’s open with the Prayer for Patience. “God, give me patience, but give it to me now!” Harry, will you read the Preamble please?

Harry: “Teachers Anonymous is an organization of teachers who share their experience, weakness and despair with other teachers in order to support one another and save our sanity. TA makes no claim as to expertise, excellence, or exceptionality. TA does not affiliate with any professional educational organization or support any educational trend of movement. Discussion of what is best for the student, lesson plans, or educational techniques are not allowed during the meeting.”

Kathy: Thank you, Harry. We’ll now have introductions.

Lois: Well, I’ve had a relatively good week. I was able to surrender the idea of being all things to all people. A parent came up to harangue me about her son’s failure to do any work, but I was able to realize it was her problem and stop apologizing or attempting to soothe her in her desire to escape facing the kind of person her child is becoming..

All: Thanks, Lois.

Grover: Well, I’ve struggled this week. The principal is still after me to take all the responsibility for student behavior in the halls, but I was able to sort out in my mind administrative responsibility from teacher responsibility. Now I’ve got to get the courage to act on it. He tried the old ruse that if my lessons were interesting…no, entertaining enough, the students would just want to be in my class. “You can’t make the horse drink water but you can feed it salt,” is one of his favorite brow beaters.

All: Thanks, Grover.

Vivion: My week was really emotionally disturbing. I’m still being expected to show a month’s test score gains for one month of instruction and my kids cannot focus on the printed page for over five minutes. I’ve got to release my anxieties. The doctor said he cannot prescribe any more medicine in good conscience.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mike: I’ve had a good week. Since last week’s meeting, I stopped trying to get all my emotional needs for a sense of accomplishment from teaching. I realize now I can’t be Super Teacher. The kids must take some responsibility. If the administration, parents, business community, government and general culture can’t reinforce what I’m doing, it’s not reasonable for me to flagellate myself, one person, any more for the entire school’s failures.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mary: Yes, I’ve learned it’s not my job to spoon-feed anymore. I used to apologize for everything, feel responsible for everyone and others were more than willing to dump on me. I thought being a good teacher meant people-pleasing, blame-taking for all. I started to see that teacher infighting and disunity was the result of a sort of oppression we’ve suffered all these years. Divide and conquer through guilt trips, intimidation, and supply rationing has been the strategy. Snitches have been rewarded. They talk about wanting creativity, but you really get into trouble when you want to go the extra mile. I know now I’m not a bad teacher because I want decent pay and don’t get turned on by the light in a kid’s eye when I can’t live above a lower-class standard of living, even though I have a college degree and 30 years of experience. There’s got to be a larger reason why there’s so much lip service for better pay but it never quite keeps pace for the last 50 years.

All: Thanks, Mary.

Kathy: Well, we’ve had quite a meeting. We’ll turn now to our daily meditation for the following week:

“I am a professional person, not a child. The world is not my parent. I am not responsible for the sins of the culture.”

Let’s join hands as we close. Peace be with you all. See you next week.

 

Shooting Our Feet

Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher, recently had an excerpt from her new book “The Gift of Failure” published in The Atlantic. She points out that the relentless pressure to achieve has devastated the love for learning that students begin with. This pressure comes from parents, teachers, and society at large.  I appreciate her honesty and am glad she has had the opportunity to be heard.

However she does what too many of us do – she includes herself in the blame. This would be authentic if teachers had not increasingly lost professional autonomy since the 1980s. Schools by definition are always swinging between contradictory mandates that vie with each other at different times, but which leave teachers swinging like a pinata. One end, the more predominant one, says schools must prepare students for life (economic) success and social adjustment. On the other end is the need to uphold the myth that society wants to support individual freedom to pursue one’s own talents and interest. Even teacher unions have not advocated enough for teacher autonomy and power but have lost leverage, along with other unions, to corporate and political forces. A compelling explanation of this development is Michael Apple’s “Teachers and Texts.” (You can read a review of this work at Levin, H. M.. (1988). [Review of Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy of Class and Gender Relations in Education]. American Journal of Education, 96(4), 560–562. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085226)2015-01-02 13.49.57-1

The unrealistic expectation of teachers, which I call the “Scapegoat Syndrome”, is that, in spite of all pressures, teachers will somehow rise heroically above conflicting expectations and “save” our precious children from the effects of society at the same time they prepare them to meet them. It is an ongoing outgrowth of the idea our culture holds dear: that whatever social or economic ill we  have can be laid at the classroom door for solving. Of course this is impossible. We go, then, from the Messiah view of teaching to blaming them for failing us. Historically, the role of women, society’s scapegoat.

Nursing, another traditionally female profession, has gained a greater measure of leverage because problems in service delivery are more quickly and visibly felt. Even they, however, are continuing to chafe under impossible demands. Educational fallout takes longer to realize and, unless you are in the profession, less visible. When the fallout begins, the cycle just repeats: it’s the teacher’s fault. Let’s increase the demands and legislate more.

Jessica points out that we have taught her student  “‘that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character.'” We have also taught her that it’s better to quit if success cannot be assured and to worship perfection.

From a woman’s experience, the first statement is different but the second is already too familiar to us. I was raised to believe my intellect made a difference and made me equal. However this has not changed as much as we would like. We still see the ceiling operating. But character? That has been the job of women forever. It’s up to make everyone good. Perfection,  on the other hand, has been our operating principle for a long time. As scapegoats, it is our first tool, a futile but persistent attempt to escape being blamed.

Because education is beholden to public support which has been systematically eroded for greed, teachers must find alternative ways to take professional autonomy back. Some have used the charter school option, but running a school is not the same as teaching. I’d love to hear success stories. But I know the first step is to stop being willing to again take responsibility without authority. Otherwise, we will just keep obeying the order to make bricks without straw, after we wrap our feet.