Mistrust of Teachers: Do We Deserve It?

This blog post by Bill Ferriter has me thinking about where teachers have gone so wrong?

There are so many teachers saying that standardized testing, in general, and No Child Left Behind, in particular, are horrible, no good, very bad ideas. The “Ed Reform” movement has successfully cast teachers as the enemy and people are buying it. This is a serious problem.

But, it’s also odd to me. If doctors were voicing their opposition to a food or exercise practice, or something similar then I imagine people would listen to them. But, for some reason, with teachers speaking out against the testing, against Race to the Top, against No Child Left Behind, the general public is either ignoring us, or instead responding with scorn and vitriol.

To my fellow teachers: we have to be relentless about this. We need to talk to our friends continually about it. But, we also need to make sure we are doing the right thing at all times. We need to be teaching quality lessons, creating rigorous and engaging experiences for our students and working as hard as we can to give the students a great education. We must be willing to change, to adapt to the needs of our students, to differentiate our lessons for all students. We need to be willing to incorporate technology, not run from it. We need to be using the best tools to teach. If you are still using an overhead projector and transparencies, you need to ask yourself if there aren’t better tools available to you. I understand if you don’t have a laptop or computer available. But, I’m guessing it’s there. We need to push ourselves to learn and grow as educators.

I know some of my colleagues will say, “Come on, we already work hard. I’m not going to change my lessons to accommodate every new fad. I know how to teach my kids.”

Fair enough. But, that better be true. And, you are the best judge of it. We must be reflective and willing to look at our lessons and practices. We have to be as critical and insightful about our own performance as we would expect and hope our students would be. We cannot afford to do what we always do just because it’s what we always do.

Why? Because this is the criticism. This is what the public is saying as why they should not heed our cries. They say we don’t try hard, that we are resistant to change, that we don’t use the best methods available.

Are they right? Sometimes. The truth is, we can’t let them be right at all. In my English classes this year, I have to teach the Aristotelian persuasive modes: ethos, pathos, and logos. Basically, we teachers are not persuasive because our character, our ethos, is suspect to the public at large. Don’t believe me? Just cruise the internet for the articles about teachers, testing, or any similar topic about education. Invariably you find comments below the articles that blast teachers for not being better.

Every politician knows that once your character is questioned and you lose credibility that it’s hard to get back. Our culture is very unforgiving of our leaders when they step out of line. Rep. Anthony Weiner is learning this lesson right now. Politics is littered with the bodies of people that didn’t do what they were supposed to do. And, the public does not care that teachers are human. They expect us to be better than that. Sorry, but it’s true, and you know it.

We can use logical arguments. We can appeal to their emotions and plead with people to help us protect the children. But, without being able to use ethos, without being able to stand on unshakable, moral ground, our arguments will go unheeded.

To Non-Teachers: You need to realize that it’s not just a bunch of lazy teachers that don’t like testing that are complaining. Bill Ferriter was Teacher of the Year. (His article is linked above.) Do you really think he’s lazy and opposed to being held accountable? Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and a research professor at NYU. Do you think she’s defending teachers because she wants to keep them from working too hard or being held accountable? Here’s an article that attacks her character. This is an article that shows why people are attacking her. As George Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” She is a revolutionary.

Many of my readers know me personally. I work hard. I am a good teacher. I push my students to do more, be more, learn more. I do not mind being held accountable. But, standardized testing and the other hallmarks of “Ed Reform” (charter schools, No Child Left Behind, Value Added measurements) are horrible, no good, very bad ideas. You need to understand, there are billions of dollars at stake. Consider why so many rich people are getting interested in privatizing education. There is a lot of money in education. Educating students costs money. And people are paying for it. Teachers aren’t asking for you to make them rich. We are asking you to listen to us as we tell you that these Ed Reformers are wrong. The tests are making our students worse not better.

Ask yourself, do the majority of teachers you know deserve your mistrust? Don’t think of the worst teachers you had. I had them too. Think of the best teachers you have. Do they deserve to be listened to? Can you afford to ignore us? Stop letting politicians, bankers, computer makers, and corporate CEOs tell you about education. Start listening to the people who have studied this, lived it, and learned it. Listen to educators.


3 thoughts on “Mistrust of Teachers: Do We Deserve It?”

  1. Thanks for reading my post ( http://bit.ly/iffzVs) on the same general topic. I do wonder where teaching is headed. It's certainly being reshaped by testing and by the rapid expansion of tools (whether used or unused). But in the end– I think teaching is most impacted by policy. Right now, we're on the breaking crest of an unprecedented expansion of federal power in decisions that (IMHO) should be made in the district, building and classroom: instruction, curriculum, compensation and evaluation of teachers. That–and the influx of cash and influence by a handful of educational investors are driving the bus.


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