Angry Teachers: Whatcha Gonna Do?
Teachers are in a tough spot. I think it’s fair to say there is a growing sense among teachers that the overall quality and attractiveness of this job is deteriorating.
However much you might personally still enjoy teaching, or however much you hated it in the first place…it’s getting worse. For many people, that still keeps teaching safely in the neighborhood of ‘enjoyable’ or ‘tolerable’. But it will also push many over the edge and out of the profession. (Just wait until the economy turns around. Hands up…how many of you are looking to jump as soon as the job market improves?….Yeah. I thought so.)
Does that sound right to you? I know that my audience is a bit self-selecting, but think about the 5 happiest teachers in your school. Do you think they are more happy or less happy than they were 3 years ago?
If this hypothesis is correct and applies more or less everywhere, what can we do about it? We are all fighting our own local battles. It’s sort of like ‘divide and conquer’ except we were already divided. They didn’t even have to do anything…sitting ducks. It’s not possible for me to follow and meaningfully participate in multiple battles in multiple states and districts. We’re all pretty much on our own.
When I taught in DC I didn’t even have time to worry about Michelle Rhee. The principal of my school is so bat-shit crazy and mean that you never heard anybody complaining about Michelle Rhee. That’s the truth.
But hey, Maria Tukeva is a local legend. She’s been the principal of that school since the Carter Administration and almost 45 percent of the kids can read now. Yippee!
Seriously!?! Last year you got 43% proficient in reading and 49% in math?!?! Was that worth completely alienating, demoralizing, angering, firing and otherwise inducing 250 teachers to flee from your school in four years? Do you ever imagine the organizational cohesiveness you’ve pissed away by having to replace 40-50% of your staff every single year? Or the cost to the city? How is it possible that you received the District’s $10,000 Excellence in Leadership Award when more than 3 decades into your career here you have a 45% teacher attrition rate and most of the kids in your school can’t read? And then you’ll go back and spew to the teachers that we are ‘raising the bar and holding everyone accountable’. Everyone, that is, except you? Explain to me again exactly why people think you’re good at this job.
…sorry…wow… Where am I?…that was obviously a flashback…the PTSD medication is starting to get them under control, but they’re still pretty easily triggered…
Anyway, I spent the last two days reading through the comments of the last post and most of the comments and posts at Dump Duncan. There is a lot of intensity, anger and sadness. But it won’t be easily harnessed and put to good use. Above and beyond all of our state and district and school-level issues, what is it that unites teachers? Whatever it is, how do we formulate that into a message and a program that is meaningful and powerful in the context of national policy and public opinion? (Personally, I think public opinion should be our target.)
Dump Duncan is a respectable sentiment which I support, but there’s a good chance he’s leaving soon regardless. Half the cabinet usually flips at the second term and Obama might not get re-elected anyway. What are we trying to say that goes beyond Duncan and Race to the Top?
Who is best suited to deliver that message and how?
Unions? They’re taking quite a beating lately and have the same basic problem of fragmentation. The national message is weak. Unions have to preface everything they say with something like in order to ensure that every child reaches the highest levels of achievement…blah, blah, blah. Putting children first sounds great.
But a union that can’t put its own members first and allows the opposition to define all key terms in the debate will get steamrolled.
Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss? Well, if you read me, you probably read them. Or you should. They are definitely on the team, so don’t get me wrong about that. Love them both. But their primary mission is not to advocate and articulate on behalf of teachers.
Teachers are going to have to figure out how to do this better for themselves.