Tag: disenfranchised teachers

Our Miss Brooks

After the War, teacher self advocacy remained muted but other sectors of the culture ramped up to alter public education as the primary tool for building a modern society, and with it, the public’s perception of what it meant to be a teacher.



The movie movement began in earnest to influence the perception of public education. In 1955 Hollywood chose to highlight violence in “The Blackboard Jungle”. Rather than providing an impetus to problem solving, it became a rationale for criticism and downgrading of public education’s image. On Broadway Continue reading “Our Miss Brooks”


The 1930s

We see today the same resistance to women teachers’ authority and autonomy. This is the history of education in America. One surprise in the 1930s  was Hitler’s view of homeschooling.

50s school

Like today, those who went into the “profession” rapidly discovered the contradiction Continue reading “The 1930s”

Diane Ravitch…and all the rest of us

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Prize, Advises Young People Not to Enter Teaching Because of Common Core and Testing

Nancie Atwell, a teacher of literacy in Maine, won the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million prize as the Global Teacher of the Year. This is like the Nobel prize of teaching. She was interviewed on CNN about teaching, and she talked about encouraging children to read and write, following their interests and passions. She is donating the $1 million to her school, which needs a new furnace and other improvements. When one of the interviewers asked her what she would tell a young person interested in teaching, she said she would tell them to go into the private sector, not into public school teaching. The interviewers were taken aback. Atwell explained that the Common Core and the testing that goes with it had turned teachers into “technicians,” making it hard for them to teach the best they knew how. She would urge them to find an independent school where there is no Common Core and no state testing.”

Nancie Atwell’s comments, which any seasoned teachers and most new ones recognize as absolutely accurate, were then criticized by male teachers as either misguided or irresponsible. As in nursing, a man’s experience in a female profession is not the same, but they feel free to think it is because, well, they have de facto the right to evaluate women’s work.

Ravitch,  a leading contributor to the teacher status debate, articulates perhaps more clearly than most how teaching reflects the cultural resistance to women receiving professional equality. She joins over a hundred years now in the discourse about teachers’ low and undeserved status accompanied by studied determination to keep it that way.

Why is teaching’s low status so intrinsically intractable in our culture? Because it has always been a gendered servant role. Men were only teachers until they could move on. Allowing women to teach was acknowledged as a lower cost alternative early on. We will be looking at the foundational attitudes toward teachers and why, even after severe protests and costly effects of ignoring teachers’ professional wisdom, teachers will remain a servant class.

Not only overt historical development of public education but educational reform movements and research are primarily instituted by men: men in law, men in business, men in legislatures, men in psychology, to name a few of the fields. Most of the time men who have never taught or have never taught at the level they are trying to reform. While anyone can find reams of books, articles and other materials about what should be done in education, very few materials are available on the teacher’s actual experience or on ways for teachers to have professional autonomy and authority. This is because the teacher doesn’t have time to pursue writing books and articles and developing programs because they are teaching. So the reality is not that those who can, do and those who can’t teach; the reality is that those who teach, are; and those who aren’t, study it and mandate the latest “classroom innovation”. This amounts to not much more than hubby coming home and telling wifey how she can do better. A gross simplification? Perhaps. But see if you find very many exceptions to the management of education that do not smack of this attitude.

It has been long understood that the younger the child, the more women are prevalent in their education.  Women became preschool and elementary school principals earlier than at other levels. With each level up, the number of women decreased while the number of men increased, until we have many male professors studying teaching and introducing
“reforms”, which earn the college lots of positive PR, until that comes under attack and the next horse on the carousel comes around.

In subsequent posts, I will list some of the historical milestones, educational reforms, and cultural contradictions and whether or not a woman educator with experience in the classroom was the originator. Hopefully this will help demonstrate that a teacher who thinks there will be an improved status change in our country should look elsewhere for professional fulfillment. This does not negate the influence that women have made; it demonstrates that there is a foundational commitment to keeping women out of any major authority in their profession. Like nurses, we can only dispense medicine if the doctor says so. And when we begin to become doctors, the status and pay in the field decreases and the amount of oversight increases.

