The Conservative Slant on Teachers

Question: What does one do when a politically conservative friend makes a big to-do about relaying a current news segment about SF teachers taking on average 11 days off and most of them on Fridays before long weekends? For the sake of being condescending and holier-than-thou?

Answer: Nothing! The best thing to do when someone is riling you up, either intentionally or otherwise, is to let it roll off your back and staying cool as a cucumber. I even acknowledged it. Yep, teachers do that, taking days off, and so does everyone else in any other profession. They do that because they are human, not because they are teachers.

“Well, I don’t do that. I’ve never taken a day off like that before.” She replied.

I told her she just must be better than anyone else on the face of the planet. And then she fell silent. At least she has the decency to realize she is also human, and thus flawed in her own way.

(Note: Quote from the SF Gate article linked “About seven of those days were for sick or personal leave, and the rest were training days offered or required by the district.” AS IF teachers don’t get sick. AS IF teachers don’t have lives outside of school. AS IF we were the ones who decided that being required to be in two places at once was a grand idea!)

This friend has been annoying about stuff like this from the first day I met her. She thinks teachers are over paid and underworked, what with our summers off and all bank holidays, and winter break and spring break. She is a prime example of the people who think teachers are a drain on the system. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for me to run across someone like this – so long that I was beginning to think this type of opinion was an urban legend. Every single person in my circle of acquaintances, family, friends, and old classmates and colleagues, all think fairly highly of the teaching profession, teachers, and public education…..minus this one.

Yet, that opinion has an inkling of truth. And if I were truthful with myself about it – more than an inkling of truth. There are the teachers who are fantastic in every way, on every committee, helping out with every school event, pulling the late nights to plan and grade in such a way that gives students valuable feedback and lessons. These are the teachers who not only never stop learning, but even more importantly, never stop pushing themselves to be better than they were yesterday at this science and an art that is called teaching.

And then there are the teachers that are not so fantastic. There’s this hilarious story that the 15+ year teachers at my school tells with great gusto about this one former teacher (who was 15+ years when my story-teller colleagues were 5-years-and-under) who hit and killed a deer on his way down the school hill before the bell rang to signal the end of class. I laugh out loud every time this story gets aired, but afterwards my heart breaks a little for the students, for our school, and for those teachers. These teachers who can’t wait for the last bell to ring, who dread coming to school in the morning so much that they are late. Who believe they are the exception to the school rules, rather than an example of it. These teachers who do the bare minimum – and really, the bare minimum requirements for a teacher are not all that strenuous. It’s harder to get your credential than to maintain it.

Still, I don’t like the blame the conservative slant puts on teachers. Blame doesn’t solve anything, and firing all the teachers certainly won’t either. I really think we should focus on these questions when it comes to people who don’t belong in the classroom:

A) Why did we hire poorly qualified people in the first place? What were the circumstances surrounding that? (Hint: It partly has to do with 90s education legislation about classroom size reduction in a much, much too quick manner – and as with all educational policy since then, schools get penalized for not following the guidelines set forth by lawmakers who probably spent all of 15 minutes in a classroom on a tour of their constituents once during their campaign).

B) If they were good at their jobs to begin with, how and why did they get so bad? (Hint: Morale. Low pay increases correlated to ever increasing demands. Jaded feelings over policy, bad district moves, etc)

C) How do we get these bad teachers back up to par? What are we doing to support teachers professionally throughout their lifetimes? What kind of time and motivation do we give people to plan and observe good lessons, and to reflect on their own teaching or to receive quality, constructive feedback on their teaching? (Hint: Basically, nothing. Zip. Zero.)

Let’s stop the blame (that goes for both the conservative opinions and the almighty teacher’s union as well!). Let’s solve this problem, if only one microscopic step at a time.


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