Education Opinion

Katrina Nation, Part II: Live-blogging the NBC Teacher Town Hall

By Nancy Flanagan — September 26, 2010 6 min read
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NBC --the originator of the idea that education in America would be improved by a giant national hurricane, to sweep everything clean and let the reformers have at it--is sponsoring a Teachers Town Hall.

So, it’s 12:02, EDT, and I’m watching the Town Hall, reading the back-channel comments on-line (mostly pique about the importance of class size, at the moment). Someone has just asked why certain commenters have appeared multiple times and others not at all. Clearly, NBC is filtering the comments.

Brian Williams compliments the teacher featured in the opening film clips: “Now that’s the kind of teacher we need.” Right. Because the average teacher is less than that?

Teachers in the audience are speaking now. Three teachers in a row note that the profession is under attack. Brian Williams asks: What about teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom?-- trying to soften the blow by admitting that there are people in “his line of work who don’t deserve to be there.” The young teacher who’s stuck with responding says that teachers aren’t afraid of accountability (rock on, sister).

I have now submitted three comments on the running chat, and none of them got through. The comments are running about 20 to 1 strongly defending the teachers and grousing about current media and policy initiatives. But the woman who’s sharing commentary periodically on the TV broadcast keeps focusing on “burnout.” Is burnout really the critical issue here? Or is burnout just another Supermanish myth, burnt-out veterans who lack the charm and--what’s the word? grit?--of passionate youth?

Steve Lazar wanted to become a teacher because he thought he could better than his teachers in Ohio--but found that in his actual teaching practice, there were almost no “bad” teachers and it was much harder than it looked. Applause.

Teachers in the audience are standing up, with more than a little righteous anger, for the principle that teachers are scapegoats for other societal problems: poverty, neglect, political gridlock. An incredibly articulate and passionate teacher from Maplewood New Jersey is now incisively and intelligently deconstructing Davis Guggenheim. Represent!

Williams is now attempting to charm the live rabble--and the comment police are telling us that they’re being flooded. Flooded! Are they surprised? “No one succeeds unless everyone succeeds.” Yes. Now we have a veteran teacher standing up for tenure! And they’re letting him talk...

Passionate Guy is talking about rich, authentic learning experiences and assessments being abandoned because we have to focus on for test prep--or lose our jobs. Right on. Miss Charter is now “clearing up misconceptions” about charter schools. She has thirty kindergartners but she WILL make gains. Well, good. Would those be gains on authentic assessments, or are her cherubs forced to take standardized tests? A commenter notes that Miss Charter also has parent support, something that’s not part of requirements for admission to traditional public schools.

Meanwhile, on the webinar comment list, we’re seeing the same people repeatedly and even...advertising. Yuck. I have submitted six comments, to no avail. Giving up on the comments. I’m blacklisted.

Brian Williams is bringing up “Superman” again, as if a movie has miraculously fomented a national opinion shift on “funding, unions and charter schools.” And now he’s sharing the “one indisputable” bit of research: kids lose ground in the summer. This is news?

Comment Lady: More non-representative comment-sharing. Her script could have been written yesterday, before a single comment was posted.

Another teacher is sharing dozens of the problems in her rural community. Get to the generalized point, sister.

National History Teacher: Charters aren’t silver bullets. Give me a reading tutor for every child reading below grade level and I’ll be successful, too. No sacred cows! Everything is on the table--let’s not be turning to movies to shape policies.

Brian Williams now noting that the conversation isn’t going the way they’d planned. Oh well. That’s a phenomenon well-understood by teachers. After the break: STEM!

Now they have Mike Geisan ('08 National TOY) and Kaycee Eckhardt, a STEM teacher who taught in Japan and thinks American kids are way behind. Williams: What can we do? Teach ‘em hard?

Eckhardt: We can start by teaching them to read! Brian Williams is thrilled. Finally! Someone who is walking the party line. Our crappy education system is unacceptable and our kids can’t read! Plus, she’s all cute and flushed and passionate. Where are the cameras?

A principal in the audience promotes paying teachers more and says she needs help in getting rid of bad teachers. She doomed a physics teacher to not owning her own home and she feels bad about it. Not so bad about firing the bad teachers, however, who will probably have to live in a tent.

Former NY Teacher of the Year calls out Superman Guggenheim for leading kids in low-income schools to believe they’ll go to jail if they don’t win the lottery.

Comment wranglers: “We’re doing are best to post your comments.” (Really.)

And now some sweet young thing is saying that she doesn’t need tenure, cuz’, like, the union contract says that she’s not allowed to teach on Saturday. Which is a bummer. She’s, like, really a good teacher, so she’s not in any danger. Oh, little sister. There’s a such lot you don’t know.

And ...there’s pushback. Tenure is not a job for life, says Articulate Veteran, it’s due process. While veteran is speaking, Sweet Young Thing and her friends are giggling. Eew. Rude. Someone else tries to take a middle path. Another teacher points out that it’s evaluations and effective evaluators -administrators--that keep the lemons out of the classroom.

More about funding. More about inequities. Money matters, money matters, money matters. Them that has...

Another Teacher of the Year says that “innovative, award-winning” teachers need to help make policy. He rambles on for such a long time that they yank the mic and tell him--get a blog.

Someone from Newark rats out teachers who only come in two days a week and are still teachers! Of course, she’s really ratting out lazy administrators, according to previous speakers, but she feels pretty pleased with herself, you can tell.

Commercial. I decide to type out and send a few more pointless comments. Although someone named Joann Clarke in Nevada has now posted five times, I’m blacklisted. They’re saying that they will post all 10,000 comments later. Yikes. Who’d want to read that? Maybe that’s the point.

How should teachers be evaluated? Kaycee Flushed & Bouncy says that darn it, we need a national evaluation system, although her principal holds her to high standards, darn it (she actually says “darn it”) and her kids produce. Geisan says that there are lots of ways to evaluate students and teachers, and reels off a few--an excellent answer, but he’s not flushed and bouncy.

Brian’s pulling out THE FAQ, again: How do we evaluate teachers? And, surprise! He gets the same answer: Lots of factors need to be taken into consideration. I’m proud of these teachers for not whining about testing. One smart cookie endorses peer review and feedback.

Ambitious Cutie from Boston: The achievement gap is being closed! Really? Oh, only in charter schools. The audience is hostile--audible murmurs of reproach.

BIG wave of applause for the suggestion that Obama “flood the country with money for early childhood education.” Eager teacher asks: Where are the men in education? Good question. None of the women in the audience pay attention.

Brian is Waiting for the Elephant again. Please. I feel embarrassed for him, having to flak the movie over and over again, since he’s surrounded by people who don’t really care about Huge Media, since they have to go home and correct papers.

Lightning round: Incoherent but passionate charter school teacher. Promoting summer school. Somebody thinks we SHOULD evaluate teachers by test scores--but only after we get a national test (more hostile murmurs). All students can learn. Nobody’s disputing that.

And...it’s a wrap. Lots of sound, more than a little fury. And about 95% solidly pro-professional teacher and public education. Doesn’t get much better than that.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.