This is a cross-post from EdGator.com
Several recent headlines have to do with the just-released MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. Reformers like Eduwonk are desperately trying to dissemble that the survey doesn’t hint strongly at the hostility of reform policies that are making tons of teachers love their jobs less and less. (Value-added ratings that ding you for scores of kids you’ve never taught? Why would anyone object to that?)
“Teachers love reform,” their headlines might as well say. Kind of reminds me of the “things are great” press conferences given by Saddam Hussein’s information minister during Desert Storm.
Meanwhile, critics of the modern punitive reform movement are highlighting the angst captured by the survey. I was particularly taken by a couple of lines from Valerie Strauss’s coverage:
“* Eighty-five percent of teachers rate the job their principal is doing as excellent or pretty good.
* Nearly all principals (98%) rate the teachers in their school as doing an excellent or pretty good job.”
When I was a principal, I doubt on my best day I would’ve had 85% of the teachers saying I was doing a fine job, but nationwide there is apparently great two-way support between teachers and principals.
It was gratifying to me as an educator to see in black and white something I suspected: that we educators stick together. This is our house. We have each other’s backs. All for one, one for all.
My dad was a firefighter for the city of Dallas for 27 years. I know a little something about brotherhood. This survey demonstrates that we have this kinship and confederacy in our field too. It may not be readily apparent all the time. We don’t walk around interrupting strangers on the street and saying things like, “Hey, I’m a teacher. And my colleagues work really hard. So don’t believe all the tripe about teacher thugs loving the status quo and putting kids last.”
We trust each other in these corridors. And when push comes to shove–and it has–we will stick together. We will circle the wagons.
We are often accused of defending the status quo, but really what we defend is our dignity and worth, not just as teachers but as people. As contributing members of the American experiment. We defend our integrity. The insults that pour from the ivory tower edu-minds as freely as the pollution their patrons dump in our rivers isn’t inconsequential to us. It comes across as a personal attack. And it makes us lean even more on one another. No one understands us, but us.
When they flippantly decry the quality of instruction–and decline at every opportunity to critique the quality of school funding equity or the legislative provision (or lack thereof) of social supports for learning–when they pooh-pooh the quality of the American teacher as the isolated source of all our problems, they are advertising to the general public that my people are bad people. The worst people. We are a threat to the future safety of our nation, per Condi and Joel. Teachers are bad Americans. Teachers are takers.
We may reply, “Hey, the business-first public policies adopted by our leaders are not irrelevant here. They are counterproductive to the academic well-being of our most vulnerable learners. For every step we lead a learner from poverty, our social policies drag him or her two steps back.”
But when we try and make that point, we are shushed and labeled as excuse-makers. The dialogue between the most hostile of public school demolitionists and the most defensive of educators is similar to a dialogue between an abuser and his victim: “You’re such a whiner,” as we point to the yellowing bruise from the last black eye we received.
Those who would fix us should walk a mile in our loafers and see how it feels to “take” what we take on a daily basis.
Anyway, when push comes to shove, this survey tells me that we educators will circle the wagons and defend ourselves. Reformers need to understand this, understand that our unity ultimately has nothing to do with unions. Our unity has to do with shared battles and the scars we’ve earned standing side-by-side in the gaps our society has left otherwise unmanned.
The American teacher stands on the front lines of poverty and inequity that our fellow Americans refuse to acknowledge, on the front lines of the real social condition of our nation–not the advertised one–and we stand together. When we look over our shoulders, there’s no one there backing us up. The rest of the army is off pretending there is no fight to be had here, no excuses to be made, no hardships to decry, no supply lines to worry about, that things in American society are just hunky-dory outside of the fact that the teachers just don’t care enough. (Parents strung out on meth? Quit making excuses. If you would simply teach those kids better, they’d easily overcome that. It’s fiercely urgent that you teach better. Providing rehab for parents who can’t afford it? Not so fiercely urgent.)
The rest of the army is at a computer in Washington, D.C., writing blog postings with pithy phrases about what the teachers would be doing if they really cared. They’re out courting funding for their lobbying efforts, wearing their crisp edu-officer uniforms. (Our uniforms out here on the battlefield aren’t crisp anymore. And they have powder-burns on them, and stains from our wine boxes as we cope.)
They’re off giving speeches, far away from the battlefield where children are won and lost. We are here, fighting and falling. But not retreating.
Of course we trust each other.
They need to understand that these “excuses” that we “whine” about are brutally hard on us and on the children we care about. They sniff at social conditions that we actually deal with. That we manhandle and wrestle into submission when we’re at our best. They write about the breezy ease of fixing poverty through adequate teaching; we clean up snot and call Child Protective Services and send home weekend food in backpacks.
When you’re the one trying to mitigate poverty on a daily basis under the threat of firing or labeling, and when you’re the one trying to get students who know poverty and abuse and neglect and moral compass-lessness to perform (on a really hard test) at the same level as kids from stable and nurturing homes in bedroom communities, you learn to empathize with one another. Heaven knows no one else knows empathy for a teacher nowadays.
When Michelle Rhee and all the think tankers pop off about “excuses” and how “every child can learn,” they have all the moral authority of an overweight track coach holding a donut and yelling “Come on, son, you can do better than that” to an exhausted high school miler fighting his way to the end of the fourth lap.
We hear often from these disconnected mouthpieces how bad teachers are. They are eager evangelists for the Sorry Teacher Gospel. But according to the MetLife poll, educators looking at one another do not share their rampant negativity and skepticism. Not even a little.
What do we know, though, right?
What the reformers need to know about teachers is that we are in this together, and they’re on the outside. They are not one with us. They’re interlopers. They aren’t change agents–they’re foreign agents. They aren’t leaders. They are cheerleaders for the business lobby, not for the child. When we look at one another, we see people who strive and try and cry for kids, who face them and embrace them on a daily basis. When we see the most hostile of the reformers, we see pontificators and armchair critics. When the Church of Reform chooses to place teacher-bashing into their book of orthodox behaviors, they declare teachers to be their enemy. And they have their wish. We will be their enemy, but we will be allies to one another to the end. We will circle our wagons.
Yes, we’re demoralized. But, unfortunately for those who would cast us aside, we are still very, very united. And we are the last people in America to know the good that we do, and to disbelieve the lies that are told about us to an unsuspecting public.