Education Reform: Teachers Seem Surprised.


Why Are Educators Surprised?Education is being attacked.

You can’t open a newspaper (do people still do this?), cruise the world wide web, or turn on the TV without hearing about a group who’s upset with educators (remember the good old days when only parents got mad… usually about too much homework or book bags that were too heavy).

Public education has become the face of everything that is wrong with America.

And why not.  We don’t have anyone else to blame.

Not overspending government.  Not undisciplined politicians.  Not dysfunctional families.

Our country is failing because of the school down the street.

You’ve seen it.

Busses pull up every morning.  Students go to class.  Teachers give homework.  Administrators have expectations.  School Boards do their best on a limited budget.

It’s a zoo.

It’s a wonder any of us allow our children inside these walls (this would be sarcasm… oh, you knew that already, didn’t you?).

People want public education to be the villain.

The good news is everything goes in a cycle.  Given enough time this attitude towards schools and educators will pass.

The question is, can public schools survive until we get our collective wits in order?

My guess is probably not.

Schools may not look vastly different in 10 years, but they will be.

The buildings will be the same.  Busses will transport students.  Athletic events will be played.  Teachers will give grades.  A principal will still roam the hallways and yell “Hurry up!!!” into the restrooms (very likely, junior high boys).

But mark my word, things are changing.

How can I be so sure?

Because politicians have decided to fix education (and why not… they’ve done such a great job at addressing all of our other problems…).

This means education will never be the same.

While this doesn’t surprise me, something else does.

Teachers seem stunned by the entire process.  It’s like they had no idea the general public (where politicians get their strength) had grown dismayed by public education.

This feeling has been growing and growing, but those of us closest to the situation seem to be the most surprised.

It’s like we felt education would stay the same for the next 500 years.

And this is the part of the story that shocks me.

As educators, I feel like we should be forward thinkers, but in this case we’re not.


7 Responses to “Education Reform: Teachers Seem Surprised.”

  1. Michelle Howell-Martin
    on Mar 16th, 2011
    @ 5:15 pm

    Not only are we the most surprised, but also the most angry.

  2. Marc
    on Mar 16th, 2011
    @ 5:21 pm

    I agree with you and commend you for this blog. I have been contemplating writing about this subject for a few months now but have been scared to write about it (because of my strong feelings on the subject). It really troubles me that education is being attacked like it is. We are not the villain nor are we the enemy but we are being treated as such. I hope we can whether this storm. I really do.

  3. Susan Riley
    on Mar 16th, 2011
    @ 6:43 pm

    I read a study once that found that the general public overwhelmingly thought that education in America was terrible and was in crisis. But when asked about their own neighborhood school, they stated that this was an exception to the crisis and that their own schools were, in fact, great communities of learning. We’re in trouble when we let the general public rule our policies…

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Susan Riley, I’m afraid you are right.

  4. P
    on Mar 17th, 2011
    @ 2:28 am

    Oh, I disagree.

    I grew up with a teacher for a mom. She’s retired now, after 36 years. She said to me often, “don’t be a teacher.” These were the days where an adult somewhere, or the entire system, wronged a child. Or adults made decisions in their own best interests, and not in the interests of children and students. Or, as was too often the case then, the morning news on the way to school or the evening news on the way home complained again that teachers were not solving issues that are much greater societal issues than schools can solve on their own.

    I got my credential, actually two, anyway. And now the media is using suspiciously created data to humiliate teachers individually, it’s a new low, really, but it is the same old stuff. And people in my home state are screaming that more money is thrown at schools every year and things never get better, so it’s pointless and they want that money back in their pockets…. but when you adjust for inflation, it’s been a little less every year for 3 decades now. Not that you have to tell a teacher or principal that, of course. And the media, looking for a new buzz, looking for shock value in education, decides to give the floor to the likes of John Legend the singer/songwriter, Bill Gates, the founder of the biggest timesuck since the invention of the internet Zuckerburg, while National Board Certified teachers don’t even get asked.

