Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Bond of Teachers

[An editorial note:  I am embarrassed to say that there were a number of misspellings, incorrect sentence structure, and a number of other writing errors in my previous blog.  I just found them today.  Please accept my apologies for poor work.]

And I am embarrassed on another front--big time head bowing shame.  I attended a forum put on by my old College of Education and the Journal of Educational Controversy Blog, a blog that I admire quite a bit.  The subject of the forum was the role of Teacher Unions in Education.

The first speaker was from the Washington Policy Center in Seattle, a think tank which favors conservative thought. Their representative was given the first opportunity to speak.  She used a PowerPoint presentation and spoke for about twenty to twenty-five minutes.  It was about how we need to improve our schools and that the teacher unions are standing in the way.  A major point was to be able to fire those teachers who are underperforming.  They also want to hire people to teach who have not been certified in teaching...they call it opening the teacher pool.

My major embarrassment comes from the fact that I walked out after her presentation because I was so incensed that I had just listened to another person who has not taught in a classroom for any length of time telling me how to run our schools.  I didn't wait to hear from the president of the Washington Education Association or from the American Federation of Labor speakers.  

Boorish behavior on my part and certainly not academic in any way.  John Dewey would have been upset with me for not listening to all sides.

A major problem for me in the past year or two on the evaluation of our school system by many pundits, writers and organizations is the fact that no one has defined for me what is an operational definition of a "poor" or "ineffective" teacher.  If they do make some attempt to define those terms it is almost always with regards to testing.  If students do not make progress on a test, then it is the teacher's fault.  As you readers well know, this bothers me to a great degree.  

I was in my first year of teaching fifth grade in a suburban school when I began to hear from one of the first grade teachers that her class was a "handful."  As we gathered in the teachers' room for lunch or at recess, someone would ask Anne, "How's your class this morning?"  And Anne would relate some incident in which the class went off on its own behavior, not that which Anne wanted them to do.  It became "THE CLASS."  And yet, Anne said from time to time, there was not a bad student among the kids.  Collectively they just couldn't work together.  

Although the principal said after that first year that he would "break" up the class for second grade, it appears that somehow some of those kids became the nucleus for the "the second grade class."  Let me say that our primary teachers were all excellent, experienced and knowledgeable teachers.  I forgot who got "the" class but we talked about it from time to time in the teachers' room.  I remember that the primary teachers would put their heads together and try different approaches to the class but it seemed to run on its own schedule.  They learned the material but it was like pulling teeth. Hard work.

I left the school to do graduate work before that group of students reached the fourth grade.  Some of my elementary colleagues teased me that I was a chicken and couldn't face getting that class.  Perhaps a bit of that was true....I really don't know.  But what I do understand is that there are times when a group of students come together and they are a handful for their teacher.  I wish I was a better sociologist and knew how to observe and analyze these groups.

I've been in many teacher rooms over the years and every once in a while I hear the teachers talking about "that" group of kids.  And when I enquire as to what the problem might be, the general answer is...."we just have a group of kids that are a handful."  

I've never had to work in a school where there were gangs or disrupting students.  I wonder how that works?  What do the teachers do?  

This morning I listened to Diane Ravitch on the Jon Stewart;s television show.  As an aside I am amazed at myself how I have gone from a critic of Dr. Ravitch to an outright fan of hers.  I suspect it shows the power of looking at your data and changing your mind.  She mentioned that the Scandinavian countries have strong teacher unions and consistently outdo the American schools.  They weed out those who might not be a good teacher before they become teachers.  You can find that video on  

Thanks to all those teachers in our public schools who are continuing to teach their students while reading and listening to all the criticism of them.  It must be difficult to forge on.  And I also wonder where we will get teachers in the future.

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