People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Teachers: Impossible Expectations

CJ Westerberg, April 19, 2011 8:27 PM


"Teachers cannot be essential and irrelevant at the same time.
You cannot demand excellence from a group of people that you vilify."

Impossible Expectations

By Joseph Ganem, Ph.D.

Teaching is an easy job that no one is capable of doing.

Many people think teaching is easy, but also blame teachers for many problems.
The fact is when it comes to the work of teachers our education policies suffer from
bipolar disorder.

Administrators clamor for better teachers, while at the same time, these same
administrators work hard to make teachers irrelevant.  More and more of the curriculum
is now dictated by administrators from outside the classroom, while less freedom is
allowed for teachers to use their own judgment on what is best for their students.

Consider some of the email I've received from actual teachers in response to some of
my previous education commentaries.  Here are three quotes from three different

"Our state standards have become so high and numerous and the stakes
of the statewide testing so enormous that most personal judgment of what
is best for kids is not considered valid. I long for the days when I could
decide how much time to spend on a topic, work  on the "why" and not just
rush through the "how . . ."    I have seen more change in teaching in the last
few years than in all the previous ones.  As the state is making teachers
feel more and more inadequate, pulling money and resources from
us while still requiring more, and wanting to base everything on the test scores."

"I'm told not to modify; just teach the program.  It's ridiculous.  Administrators
in my school are adamant about this point, though.  They do not trust teachers
to make decisions about teaching in their  own classrooms."

"Recently, I retired from teaching grade 6 Science at a prominent middle school in Baltimore County. I regret having felt compelled to spend time on the curriculum
rather than pursue students' questions/interests. Because of the pressure placed on teachers to ensure that their students perform at the expected levels on the Baltimore
County benchmarks, class time is spent on the county prescribed curriculum! These anxiety producing tests for both teachers & students are given at the end of each unit.
If a teacher's students' performance is unsatisfactory, that teacher's credibility can be
questioned! I would also like to add that county benchmark test questions were on occasion unclear & deviated from the curriculum.  Also, at times, the provided
answers were grossly incorrect!"

There cannot be a distinction between good teaching and bad teaching if no freedom is
granted to use professional judgment. Teachers cannot be essential and irrelevant at the
same time. You cannot demand excellence from a group of people that you vilify.

Poor performers exist in all professions, but if poor teaching is as endemic as many political and education leaders claim, that would be indicative of a system that is not attracting good teachers. In fact, good or bad, American teachers are not interested in working for
many of the school systems in the United States.

Did you know that in Baltimore City the school system has for years recruited hundreds of teachers from the Philippines to teach in the public schools? Not enough Marylanders are willing to do the work, so bringing teachers from half-a-world away is necessary to staff
the schools.

Baltimore City is not alone in its need for Filipino teachers.  Consider these legal problems facing other school districts:

-- The U. S. department of labor fined the Prince Georges County Maryland school district
$1.7 million for violating federal laws in regards to its hiring of Filipino teachers. It also
ordered the county to pay the teachers $4.2 million in back wages.

-- A class action lawsuit on behalf of about 500 Filipino teachers in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana and surrounding districts alleged fraud in the recruitment of teachers from the Philippines.  Advocates for the Filipino teachers claimed that the district's recruitment
scheme mirrored human trafficking.

Does it make sense that these school districts would have to resort to such legally
questionable tactics in order to fill "easy," and "secure" jobs with foreign workers?
A more likely explanation is that the routine vilification of teachers for not meeting
impossible expectations discourages many people from even trying.

The real problem with education in the United States has little to do with the teachers or
 the students. The real problem is the use of education policy issues by groups of adults
 to wage political battles against each other.

In Washington, Michelle Rhee presented herself as an enemy of bad teachers and administrators, and the union responded by going after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty.
He lost his re-election bid, in part, because the teachers union deployed significant
resources against him. Rhee resigned when Fenty's term ended as Mayor.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker learned that lesson because he is not going after
all public employee unions. He is targeting only the unions that did not support his
election campaign. The police and firefighter unions, which did support him, are exempt
from his union-busting legislation.

Much of the talk from politicians and administrators on the need to improve education
is a false narrative. It is a misdirection to deflect attention from political battles among adults that serve adult interests.  It appears to fool many journalists who buy into these false narratives instead of doing their jobs, which should be to expose the truth.

It does not fool our children.


Joseph Ganem, Ph.D., with link to home page and blog, is a professor of physics at Loyola University Maryland, and author of the award-winning book on personal finance: The Two Headed Quarter: How to See Through Deceptive Numbers and Save Money on Everything You Buy. It shows how numbers fool consumers when they make financial decisions.

Related:  The Test Generation by Dana Goldstein

Related posts The Daily Riff:

The Finland Phenomenon:  Inside the World's Most Surprising School System

Why Other Countries Do Better in Math

"Singapore: 5 Surprises in Education"

"The Professional Lives of Teachers in Singapore"

"What American Teachers Can Learn From Japan"

  "A More Global Perspective On Teacher Assessment and Development"

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