If you’re like most of the public, you think that teachers are working on their tans this summer. The image is what corporate reformers want you to believe. It’s part of their orchestrated campaign to undermine confidence in the profession in order to pave the way for ultimate privatization. I was reminded of this by a teacher who is working along with her husband to make ends meet (“Enough with the teacher bashing. It’s not helping students or anyone else,” The Guardian, Jul. 11). Although she confined her comments primarily to salaries, I think she is onto other issues equally as important.
I’m referring now to the lack of respect for teachers. The media are largely responsible by playing up examples of teachers who do not belong in the classroom. The infamous rubber rooms that made headlines in New York City are one example, or the dance of the lemons in Los Angeles is another. The former refers to the room where teachers await their fate after being charged with one thing or another. They collect their full pay in a process that could take up to a year or more to resolve. The latter refers to shuffling ineffective teachers from one school to another, rather than terminating them.
I don’t deny that bad teachers exist, but I think what taxpayers hear is decidedly one-sided. Consider the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest. The case of a teacher at an elementary school who sexually abused his students received front-page coverage in the Los Angeles Times. But the victory of a high school Academic Decathlon team was relegated to the inner section of the newspaper. Why? The facile answer is that sex sells. However, that overlooks a more fundamental problem. Corporate reformers can succeed in privatizing schools only if they can make taxpayers angry enough. What better way than focusing on the few outrages instead of on the many daily triumphs?
When I was in the classroom, teachers were overwhelmingly respected, if not revered. We never became rich teaching, but we received psychic income in the form of recognition. It’s impossible to quantify the deep satisfaction that meant. I still keep in touch with former students who remind me of that era. Unfortunately, teachers today are vilified. They are depicted as working a half day with a long summer vacation while collecting lifelong benefits and a guaranteed pension. I challenge those who think that way to teach for one week in a public school. I think they would emerge with a far different opinion.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.