I have made promises to give warnings and disclaimers, so this will serve as both:
The following contains mild snark, intentionally made-up silly words, unfortunate metaphorical imagery, and somewhat balanced perspective born out of a drive to be more honest than ideological. Reader discretion is advised.
Part I: Good lord, when did these fools become the supposed experts?
So what are teachers responsible for? I’m a teacher, and have been asked that by people who themselves tweet, post, describe, posit and blog regarding what they have learned about teaching through their efforts to travel, talk and write. They visit schools, attend school reform celebrations, talk to some teachers and students, read articles about schools and teaching… Sometimes I’m communicating with those who have had a child in some school somewhere, at some point in time. They may have even gone to school at some point, or served on a school board or even committed to the obligatory two or three-year classroom stint that pads a resume, lends a pinch of street-cred and paves the way to non-profit edu-activism (and the right to banter about teaching and teachers at one of those reform celebrations). I don’t think they really wonder what teachers are responsible for, though-they think they have that one all figured out.
One time I was even asked “So what exactly are you as a teacher responsible for?” The “exactly” was thrown in as emphasis in an increasingly frustrated attempt to show that my suggesting other strongly correlated influences on students’ academic achievement was me avoiding the issue of my own or other teachers’ incompetence and unwillingness to accept responsibility. This same person went on to press me on “pedagogy”, enjoying the use of one of his new educational-istic words, but having no grasp on what it actually means in practice-when it needs to be present and accounted for in a real teacher’s toolbox. It could be he believed there was one standard approach to poor black students, and if I was unable to name that approach I publicly failed his pedagog-ery litmus test. Meanwhile, I was suggesting that every child is an individual and that part of pedagogy is the ability to flex and change educational strategies as needed and on the spot, based on the educational needs of the individual and not limited by skin color or social status. He was still more interested in swinging the “gotcha” stick than exploring an “each child is an individual” position and the broad brush accusations and no-win question strategy is one utilized by traditional school undermine-ers all the time. It isn’t a strategy they handle well when it is turned back on them, though.
But that’s for later. First: pedagogy.
An understanding of educational theory, approach, methods and practice…All this and more is part of pedagogy. True depth and understanding in these areas (the areas that help strengthen a pedagogical foundation) is reached when you have and are faced with the growing variety and severity of challenges students bring to the classroom on a daily basis. For me, personally, I had a typical liberal-arts path through undergrad, but loaded up on as much psychology as I could. I have always been fascinated by human development and especially how the mind works and how different people learn differently (as well as how behavior and behavior modifications can influence the process). The well-funded campaign against traditional, democratically run community schools includes a strategy of avoiding and denying any of that messy stuff-at least when it comes to being respectful of the job teachers do.
No fools, though, the school choice being sold is intentionally limited-pedagogically speaking. It operates by filtering more involved parents and compliant students away from challenging mixed-ability classrooms. Homogenized into a setting where surprises, behaviors and distractions can be minimized-student test scores are more likely to increase because they are freed from the mix of challenges in the traditional education setting. I will never say that I don’t appreciate even one child who realizes better outcomes, regardless of the setting that inspires those outcomes, but let’s be honest about “choices” and who is doing the real heavy lifting. Not all students are capable of conforming to the ultra-strict behavior codes imposed in many choice schools, and not all parents wait teary eyed for a chance to be involved in either their child’s academic success, or to be the focus of a carefully directed camera shot in a dramatically scored scene…you know-while they wait for Superman.
Did I just “Guggenheim” that one a little…you know, take an issue and totally dramatize and blow it out of proportion to forward an agenda?
An approach to education born out of that type of planning, investment and careful production is led by those who actually understand a very particular type of pedagogy very well, don’t get me wrong. But you can’t compare carefully engineering your staff and your student body to meet a specific outcome that plays well in the press to that of the job that traditional school teachers do with non-engineered raw materials, restrictive regulations and limited resources. As time has passed, students have come to our nation’s traditional community schools with greater challenges-challenges that can disrupt their lives, their neighborhoods, their classrooms, and their paths forward in life. Promoters of charters and choices, in politics and in the private sector, don’t really care about all that-they simply want to sell a chance to those “Waiting for…” parents to separate their kids from the other ones who bring challenges into their kid’s classroom. Can’t blame them, really, and I have to wonder both how it feels as a parent to have metal detectors at the entrance to your child’s school-and also why reformers haven’t blamed that on teachers and their unions as well. Probably they have, and I missed it. By now some arrogant loud-mouthed clown must have said something along those lines.
Which reminds me: Chris Christie and Steve “Capital Prep” Perry. Like turds floating in the toilet bowl, school and teacher attackers, as well as the stuff they say, can capture your attention and curiosity for a moment. Why does that particular one rise to the top…basically defying its own nature to not just survive attempts to flush it away- but actually thrive and succeed? Others thankfully sink away from view, existing somewhere but not reminding us of the fact so much anymore- other than the stories you start telling three beers into a class reunion: “Hey…remember that time he said…!”
I had a long day of teaching, and have another coming tomorrow. Before I close out this “part one”, let me say part two or three will have some of my most humble admissions and thanks- to acknowledge: 1) the fact that we as a nation are in crisis mode when it comes to preparing children for this world and that 2) people who do anything to help any child at risk of falling through cracks or being left behind deserve to be recognized for it. If you save one child, even only one…you are more of a hero than most dare to or care to be. Even if I place you squarely in my dishonest, opportunistic @$!%# category, and even if you refuse to recognize the level of sacrifice made by others-you have helped. I’m not sure which part and when that mushy stuff will show…I write stream-of-consciousness style and am not a good planner. It’s the journey not the destination, you know.
Next, Part II The Foundations of the Current Attack