My hope is that those who have an opportunity, will stop burying their talents in the ground without demanding proportionate respect, acknowledgement and compensation. And if that means not teaching, it may have to.  History will show that there are as many pressures to remove teachers as there are pleas for them to stay underemployed. A teacher needs to face the fact that she is disposable and will never be acknowledged in any numbers as an autonomous professional; in fact, every attempt will be made to remove her ability to made decisions about using her skills.

Atwell appears to understand this, but she still gave away the million.


A Teacher’s Anonymous Meeting

Welcome to the Friday night meeting of Teachers Anonymous

Hi, I’m Kathy. Welcome to the Saturday morning meeting of TA. Let’s open with the Prayer for Patience. “God, give me patience, but give it to me now!” Harry, will you read the Preamble please?

Harry: “Teachers Anonymous is an organization of teachers who share their experience, weakness and despair with other teachers in order to support one another and save our sanity. TA makes no claim as to expertise, excellence, or exceptionality. TA does not affiliate with any professional educational organization or support any educational trend of movement. Discussion of what is best for the student, lesson plans, or educational techniques are not allowed during the meeting.”

Kathy: Thank you, Harry. We’ll now have introductions.

Lois: Well, I’ve had a relatively good week. I was able to surrender the idea of being all things to all people. A parent came up to harangue me about her son’s failure to do any work, but I was able to realize it was her problem and stop apologizing or attempting to soothe her in her desire to escape facing the kind of person her child is becoming..

All: Thanks, Lois.

Grover: Well, I’ve struggled this week. The principal is still after me to take all the responsibility for student behavior in the halls, but I was able to sort out in my mind administrative responsibility from teacher responsibility. Now I’ve got to get the courage to act on it. He tried the old ruse that if my lessons were interesting…no, entertaining enough, the students would just want to be in my class. “You can’t make the horse drink water but you can feed it salt,” is one of his favorite brow beaters.

All: Thanks, Grover.

Vivion: My week was really emotionally disturbing. I’m still being expected to show a month’s test score gains for one month of instruction and my kids cannot focus on the printed page for over five minutes. I’ve got to release my anxieties. The doctor said he cannot prescribe any more medicine in good conscience.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mike: I’ve had a good week. Since last week’s meeting, I stopped trying to get all my emotional needs for a sense of accomplishment from teaching. I realize now I can’t be Super Teacher. The kids must take some responsibility. If the administration, parents, business community, government and general culture can’t reinforce what I’m doing, it’s not reasonable for me to flagellate myself, one person, any more for the entire school’s failures.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mary: Yes, I’ve learned it’s not my job to spoon-feed anymore. I used to apologize for everything, feel responsible for everyone and others were more than willing to dump on me. I thought being a good teacher meant people-pleasing, blame-taking for all. I started to see that teacher infighting and disunity was the result of a sort of oppression we’ve suffered all these years. Divide and conquer through guilt trips, intimidation, and supply rationing has been the strategy. Snitches have been rewarded. They talk about wanting creativity, but you really get into trouble when you want to go the extra mile. I know now I’m not a bad teacher because I want decent pay and don’t get turned on by the light in a kid’s eye when I can’t live above a lower-class standard of living, even though I have a college degree and 30 years of experience. There’s got to be a larger reason why there’s so much lip service for better pay but it never quite keeps pace for the last 50 years.

All: Thanks, Mary.

Kathy: Well, we’ve had quite a meeting. We’ll turn now to our daily meditation for the following week:

“I am a professional person, not a child. The world is not my parent. I am not responsible for the sins of the culture.”

Let’s join hands as we close. Peace be with you all. See you next week.



Band-Aids for Teachers

After my mother passed, my middle sister (the one who controlled everyone contrary to birth order theories), sat us down and divided up the boxes of Band-Aids left over in my mother’s closet to make sure no one got more than anyone else.

Previously, my other sister and I had learned, she had absconded with our grandmother’s china cabinet and the diamond earrings Mother had promised me.

The paltry nature of her concerns was a fitting metaphor,  I thought, of the efforts to help teachers in recent years by a well meaning public. Recently Stephen Colbert featured a campaign, #Best School Day, which raised $800,000 for teacher projects. Previously Donors Choose offered a similar opportunity: teachers post their projects and the public can choose which ones to fund. All wonderful shows of support for teachers.

Colbert’s show featured celebrities picking up the tab for a city, state, or educational level projects, more impressive than a car for every teacher a la Oprah.

