I recently filled in for a 3rd grade teacher at a St. Paul, Minnesota school. Her colleague, the other 3rd grade teacher, was a middle-aged woman with greying, thin hair down to her shoulders and business-like demeanor despite being dressed as a farmer in overalls for Halloween week.
As soon as I arrived, this woman took it upon herself to pick up the slack for things neglected by the teacher I was filling in for. There were supposed to be learning objectives written on the board, said the woman in overalls. So she went to work writing them out. She printed out for me assignments for the day. We’d later discover a class period left off my day’s lesson plan. So without hesitation, she said we’d combine classes for that hour, and she’d lead the way.
I’ve been amazed by this before. And it’s often touted by others in the know: teachers are some of he hardest-working people out there. Their passion for educating the youth drives them to go above and beyond what is required.
So what do those complaining about teachers’ unions and tenure have to say for themselves? Well, they point to the other side of the coin.
A few years back, I knew another middle-aged female teacher–a friend of our family. She too, had greying, shoulder-length hair. But instead of a business-like demeanor, this woman was weathered from a fair amount of drinking. She called in sick frequently–hangovers most likely. Her personal problems aside, she never worried about losing her job as a middle school art teacher. And because she was 50+, was making a decent living. (About five years ago, I checked the data for a piece on public employees’ salaries and saw that some teachers in the metro earned over $70K a year for their nine months of work.)
So yeah, there are overpaid, ineffective workers, secure in their employment.
I’m not exactly sure why teachers have become the target for failing schools when the reason, in my opinion, are factors outside the school building. I guess in a nation–and particularly in urban school districts–with poor results, those responsible for doing the educating are prime targets–especially when it’s easy to point out the egregious examples of bad teachers staying in place. Then these attacks are countered by passionate defenders pointing out the truth that most teachers are more like the woman I described at the top: over-worked, under-appreciated.
This back and forth is why the teacher debate stays ablaze; it’s just one of many out there perpetuated by both sides being right.
Should teachers be honored? Yes.
Should teachers be held to reasonable standards? Sure.
Whether pointing out the under-performers keeping their jobs or the over-achievers not getting the respect they deserve, we all ought to pan out and expand our viewpoint to recognize where both sides have merit. Perhaps from there, we could move on and get to the root of poor performing districts instead of spinning our wheels on the topic of teachers.