Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Teacher, Teacher, Burning Bright ... 3
So ... a judge in California recently ruled that his state's teacher tenure law was unconstitutional--and cited, among numerous other things, the many "grossly ineffective teachers" in his state--tenured teachers, who, he argued, were difficult--and expensive--to dismiss. In effect, he's saying: Tenure protects some bad teachers, so let's don't protect any of them--gifted ones included.
I'm going to post later about the tenure issue itself, but I want to write a bit today about "grossly ineffective teachers"--and about what we can do to attract into the profession more bright, creative, and compassionate young people.
How is it that "grossly ineffective teachers" find employment in the first place? Well, let's be realistic: A lot of school systems are not exactly ideal, are they? The physical plants are in horrible shape; there is no money for books and supplies; many students live in homes whose adults don't exactly value education. One of my "favorite" moments in my career: I was explaining to a class of middle-schoolers about some of the books we would read during the year when one young man said, "My dad said I don't have to read no books." Later, I called the father and discovered the son was quoting him accurately.
Anyway, most school districts are not Hogwarts (which, as you may recall, had some "grossly ineffective" teachers, as well!). And although every school system has among its employees a varying number of folks who are absolutely devoted to the kids and the curriculum, I will note the obvious: It's less likely that a bright, creative, and compassionate young person will elect to begin his/her career in a place that offers little but frustration. It's more likely, isn't it, that he/she will look for a place that seems safe and supportive, a place that pays (relatively) well, that offers budgets for supplies, for class trips, for A-V equipment and computers and whatever, a place whose faculty includes skilled veteran teachers from whom to learn the arts and sciences of pedagogy.
So: Many school districts, sorting through job applications, are not exactly overwhelmed with excellence--actual or potential. In this bizarre world--a world in which we tie much of school funding to local property values and the willingness/ability of residents to tax themselves--the poor (rural and urban) have a far harder time attracting excellent teachers, creating excellent schools.
When I began teaching in the fall of 1966, I had five classes of seventh graders--40 in a class. Two hundred students a day. I was too young and dumb to know that this was outrageous. Two hundred kids! When I assigned a written composition, I was condemning myself to impossible hours of correction. Even if I spent only five minutes per piece (something I never managed to do--but let's just say five minutes), that meant 1000 minutes of grading = nearly seventeen solid hours of work.
Zoom ahead more than forty years. Teaching at Western Reserve Academy, I had three classes of about a dozen kids each. Hmmmm ...
So--all things being equal--where would you prefer to teach if you were young, bright, creative, compassionate? Some of you--idealistic and humanitarian--would no doubt prefer the challenges of a rural or urban school that presents myriads of challenges (and students). But--just a guess now--more of you would prefer to have fewer students, fewer classes, lots of financial support, fine facilities ... ?
NEXT TIME: Some other things that dissuade some of our Best and Brightest from considering a teaching career. And why is that some teachers are "grossly ineffective"?