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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If Teachers Really Were the Bottom Third of a Rotten Barrel...

Nancy Gibbs, the editor of Time, made the assertion in the now-famous "Rotten Apples" edition that the U.S. draws its teachers primarily from the bottom third of graduating classes.  To begin with, I'm highly skeptical.  From where I stand and whenever I look at a room filled by my colleagues, I am certain that it is entirely false.  

But let's humor Ms. Gibbs for a moment and swallow her stats blindly.  It begs the question:  Why?  Why can't the profession attract more qualified people?  Why is it having a hard time attracting anyone these days?  She doesn't seem to consider these questions worthy of study.

If her assertion is true, why should it be used as an argument to further demean the profession?  Why should it be used to further bash teachers and strip them of their dignity?  Does she feel such actions will attract more qualified people to the profession?

And, if her assertion is true, the next logical question becomes:  Are these bottom-third teachers academically negligent?  Perhaps, yes,  Perhaps, no.  If yes, here is the next question to ask:  How much assistance will these teachers need to adequately fulfill their responsibilities?  Is it a little or is it a lot?  If it is a little, let help be provided in a friendly and non-challenging way.  If it is too much, perhaps, they need to be counseled out of the profession and replaced by an ATR who has been branded as a failure due to the simple misfortune of working in a failing school with failing children.  If a bottom-third teacher who is academically negligent  already has tenure, who is to blame?  It is surely not any teacher.  Only administrators can grant tenure.  Am I wrong?

Instead of following logical paths of reasoning, however, reformers seek to blanket target all teachers.  Yet, if the profession is attracting the academic dregs of society, which I still highly doubt, one needs to make the profession more attractive to the highly qualified.  Is this being done?  No.  The media makes its dough by glossing over the great things being done in classrooms in order to make room for the few sensationalist incidents that could sully the profession in the eyes of so many.

If anyone expects to attract highly qualified persons to our classrooms, teachers must be treated as professionals again.  Teachers might be better paid and their rights better protected.  Teachers might be better respected.  So far as I can tell so many of the self-dubbed "reformers" would rather Walmartize the profession.  

Does anyone entertain for a moment the hope that the top third is flocking to the profession?  If you think the TFA can act as a floating bottom of young teachers from elite institutions, working for no more than three years, without doing irreparable harm to the idea of a community school and the talent that develops with years of experience, then think again.  Will "reformers" be pleased to replace teachers with cold machines or will they keep waiting for the cream of the crop to pound down their doors--despite the tide of reform which drowns and demeans us all?  Instead of waiting, it might be smarter to ask, "Who is John Galt?"

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