Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 3

12 May

So far I’ve talked about teacher salaries and student motivation. Getting back to the perception of teaching as a profession, I want to mention a May 10, 2011, New York Times article headlined: “New to teaching, idealistic, at risk for layoff.”

The article noted that NYC’s budget cuts will lead to the dismissal of teachers with the least tenure — a lot of them. So the city will be retaining those teachers who practically do it in their sleep and losing some of the best/brightest/youngest — those three adjectives often go together in describing new teachers.

And it’s a shame. Likely, some teachers who might have been frustrated short-timers anyway will be let go. But many teachers, like the middle school teacher from Teach for America interviewed for the article, are just getting their groove on.

Should education reformers continue trying new ways to evaluate and then retain or fire teachers other than pure tenure? Yes, with caution. Just as public schools are filled with a lot of deadwood faculty, there are arguments that it’s not fair to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores or other new means. I’ll be interested to hear how my former colleagues like their district’s new evaluation system.

Like the good newspaper it is, the Times left the best quote for the clincher, at the end of the story:

“As news of the impending layoffs began to sink in, Ms. Sherwood found herself thinking back to her college graduation, when some of her relatives told her she was too smart to become a teacher, as opposed to, say, a doctor or an engineer.

“ ‘ Didn’t they all need teachers,’ she noted, ‘to learn what they needed to do their jobs?’ ”
And here’s where we get to many misguided perceptions of teachers, including the ugly “they can’t do …, so they teach.” I admit there were many times when I felt overqualified for my job, but it wasn’t necessarily because I felt “too smart.” It was because of the paper shuffling, tedious grading, classroom cleaning and other grievances. Smart? Yeah, I had better be smart to keep up with kids’ ingenuity and energy. I can remember leading discussions on literature during which star students had much more profound things to say about Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, etc., than I did. And smart, yeah, if I wanted to continually do my best to come up with engaging lessons.

Comments from outsiders like the one in the NYT article really rankle me.

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