    Teachers aren’t surprised, like this is out of the blue. Teachers are hurt, the way a 2nd grader feels hot tears well up when they are accused of something bad they didn’t do but the accuser is telling such a fabulously elaborate story they don’t think they have a chance with the yard duty or teacher who is mediating. And they are angry, yes, sick and tired of being told to do more with less every year, so when the budgets finally are tight, there are no more extras to cut.

    What is supposed to set humans apart are our ability to hold two independent ideas at the same time. We ask students to do this when we have them debate either side of an ethical quandary. The public holds two different ideas… that in general, teachers are terrible, horrible people who are overpaid for an easy job that they aren’t doing very well… but individual teachers, whose cars can be seen in the school parking lot on a Sunday, who are spending their own money at the craft store on a Thursday night for tomorrow’s science experiments, and who are clearly inspiring the neighbor’s kids when they want to tell the world or you in your driveway everything they learned about moths this week with all the excitement of life on Mars, individual teachers are amazing and do good work, important work. The same could be said for students who become successful, the individual valedictorian is beautiful and a ‘bright girl’ who is ‘going to go places’ but as a whole our students are lazy and stupid and… illegal.

    While I’m not a fan of this blogger, I was touched by this post last week:
    “…teachers, the people who spend years in training, are being scape-goated for everything that is wrong with education even though they DO NOT make any decisions regarding curriculum, school day/calendar, etc. That’s akin to blaming a patient who dies on the operating table for a mistake made during surgery. That makes sense. I won’t even start on the perceived powerlessness of parents. I will save that for another day because while we are all enthralled by the revolutions in other countries, we are not yet ready to start our own.”

    The reality is, it costs money, lots of money, plus time, sacrifice, and a genuine coming together as a community to fix the social inequality and more that are at the heart of our education issues today. As a collective, we don’t want to make that change, so we complain and blame instead. At a local level the PTA is holding bake sales to buy tempura paint for art vista a few times a year because they can see the pleasure this gives the children at their school, and because they feel terrible that the arts and music and PE and recess and monkey bars that were cut in their public school years have never been restored, and while they have a copy machine all in one at home now, their child’s teacher is still making do with purpley worksheet ink from a RISO that is limping along.

    As the Wisconsin teacher sign read, “Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions.” Much of the anger bottled up inside a teacher concerns the unfairness of it all not for themselves, but for the individual children who line up at their door every morning with their shy, beautiful smiles who are getting screwed out of today and tomorrow.

    One thing is for sure… if we’re going to make the kind of change most educators can agree on… we’re first going to have to control the media/message. But, we’re all thinking— good luck with that.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @P, Great comment. Thank you for taking the time to address so many of these points.

    This is another example of how this blog makes me smarter.

    I’m always thrilled when readers take the time to share their thoughts.


  5. Jenny
    on Mar 28th, 2011
    @ 10:29 am

    I’m not surprised change is coming. I’m just disappointed that no one is asking teachers what’s wrong with education. If we’re failing at our jobs, people need to be asking WHY and not just assuming it’s a lack of motivation.

    I’m not surprised or even upset that schools are wanting to add more accountability for teachers, but I am upset that most states are not considering fair approaches to accountability. I’m concerned that no one in the government is worried about teacher migration. The plan currently proposed in my state will make teachers choose a decent paycheck, or helping students who have traditionally low test scores. I’m worried that no one is going to want to teach in low-income areas, where quite honestly, the best teachers are needed most.

    I’m frustrated that I was in a public “school in improvement” that showed tremendous growth- so much so that it was heralded by the state as a good example- and yet the state education department is not even considering the things we did to cause that growth when they are determining how schools need to be reformed.

    I’m worried that school choice is being considered the ultimate fix, when it cannot help students whose parents don’t bother to research and apply to better schools. I’m not against school choice as an option, but I don’t think there is any way it will fix everything because it leaves too much responsibility up to the parents and some parents won’t take that time or effort.

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