I am grateful. Don’t get me wrong. But for those outside of education, I just want to suggest how this translates when you are a teacher.

As a teacher, one year a magnanimous corporate leader gave each teacher in our district $100 to spend at an office supply store. That was great, since lack of budgets for teacher supplies are the rule. We wanted to spend it at another office store, however, with much lower prices where we could buy more for our money. We learned that was not to be, since a high level administrator had preferred we spend it at his buddy’s store with higher markups.

I share this to let those who care know that rarely if ever do well meaning gifts accomplish the intention. With direct funding on the surface such as DonorChoice or #Best School Day, the chances are better that the teacher will actually get to spend the money. However I have seen too many times when teachers have developed grants, received the award, and had to fork over monies to the district or go through so many hoops to get the money that it was discouraging. These teachers have also worked extra unpaid hours to come up with the project ideas beyond an already exhausting schedule. And of course this aid is for the students, really, via the teacher.

A second reality that those who care need to understand is the social status this type of effort reveals. Teachers are charity cases, so much so that now states are offering housing because salaries are so low. That’s a great new provision too that is benefitting many teachers. Yet underneath realize what it says about the value of our work.


We would never dream of offering charity to doctors, lawyers, or other professionals. Yet that is how we classify teachers. They are not considered professionals in spite of equal amounts of education. In our cultural mental consciousness, teachers are still babysitters. (Actually if you do the math, babysitters get paid more). The education of children, as with many other human services, is not high status work in our society.

Teachers are often more vilified than praised. It’s great to see some teachers benefitting from positive PR ( even if the celebrities and not the teachers were on stage). On a few good days, we get praise and some extra Band-Aids. We could really use the bigger checks already cashed elsewhere. Society would be richer.




Parable of the Hoop Jumpers

Parable of the Hoop Jumper

Once there was a young man who decided he needed to make more money.

He had been told that he could get a promotion by going to school. So he went to enroll in school but thought he should check on a class first.

When he got to his first class, he read the directions, which to him seemed like a lot.

He went up to the instructor and said, “How little can I get for my money?”

The instructor looked at him in confusion. He asked the student what he meant.

The young man said, “Well, how many classes can I miss and still pass?”

“If I only do half the assignments, can I pass?

“If I submit a term paper I have bought, can I pass?”

“If I fail the exams because I am working two jobs and have a family, can I pass?”

“In other words, how little can I do and still make it? I just need the credit.”

The instructor looked at him for a moment and said, “Wait here just a minute.”

He took out a very old book and began to read to him.

“Once there were many very poor and suffering people in a kingdom. The king could treat them very harshly because they were uneducated. They had very little food or work. They got tired of this and went to a new country where they set up the delicious privilege of learning. Some of them fought and died to be able to go to the schools they set up. And after a person got an education, they spoke better, they were better citizens, they were better parents, they knew how to get along with people, they knew how to read and evaluate a proposal, they contributed to their towns, they had, in short, improved themselves because they have participated in a process called education.”

“Then a businessman came into town. He called the people together and said,

‘You don’t need to know about your history. You don’t need to read the great writers from your culture. You especially don’t need to know anything about anyone from another culture for they are your enemies. All you need to know how to do is this job I want you to do for this small wage. In fact, I plan on sending the lowest paying jobs overseas.

‘Those of you, however, who will sit in a room, pay a lot of money, and wait it out, can get a piece of paper that says you have been to what we call a college. You will then earn more money. Because the idea of college is to train you for a career, not to get an education. You don’t have to train your mind to understand the relationship of ideas, or how one event influences another, or how one situation came out of another, or what will happen if you pursue a course of action. You don’t have to value thinking at all. In fact, we don’t want you to really learn to critically think. We just want you to do your job for us. And some of our jobs need higher skills until we can figure out a way to automate them.

“So just jump through the hoops they give you. Those hoops are called assignments, papers, projects and tests. You don’t have to understand how one lesson relates to the next lesson. You don’t even have to remember anything. You can be watching a movie, taking a selfie, or listening to music while you do the work. Your mind doesn’t have to be on it at all. Just do it and get it over with in the easiest way you know how.”

So the young man decided that even that was too much work. He put his money back in his pocket and switched schools. He enrolled in the free University of YouTube.

Shirley Fessel. All rights reserved. 2016

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