Sunday, December 14, 2014

#192 December 14, 2014- Those Who Can--Teach

Jokes about educators have been around for a long time.  Who hasn't heard the saying, "Those who can do, do, and those who can't teach."  The portrayals of educators on TV and in the movies is almost always a caricature of incompetence and ignorance.  Whether it's Sheldon's disdain for teaching compared to research on Big Bang Theory, or the host of confused and lazy educators on New Girl there are no shortage of modern versions of educators to be mocked.  When educators are given a hero's role in any portrayal it is usually as an overmatched new educator who is driven to fight a system (and often fellow educators) to "save" a group of challenging students.  Students who apparently just needed someone to take a few simple, obvious steps to unlock their vast potential.

Educators aren't alone in this.  Virtually every profession or occupation is satirized and mocked in some way.  If this is true, then why should we be concerned about the misrepresentations, misperceptions and lack of understanding that surround educators and what happens in our classrooms and schools? 

The answer to this question gets at the heart of the ongoing conflicts around public education, public educators and educator unions.  The portrayals of educators and education in popular culture and in the media give a false image of many aspects of education.  In doing so they continue the stereotypes that exist and demean the professional expertise of the educators who work in our schools.  While very few people will even pretend they can match a doctor's level of knowledge or skill, and (while not necessarily appreciating or respecting them) will recognize the expertise that lawyers bring to their work, too many people assume that teaching is a simple and straightforward task. 

This mythology around education is perpetuated in public policy that seeks to deprofessionalize our educational workforce.  The efforts to change the licensing requirements for teachers and to make teaching a job, not a career are based in the notion that educators can be quickly trained and easily replaced.  We also see an effort to make education measurable and to quantify students' learning in ways that reduce learning to a linear progression of skill acquisition.  In doing so, the work of professional educators is seen as less valuable than the efforts of employees who can follow scripted lessons and deliver packaged material.  "Reformers" have taken the need for accountability in education and used it for their own purposes.      

Ill-conceived ratings systems can wreak havoc on educators' careers

This line of thinking has the same effect on our entire public school system.  Instead of valuing our schools as sources of strength and opportunity, they are turned into businesses that operate for the good of the owners and not the consumers.  Market economics may be a viable concept for the selling of products and some services, but it isn't sustainable or equitable in education.     

This animated feature on school privatization stars little Timmy, a kindergartner who likes his public school. Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate edu...

At the same time we see the rhetoric around educator unions mirror this disrespect.  Educators are depicted as lazy, incompetent and in need of representation so that they can continue their slothful ways.  Teacher "tenure" has come under fire and the idea that we need to eliminate bad teachers has become a powerful tool used in undermining confidence in our public schools.                    

For all the debate about tenure, getting rid of teachers is relatively easy; it’s getting them to stay that’s the hard part.|By Nick Morrison

Our public educator unions need to fight back and show the public the reality that surrounds public education.  Unions provide protections and support for educators who are powerful advocates for their students, families and the communities they serve.     

After speaking and guiding a workshop recently, I was struck by some distinct impressions I...

These educators who are under so much fire from the press, politicians and some members of the public are human beings who are working hard under difficult circumstances.  Instead of vilifying them and undermining their efforts, we need to support and nurture our educators.  It starts with an understanding of just what it is that we are doing when we go to work in our classrooms and schools. 

The educators that I work with on a daily basis do so much more than simply present information to students.  We feed, counsel, clothe and care for our students in ways that go far beyond the "Three r's."  We advocate for our students to get medical care, extra support and access to programs and resources.  We are a consistent presence in the lives of students who sometimes have no other consistency.  We support families through illnesses, tragedies and the challenges of daily life.  We become a part of our community and develop strong ties with our fellow citizens.  Any educator you talk to can give you countless examples of just how much education professionals do that goes above and beyond a simple job description. 

We do all this while still trying to meet the obligations placed on us by politicians and policy makers who don't know our students, and who often don't have real school experience.  At times we may speak our minds about policies and legislation that impacts our students in negative ways.  We may also speak out about "reforms" that impact our ability to do our jobs in ways that promote the interests of our students.  We do this because we care about our students, our families, our communities and our profession.  We deserve to be respected and listened to.       

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . Democrats are no friends of public education either.  It remains to be seen how the conservative opposition to Common Core and other types of "reforms" will play out.  However, the current dialog around education gives us more opportunities to get the message out about what our schools really need. 

First lady Michelle Obama's program to make school lunches more nutritious takes a hit, too.

The headline isn't necessarily the "Good" here.  Arlene Silveira has been a strong advocate for Madison's public schools and her presence on the Board will be missed.  However, Anna Moffit is an excellent candidate who has earned the support of those who value public education through her advocacy and activism. 

Candidate Anna Moffit is the mother of three children with disabilities in the Madison schools.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Bad . . . A broken system of education funding hurts our public schools.  The current system puts too much emphasis on property taxes and other local revenue sources.  As long as the state and federal government continue failing to fully fund their mandates our schools will struggle to meet their budgetary needs. 

The report from Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler includes no recommendations.|By Matthew DeFour | Wisconsin State Journal

It doesn't seem that those in our state government understand what the general public needs when it comes to tax reform.  These tax "reforms" are coming from the party that ran as defenders of the common taxpayer. 

MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin's top business lobbying group wants the legislature to eliminate the state's top income tax bracket as a way to stimulate...|By Greg Neumann

In the meantime, Governor Walker continues to prepare for 2016 and his chance to advance his political career at the expense of Wisconsinites. 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker is in Las Vegas to meet with billionaire casino mogul and Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson, as Walker...

The uncertainty around CCSS and other "reforms" can only serve to undermine and confuse the landscape around our public schools.  Many districts have already invested huge amounts of time, money and other resources into implementing CCSS.  Now we face another time of instability and debate that could potentially force districts to spend more of their scarce resources chasing an elusive "tail" of constantly changing expectations and standards. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says new legislation will affirm that if schools like Common Core, they can keep it.|By Matthew DeFour | Wisconsin State Journal, Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Ugly . . . When you consider the statistics around incarceration in Wisconsin, and around the nation, it becomes clear that we have formally institutionalized the inequities that existed as part of our society before the Civil Rights Movement supposedly (especially according to conservative thinking) eliminated racial inequalities in America. 

"Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African-Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination— employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. ...We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." - Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander explains how she came to understand that the racial caste system in America has not ended, it's just been redesigned.

Despite the continuing violence and the clear need for us to respond as a society, we continue to promote a culture of guns and fail to address the underlying causes of these senseless acts. 

A Mother Jones investigation analyzes 21 attacks over the past two years.

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