Sep
17
2010

by

Teachers Under Quarantine

I have deep sadness sometimes when I think about the frenzy surrounding so-called education reform. This should be a time of unity, where all those involved are called upon to solve the multitude of problems that plague our system and our students. Yet there’s finally this movement in the works and teachers have not been invited to the rally.

The tragedy is that we’re only going to get one shot at such a powerful cooperative wave towards systemic educational change, and when this current wave fails, I fear the public will finally throw up their hands in exasperation and cut-and-run in their interest and support. Some would even say the charter movement is the beginning of such an exodus of effort.

However, never before, that I can recall, have the mainstream and media rallied in such forces to try to help education. This should be a time of hope. Yet whom do they listen to? What standard does the public rally behind? They look for answers from those farthest from our schools, the politicians and philanthropists looking for an easy solution and an easy target.

And teachers have become that target.

Even though we were the ones who first began calling out for help and attention to our schools, even though we are the ones who have been yelling into the darkness for support and reform and changes in the system, even though we are the ones who recognized the failures of this system first, we never received a call back.

Teachers have been the ones keeping education’s head above water while politicians from both sides of the fence slashed and cut our needs to ribbons. And now we are to blame?

How do you blame a boxer for coming out of the ring bruised? How do you blame the doctor on the airplane, the hero who uses a pen to save a suffocating man, for not using the resources given the doctor at Cedars-Sinai?

So to solve the problem of education, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and politicians have banded together to discuss education’s woes and salvation. But where are the true stakeholders in the discussion: the parents, the teachers and even the students? The invites to be a part of a national discussion on education have been sent out, yet all of our mailboxes remain empty.

Now, I will say this: despite the sneers of some in education, I don’t blame philanthropists for their involvement or passion for our schools. And I actually want the input of those who have the ability to fund some of the necessary changes. But money does not an educational expert make. In addition, teachers also have some ownership in this recent development. I’ve spoken before that I believe the minority of teachers who give this profession a bad name have long controlled the reputation of our profession, and that teachers and unions have not moved fast enough to help clean their own house. Unfortunately, I believe that that this wave of anti-teacher sentiment, this “teacher-ism” is, in part, due to the result of that inertia.

However, just as it remains unfathomable to me to have major discussions about law and not invite lawyers to the table, or to have a meeting about medicine and not invite doctors, so does it remain unacceptable to block teachers out of the discussions about our schools.

Why does everyone think they are an expert in education? Is it because everyone went through school and so they believe that they are experts in schooling? Isn’t that like saying that since everyone’s been born, that must make them experts in being an OBGYN?

Finally the media and the public have woken up to the needs of our schools. However, rather than look to the lists of reforms teachers have long been researching and suggesting, they have instead rushed by our corner booth, racing to buzz in and offer the silver bullet answer themselves.

For we all live in a game show society where we want to be the ones to get the Daily Double, to give the answers, and we want them now, no excuses. After all, as the Nike ad said, “Just do it.”

And this ad drives our politics and decision-making even today. For this MTV generation of reformists wants things done yesterday, and as they discover the complexity of the problem that we teachers have always lived in, they use the strategy of Blame in order to deflect the delay in getting the hungry public the solutions they promised would come so quickly. In so doing, they have created a lynch mob out to rob teachers of their voice and their professionalism.

Those who are new to the conversation don’t want to think that the answers have been here all along, having been thought of long ago and ignored. They don’t want to think that there is this indigenous tribe here on the planet surface that already has the knowledge of what plants to eat and what not to eat and of what traps and sandy pits exist beyond the falls. Instead the tribe has been quarantined. And in so doing, our survival as an educational planet is in serious jeopardy.

Interested in reading more about our current Teacher Quarantine from the educational debate? Check out these recent blogs:

http://learningismessy.com/blog/?p=929

http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/teachmoore/2010/09/teachers_on_sidelines.html

http://walkingtoschool.blogspot.com/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alfie-kohn/what-passes-for-school-re_b_710696.html

http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/the-danger-of-a-single-story-part-one/#comment-533David

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4 Comments »

  • […] An argument that the current education debate suffers from a “teacher quarantine.” (Tween Teacher) […]

  • KCole says:

    Hey Heather,

    I am so glad that somebody finally said the obvious question that teachers have been asking for years. What makes you the expert? To me, I feel that we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Everyone at the state level or national level is not an educational expert. Why don’t they come down and ask us (the professionals) what would work and what would not work. We are the ones here in the ditches everyday. We are working under the stress of new standards, new material, and trying to reach student success. Sorry to go on a rampage. You wrote an excellent article.

  • Sarah Schaeffer says:

    Heather, I have come across your blob for the first time and I would like to say hello and bravo. I read in the ASCD smartbrief that you have fallen under the axe. I am so sorry that someone with a brain is no longer teaching children. But I would bet that there are still some teaching that have laminated lesson plans. I can only assume that you are a young woman with young children. Take it from an old dog, who by the way still believes that you should chase you tail now and then just for the fun of it, the pundents are wrong. The only people that understand education are those who truly care and are willing to do the work. Thank you for your voice and go back to the classroom when you can.

    • Sarah,
      Thanks for your kind words. Keep your fingers crossed that the pink slip gets rescinded, not just for me but for those thousands of hard working teachers out there.

      So glad you found my blog, and please continue to touch base. I look forward to hearing from you again!

      -Heather WG
      aka Tweenteacher

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