Tag: teacher authority

Teacher’s Christmas Wish

My Christmas wish is that teachers are able to claim their authority in America’s education so we can stop the insanity and children can learn.

ornament

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TOP TEN SLANDERS OF TEACHERS

frog

The public has been encouraged to target practice on teachers and education in general because it is free of any accountability for accuracy or verification.

The ease with which I can find negative images for teaching in free graphics is one proof.

Here are the top ten slanders I hear from my point of view that demoralize teachers:

  1. They don’t teach what they need to.” Or “Teachers don’t take time to make the class interesting.”

This charge is leveled whenever there is any societal ill or agenda that patrons believe is not being addressed. This is a favorite no-win Continue reading “TOP TEN SLANDERS OF TEACHERS”

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.

Shooting Our Feet

Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher, recently had an excerpt from her new book “The Gift of Failure” published in The Atlantic. She points out that the relentless pressure to achieve has devastated the love for learning that students begin with. This pressure comes from parents, teachers, and society at large.  I appreciate her honesty and am glad she has had the opportunity to be heard.

However she does what too many of us do – she includes herself in the blame. This would be authentic if teachers had not increasingly lost professional autonomy since the 1980s. Schools by definition are always swinging between contradictory mandates that vie with each other at different times, but which leave teachers swinging like a pinata. One end, the more predominant one, says schools must prepare students for life (economic) success and social adjustment. On the other end is the need to uphold the myth that society wants to support individual freedom to pursue one’s own talents and interest. Even teacher unions have not advocated enough for teacher autonomy and power but have lost leverage, along with other unions, to corporate and political forces. A compelling explanation of this development is Michael Apple’s “Teachers and Texts.” (You can read a review of this work at Levin, H. M.. (1988). [Review of Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy of Class and Gender Relations in Education]. American Journal of Education, 96(4), 560–562. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085226)2015-01-02 13.49.57-1

The unrealistic expectation of teachers, which I call the “Scapegoat Syndrome”, is that, in spite of all pressures, teachers will somehow rise heroically above conflicting expectations and “save” our precious children from the effects of society at the same time they prepare them to meet them. It is an ongoing outgrowth of the idea our culture holds dear: that whatever social or economic ill we  have can be laid at the classroom door for solving. Of course this is impossible. We go, then, from the Messiah view of teaching to blaming them for failing us. Historically, the role of women, society’s scapegoat.

Nursing, another traditionally female profession, has gained a greater measure of leverage because problems in service delivery are more quickly and visibly felt. Even they, however, are continuing to chafe under impossible demands. Educational fallout takes longer to realize and, unless you are in the profession, less visible. When the fallout begins, the cycle just repeats: it’s the teacher’s fault. Let’s increase the demands and legislate more.

Jessica points out that we have taught her student  “‘that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character.'” We have also taught her that it’s better to quit if success cannot be assured and to worship perfection.

From a woman’s experience, the first statement is different but the second is already too familiar to us. I was raised to believe my intellect made a difference and made me equal. However this has not changed as much as we would like. We still see the ceiling operating. But character? That has been the job of women forever. It’s up to make everyone good. Perfection,  on the other hand, has been our operating principle for a long time. As scapegoats, it is our first tool, a futile but persistent attempt to escape being blamed.

Because education is beholden to public support which has been systematically eroded for greed, teachers must find alternative ways to take professional autonomy back. Some have used the charter school option, but running a school is not the same as teaching. I’d love to hear success stories. But I know the first step is to stop being willing to again take responsibility without authority. Otherwise, we will just keep obeying the order to make bricks without straw, after we wrap our feet.