The Real Mr. Fitz: Let's Vilify Teachers!                                                  

Let's Vilify Teachers!

A while back I posted a letter in the Orlando Sentinel in response to a story about teachers taking more Mondays and Fridays off than other days. In reply some retired businessman who viewed himself as the epitome of the Puritan work ethic slammed me for the things I said. This week my wife wrote a My Word comparing the problems of public schools to the education problems at Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series.

The first reply she got online was negative, all in favor of the testing, and implying that teachers don't like accountability. I wrote a reply (although my wife assured me that I did not need to defend her honor) about why teachers don't like the over-emphasis on testing. The first "replier" wrote back to say, "Sounds like the problem isn't the test, it's the teachers." This is as if to say, I guess, that I am a problem teacher. I mentioned that I get high scores, but I guess that isn't enough.

I replied, The only thing I can conclude after reading the other replies here is that there is nothing a public school teacher could do that would make them happy. We're not saying to get rid of the testing entirely-- just emphasize it less and realize its limitations and pitfalls. I understand, there's weak teachers out there. Yes, it should be easier to get rid of them. But that's no reason to vilify all of us. I don't think anyone is really listening to what teachers are saying, and the union doesn't always speak for all of us.

Is the only good teacher a private school or charter teacher? If you have qualms about the test obsession, does that make you a bad teacher? I don't think so.

I doubt I'll get a reply, but it seems that a lot of people have taken on this attitude: if you are public school teacher, you are part of the problem, especially if you have any kind of problem with the testing programs and "accountability" schemes. Here is the stereotype I'm getting, in broad strokes, from this kind of online comment-poster.

Public schools are failing because of teachers. Teachers are at fault. They are lazy, and they go into the profession in hopes of an easy, big paycheck and no accountability on the job. They don't really care about kids, they don't really care about learning, they don't really care about their subject areas. They just want to assign a few assignments, grade a few papers, get paid a bundle, and have job security and summers off. Teaching is easy, and bad teachers are untouchable. If there are any good teachers, they have fled to private schools or charter schools.

Public school teachers are uniformly bad, but if there were any, here's what they would look like: they would obey orders without question. They would drill students on test skills till they can pass those tests, even at the expense of their loving or even tolerating the subjects they teach. They would not think for themselves. They would not teach children to think for themselves, because you can't give away what you don't have.

I don't know exactly where these people are coming from, but that seems to be their attitude. I have a question. Do teachers have the power to evaluate other teachers? Do teachers have the power to fire other teachers, or even put them on notice that they are doing a bad job. If there are "bad" teachers in schools, it seems to me that it is the fault of the administrations that keep them there, not of the other teachers. It is not as difficult as it used to be to get rid of a teacher.

I really wish people would stop vilifying teachers and join in  real discussion about what good teaching is and what good teachers do. I wish they'd stop assuming that if we don't like testing we don't like to be held "accountable." I hold myself to a higher standard than any standardized test. But the teacher haters won't listen to any of that. No matter what we say, no matter what we do, we are the problem.