4 December 2013: Teaching is tougher than you think

Teaching is tougher than you think

The lopsided defeat of Amendment 66, which in opposing was a first-ever for me given it was dedicated to increasing funding for the public schools, has deeper implications and reasons than the much-ballyhooed stuff about voters’ economic concerns, that it was not a good time to ask people to raise their taxes.

Duh!  The best time to ask citizens to raise their taxes?  NEVER!  At least, not any more with our now evolving two-tiered society.  The days of the blue-collar, middle/working class, car-in-every-garage and a chicken-in-every-pot are gone as well are the days of reasonable conservatives such as former governor Bill Owens who worked in a genuine bi-partisan manner with Democrats to pass Referendum C in 2006.

Kaput.  Big Money is winning the battle with a percentage of middle- and lower income voters—primarily Tea Party stalwarts—who bend a knee to the discredited trickle-down theory of economics and vote against their best interests.

Still, if the Amendment’s defeat were closer, perhaps in the 50-something percent to 40-something percent, that would give evidence to the popular interpretation: the defeat was due to economic concerns.  It wasn’t, though, defeated in a mild landslide of 55 to 45 percent; it was opposed percentage-wise nearly by the number of its title: a whopping 65 percent.

My take: Teachers, the rank and file of public education, did not back it wholesale.  I base that on one principle: Teachers are people of principle.  Their core is not about money; they’re not “incentived” by wads of cash dancing like sugar plums in their heads.  If they were, they wouldn’t be dedicating their lives to a profession obscenely underpaid.

The killer for Colorado teachers is SB 191, which predicates their performances to their students’ test performances.  For them to be blamed for the failures of their clients—students—to perform on a test is the height of insult.  It would be as if I sued my dentist for my tooth decay despite him warning me that would happen if I didn’t floss and brush daily or my doctor for my heart attack due to my sky-rocketed cholesterol count even though he advised me to cut out the cheese.

Gone are the days of my old colleague Mrs. Clark, a “good, ol’ gal” who owned a ranch on the eastern plains and would tell her math students, “I can’t help it if you decide to go fishin’” when they would not do well.  “I did my job,” she would let them know.  “You need to do yours.”

Teachers do their jobs, and they have had enough of the “test and blame” crowd which pretty much covers every critic, including so-called “liberal reformers,” such as Sen. Mike Johnston, the author of SB 191 and brains behind Amendment 66, Gov. Hickenlooper and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Applying the term reform to what they’re doing to public education is akin to calling the French and Russian revolutionaries reformers. The guillotine and the firing squads are out with teachers being the target/victims.  Off with their heads!

In fairness it’s most difficult if not impossible for non-teachers to understand the mindset of those who love learning and see it as their highest value.  What teachers want at the end of the day is respect.  Yes, respect includes professional compensation, but respect is first and foremost personal, something even well-intentioned advocates of public education do not and maybe cannot comprehend.

In short, you do not hire great teachers.  Great teachers are born and by nature gravitate to the classroom.  Great teachers develop over time very much like great artists and writers and actors do.  Simply because one has a brilliant mind for science, math, or computers does not guarantee he/she will make it in the classroom.  If he/she lacks that human connection, the natural, connecting, inter-personal touch not un-different than a nurse’s or doctor’s bedside manner, he/she won’t cut it.  His/her students will see right through him/her.

It’s time we disabuse ourselves of the notion that problems we face in our public schools lie at the feet of mediocre teachers.  Rather, they are rooted in a dysfunctional society that prefers scapegoating over taking responsibility.

One would think, after all, all these brilliant educational critics, left and right, would get their butts into the worst performing classrooms and show how it’s done.  They would if they could.  But they can’t.   But they sure can carp.

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