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Teachers Gone Wild

The headline says it all: "Should I Care if My Child's Teacher Once Worked as a Stripper?"

The actual case involves a 20-year veteran teacher who is being dismissed. Her district says it's about poor performance, but a draft of the charges against her includes the fact that she briefly worked as a stripper, when she and her husband were facing bankruptcy.

Do parents have the right to know the grubby secrets that lurk in a teacher's past--or present?

As Dave Murray, the reporter, asks:

"Should I be able to ask about marital status or gender preference, if that was the type of thing that concerned me? Can I ask about the kinds of things the teacher did when they were, as President Bush famously said, 'young and irresponsible?'"

Well. If the only people deemed fit to teach had spotless personal and academic records, I seriously doubt if such a policy would yield better teachers. Sometimes, it's valuable for a teacher to have experienced struggles with learning, menial jobs and setbacks in life.

The straight-A student who was encouraged daily to excel in school by her two loving parents doesn't necessarily make a great educator. I've had a couple of interns like that--shocked to discover that many kids (and parents) don't care much at all about homework, grades or pleasing Teacher.

Good teachers come in all flavors: gay/straight, devout/non-believing, old/young, single/married/divorced, liberal/conservative--and so on. Good teaching isn't about the face you present to the public. It's about commitment to your students, knowing your content and how to teach it, deftly managing the complexities of instruction and assessment, developing the art of self-critique and self-growth--and being a genuine partner to parents and colleagues. It's also about being able to roll with the punches. Daily.

One thing that struck me in reading this story was the fact that the woman had been teaching (presumably competently) for 20 years. In spite of claims that lousy teachers seldom lose their jobs, there's plenty of evidence that it's not all that difficult to boot a stinker in the first year or two, given some documentation and administrative backbone. In this case, perhaps someone at Central Office finally confirmed the rumors that Mrs. X once worked as an exotic dancer, and decided to use a more socially palatable reason for dismissing her.

The truth does matter. We need to keep our eyes on the prize here: good teaching.

A State Teacher of the Year once told me this story:

He was a terrible student in high school, repairing frequently to the parking lot to get stoned. He went directly to Viet Nam after high school, and wasted a large chunk of his life after that, riding his motorcycle and working a series of dead-end jobs. He kept thinking, however, about a certain teacher, who had suggested he had a flair for writing and should, perhaps, consider teaching. He started at community college, and worked his way through a university degree in education. Teaching became more than a job for him. It was a fulfilling passion.

When he was named Teacher of the Year, he decided to look up the teacher--long since retired--who planted the seed. He found her in a senior living complex. She was sharp as a tack, and delighted to hear his story. But she didn't remember him. She remembered the names of other students in his high school class--but had zero recollection of him.

I love this story, because it's about redemption and possibility. You never know how students will turn out. You never fully understand what it means to walk in someone's shoes.

Hat tip to Mr. Rogers for the link.

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