Don’t blame the teachers

“My teacher sucks.” Some students spew out this complaint on a daily basis, but we seem to use it as a simple scapegoat for our problems. We blame our “bad” teachers for heavy homework loads, tight project deadlines, poor test grades, and boring classes. We complain about these teachers so often that the complaints have become simple passive utterances and have lost all meaning. We hardly ever stop to think about why there might be teachers out there who are ill-fitted to do their job. We just whine about it, and we sometimes blame the education system as a whole, which we have been told all our school-age lives is going to the dogs. And if adults and people of authority, especially, tell us this, then it must be true. Right?

Governor Cuomo stated in his recent State of the State address that reforming the New York education system is at the top of his to-do list, and he plans to do this is by revamping the teacher evaluation system, which he calls “baloney.” The problem is, he wants 50% of teacher evaluations to be based solely on standardized test scores–and a comparable amount of student growth for teachers in subjects that are not tested–even though the  American Statistical Association’s extensive research has found that teacher influence makes up only 1-14% of factors that affect student test performances. The other half of the evaluations will consist of teacher observations, but these will be weighted heavily on state-chosen “independent observers,” rather than local administrators. If a teacher receives a final rating of “ineffective” (the lowest of four possible ratings) from these two components twice in a row, he/she may be terminated.

This new evaluation system will unfairly eliminate perfectly competent teachers and will ultimately yield an inexperienced, reluctant teacher workforce teaching more and more to the test. If these were the conditions you were facing, would you become a teacher?

On top of these harsh, state-controlled regulations, Governor Cuomo is affecting the public attitude toward teachers, often implying that they are lazy, greedy incompetents hiding in their unions, and this may be the biggest problem of all.

“The constant bad mouthing of teachers and their motives by Cuomo and the Secretary of Education discourages people–especially the intelligent people that we need–from becoming teachers,” said Ms. Whitman, an economics teacher. “It’s not really a money issue; it’s a respect issue. Why would any bright young mind go into a field where they’ll be denigrated and blamed for all the problems of America? And they can’t even fix the problem they’re blamed for because curriculums nowadays focus so much on testing and are so uncreative!”

Disrespect is definitely a big problem in the teaching field. How many times have you blatantly disrespected a teacher? How many times have you felt entitled to disrespectful behavior because it has become the norm–accepted, even–in the teacher-student relationship? Teachers have to deal with disrespect from the government, from other workforces,  from their students, and even from their students’ parents. It seems that there is a vicious cycle of negative perceptions of teachers, and the government has evidently done nothing to stop it in its tracks, because, again: Would you become a teacher?

Valedictorian Amy Guo certainly would not. “I have never considered becoming a teacher,” she said, “and I wouldn’t now because teachers have to deal with a lot of stupid regulations and common core nonsense, but they aren’t respected at all and aren’t paid well either.”

While teaching is not a lucrative occupation, it is a steady one, once the teacher has established her/himself in the school. This leads many people to believe that the problem of bad teachers today lies largely in tenure and the inability to remove bad teachers with tenure, but in fact, all tenure does is guarantee teachers a fair hearing; they can still be fired. “And the thing is,” Ms. Whitman added, “once you’re hired as a teacher, you don’t stop trying to get better at it. You still want the best for your students, because that’s why you became a teacher in the first place, and this is exactly what Governor Cuomo calls into question every time he talks about teachers.”

While teachers may have the best of intentions, it is undeniable that there are ineffective and incompetent teachers out there, but this is in part due to the extreme variability of the teaching force. After all, how do you define a “good” teacher? How do you evaluate completely different styles of teaching being pressed upon completely different types of learners? What even is the “best” way to pass on knowledge to another person?

Perhaps the solution lies in more locally administered observations, but some teachers have a back-up lesson plan for even the unannounced observations, yielding an inaccurate representation of their usual classes. Maybe the students should have more of a say in their teacher’s rating, but whenever one party has a direct impact on the welfare of another, there are bound to be complications. Maybe raising teacher salaries is the answer, but then money just doesn’t appear out of nowhere; someone somewhere would have to bear the cost.

We, as students, know two facts to be true: 1. We are literally the future of America, and 2. We go to school to learn from teachers. The rest is up in the air. But we must realize that, on the receiving end, we hold as much responsibility for our education as our teachers. We have to stop blaming them and complaining about them, and start asking ourselves what we can do to ensure a better education for our own children. We have to stop believing that being a grade school teacher is a joke of an occupation, or we’ll make a joke of the nation’s future.

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