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By Adam Sutton

There is a war going on, and it’s a war against teachers.  It is headlined by pushes for charter schools, attacks on teacher unions, and policies promoting edtech and testing over teachers.  However, those headlines are only made possible by the civil war that pits teachers against teachers. While teachers squabble with one another, they allow the privateers, innovators, and right to work  folks a free pass to peddle their perversions of what public education should be.

Recently, I found myself slapped in the face by this civil war.  In a meeting of educators, I listened to an absurd, yet hardly exhaustive, list of job responsibilities confronting teachers daily: substitute teaching, lunch duty, bus duty, hall duty, completing forms concerning IEPs, 504s, BIPs, recommendation letters, behavioral evaluations, calling home, documenting behavioral issues, etc.  No one mentioned the responsibilities of actually teaching.

Instead of looking to reduce the list of responsibilities or restructure how our school functions or attack a system that asks us to solve all the problems; we turned to attack each other.  In particular, we divided ourselves over the issue of students wearing hoods. Despite daily reminders and multi-step discipline policy, this issue persists. In short, some students aren’t following the policy, and some teachers aren’t following the steps to thwart these students.  Quickly, the solution we turned to was to shame those teachers not following the protocol.

Teachers attacking teachers for not doing enough to stem this behavior or that one.  Teachers pressuring other teachers to tutor students on their lunch breaks, or to assign more detentions or fewer detentions, or to meet for just a few minutes after the duty day ends.  It’s teachers acquiescing to administrators when asked to incorporate team building or social-emotional learning (SEL) opportunities into their instruction and then encouraging other teachers to follow suit.  This is the civil war, and, to be clear, I’m guilty of stoking its fire. Just last week, I set up a meeting with a teacher to help prepare for her formal observation. Her options: Friday on her lunch or Friday after school.  Those were the only 2 moments when we were both able to meet. Earlier this year, I called out “lazy teachers” for being critical about expanding SEL opportunities in our school. I chose my words poorly, and I apologized for them, but it still made me a guilty warrior in the war on teachers.

Teachers want students to be successful.  They want to see them grow. So, over time, teachers have allowed themselves to take on more responsibilities.  Now, our teachers have so many responsibilities that they can’t do it all. And, what’s worse is that because they have so many responsibilities, they are unable to delineate authentic tasks from extraneous ones.  Instead of teachers being able to provide clarity for policymakers, teachers only muddy the issue. I push for SEL in my school, the teacher down the hall promotes increased contact with home, and others lobby for smaller class sizes.  All the while, Pearson focuses its every resource on the necessity of testing. As teachers debate, we create space for edtech, book publishers, or testing companies to drive their hyper-focused agendas.

With one voice, we need to stand up and reclaim our profession.  We are teachers. We plan. We instruct. We manage. We assess. We teach.  That’s our job.

To my critics who will rightly point to the evidence that students learn best when teachers invest time and energy in their development beyond academics, I get it.  And, when we start getting serious about changing our education system by extending the school year and day, by reducing the amount of standardized testing, by investing in more teachers, counselors, support staff, and building-level administrators, by providing teachers with time and space to meet with other teachers and students for extra help, I’ll be at the front of the line fighting like hell for that too.

Until then, teachers teach.

War on Teachers

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  1. Wow. Amazing article. Spot on. Teachers are always getting in their own way. It’s as if we are too traumatized to think straight. And yes, it is a war. Part of the many culture wars going on right now in America.

  2. Yes, Yes and Yes. Speaking only from the perspective of a former public school (in large school district) teacher, I see the teaching job as task, after task, after task, after task. What is the shared vision for the school/ district? What system is in place to get there? Where have administrators and district execs implemented an effective plan for communication throughout the system? All of those pieces are missing in public school districts across the nation. Teachers who do have a personal vision for their class and work that year have to constantly deal with a conflict of priorities. This task the district finds so important vs. this task that is vital to achieving the vision for the class? Do I invest more time and energy in what my district tells me I’m paid to do or what my conscience tells me I am accountable for? I used to work with an older teacher (who was way past retirement) who seemed to not understand or be able to properly follow some of the principal’s instructions or school policies. I was frustrated with her because she “was making our grade level look bad.” When I went to her to apologize for my approach and tone, she told me that she wasn’t offended. She said she knew what she was being asked to do but chose to do what she felt was best for her. She said schools and people are always changing so she decided to stick to her guns and just say “yeah! You’re right.” to any other guidance. I know this is how she lasted that long. I quit…I mean retired early.

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