As a former teacher, I have some pretty strong opinions about the direction education in this country seems to be heading. I was a very good teacher, but as much as I’d love to get back into it (and I truly would), I simply can’t stomach the idea. Until and unless this country loses the “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” attitude, I refuse to subject myself to a system that views teachers as second-class. Americans continue to expect more and more out of their teachers, all while having no real idea what teachers are expected to do during the course of their school day. We have no idea what teachers really do, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from seeing ourselves as experts on education. Sorry, y’all, but having a school-age child does NOT ipso facto make you an education authority…any more than being a baseball fan makes you an expert on hitting a curve ball.
What makes public education far less than it could (and should) be is the attitude that any perceived problems begin and end with teachers. Education reform is predicated on the idea that only by making teachers better and more accountable will our children achieve more. Not that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable in some manner, of course, but that theory ignores perhaps the most important piece of the educational puzzle: a child’s home life. If parents aren’t involved, if a child doesn’t have a stable home life, how can anyone reasonably expect a child to learn? And why is it that parents see no problem with holding teachers responsible for everything relating to the education of their children? How is it that parents manage to by and large to exempt themselves from any sort of responsibility or accountability? And why is this hypocrisy the cornerstone of American educational philosophy?
Americans expect education excellence on a shoestring budget. Every year, schools are expected to do more with less, and we whine about any amount spent on education, as if the money required to educate our children can, should, and does appear out of thin air. We’ve created an environment in which too many public schools are required to cut programs, increase class sizes, and require more of teachers…and it gets worth with each passing year. And we still have to nerve to complain about teachers?
When I taught (and I suspect this is still true), teachers taught because they loved what they did. They loved working with children, and their rewards came when a child learned. We certainly didn’t teach for the money…because most Americans expect teachers to work for a pittance. Teachers don’t expect to get rich, especially in today’s anti-teacher environment. Then again, if you’re not willing to reward good teachers with competitive, livable salaries, you can’t claim to be surprised when good teachers burn out and take their talents to places that are actually willing to pay them.
Education is a classic example of getting what you pay for. Increasingly, Americans are barely willing to pay for mediocrity. What they’re paying for is a system capable of little more then warehousing their children…and then they see nothing hypocritical about complaining about low test scores and a lack of programs?
I loved teaching…and I was good at it, but I simply can’t participate in a system designed to manufacture and perpetuate mediocrity. I refuse to be part of a system in which parents demand accountability while refusing to allow themselves to be held accountable. When it comes to education, hypocrisy and mediocrity all too often go hand in glove…and most Americans simply don’t care. There’s always an easy out: blame it on the teachers; it certainly beats having to accept responsibility as a parent for your shortcomings, eh?
This is our future we’re talking about here. If you’re wondering why Johnny can’t read, and why more of our engineers seem to be coming from India and Pakistan, try spending a day with a teacher…and see if that doesn’t give you a few clues.