Does "differentiating" teacher pay (beyond the usual salary schedule) result in Better Teaching and More Learning? Can we use financial incentives to build the teacher force every school leader dreams of: bright stars relentlessly pursuing the all-important data, working 60 hours a week, cheerfully compliant?


Haven't we had enough blue-ribbon commissions, slick data-rich presentations and spurious happy talk about soaring scores and college enrollments?


Here's the thing: you can be a superb, meticulous, demanding music teacher without being a hostile jerk. You can also be a driven, determined, even obsessed music student, bent on creative brilliance and perfection, without being inhuman or ruthless. In a movie supposedly about "what it takes" to achieve true excellence in performance, we never saw Fletcher teach, or drummer Miles Teller's ambitious character, Nieman, learn anything about music via guidance, example or instruction. Everything that was accomplished happened via psychological manipulation: Terror. Lies. Tricks. Bodily abuse. Even, God help us, suicide.


So how do we--realistically, and for the right reasons--push citizens to pursue higher education? We might begin by asking why college, college, college is the go-to goal. I'm all for a more educated citizenry and workforce. But I'm not sure we get that by putting hip twenty-somethings with a shiny new degree into high schools, where their job involves talking kids into applying for four-year colleges, especially as costs are rising faster than uncontrolled floodwaters.


Rude behavior is so deeply embedded, even rewarded, in American culture--just turn on cable TV--that making assumptions about who knows how to behave, and who doesn't, is pointless. I like a nice, dignified graduation ceremony as much as anybody. But the way you get that is by teaching appropriate, respectful behavior for more formal events, beginning in kindergarten. Not with threats and recriminations, and certainly not by pressing charges.


Recently, nearly every story about improving teacher evaluation begins with the Bad Old Days, where substandard teachers slipped through the cracks, due to thoroughly inadequate attention to and assessment of their work. If you believe these op-eds, teachers' core work was essentially carried out without scrutiny. Until--drumroll--new and rigorous evaluation protocols, always including lots of student testing data, turned everything around. Evaluations! The cure for both listless teaching and anemic test scores!


Guest blogger Steven Singer writes about an experience failing as a teacher, and wondering what he could have done different.


Maybe it's inevitable. Maybe some things--the Common Core, annual testing, charter proliferation, test-based teacher evaluation--are the new normal. Do I wish my own state had passed strong standards for establishing charter schools, twenty years ago? Absolutely. Would it have prevented the charter school corruption and fraud in my state? Who knows?


When I say "movement" to save public education, what I mean is this: People, like me, who have no particular resources or organizational funding/backing, who got on a plane to be in a room with those like-minded compadres--because they're terrified that America might lose public education. People who think it's not too late. People willing to stake their professional energy on doing right by all kids, keeping democratic equality as critical and central goal of the education system.


If your district has a genuine professional collaboration model--different work, but same level of respect and influence for teachers and school leaders--that's admirable. So--are you working together to advocate for change? Or merely going through the motions of Schooling 2015? Why aren't teachers, parents and school leaders everywhere joining forces to put a stop to the worst of it--the selling off of public resources to for-profit CMOs, teacher evaluation by test data, and loss of local control over core work: curriculum, instruction, assessment?


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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