TELLING WHAT WE KNOW

PART II

 11/16/05

    It has fascinated me to see the reaction to Part I in this series in which I urged teacher unions to become responsible advocates for controlling the waste in our public schools.  Over night, thanks to Mike Antonucci at the Education Intelligence Agency, Iíve become the darling of the political right, the Goldwater Institute hailing me as the second coming of Al Shanker.  Not bad for a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America.  If teacher unionists can build coalitions with the right to curb waste and use the taxpayersí money more productively, thatís fine with me.  Iím weary of the political left surrendering all thought of economy and good school management to the right.  

    It is also time teacher union leaders end all their sanctimonious rhetoric about professionalism.  The fact of the matter is, in most of Americaís public schools not only are teachers not permitted to function as professionals, their working conditions are deteriorating and are horrifyingly reminiscent of those that gave birth to the teacher labor movement to begin with. 

    In the name of serious educational reform, we need to tell the truth about the agony of many elementary school teachers who if they get an uninterrupted hour a day with their whole class, itís been a good day.  We need to explain to a world that is largely ignorant of what we are up against, that even when they occasionally get some time, how they use it is often determined by some administrator type who having taught for a few years is empowered to shove the latest fad of an imagination-sapping program down their throats.  We need to talk about the absurdity of all the so-called push-ins and pull-outs that fracture the coherence of the school day, creating a rhythm of school activity more akin to a computer game than what most people would understand as learning.  We need to talk about how these circumstances defy the ability of even great teachers to practice their craft in anything approaching a professional manner and which thwart the ability of novice teachers to develop their teaching skills.  A revitalized teacher labor movement would organize these hardest-working of hard-working teachers to take back control of their work - to regain the pride that comes from developing an individual style of teaching as unique as oneís fingerprints.  

    A revitalized teacher labor movement would speak out forcefully about our middle school teachers and the absence of professional conditions in most of their workplaces.  They are inundated with criticism these days, sometimes even from colleagues in the upper and lower grades, for the falloff in test scores that almost universally occurs at this level.  They are caught up in a wave of so-called middle school reform that has swamped the academic program, leaving us psychobabble about emotional learning as a substitute for the kind of intellectual challenge that would probably raise their scores.  Not too long ago, I heard a principal of one of our middle schools tell the Board of Education that,  ďThe goal of middle school is the emotional education of our students.Ē  How can it be that he wasnít fired on the spot?  When has anyone seriously engaged middle school teachers about their thoughts of what might improve the educational outcomes of their schools?  Professional?  Indeed!  Can anyone imagine hospital administrators prescribing medical treatments without consultation with the physicians on staff?  

    Teachers are always called to an ill defined professionalism by those who wish them to do more for less and with less.  Union rhetoric too often aids and abets this exploitation.  It encourages members to believe they are professionals even though they have minimal participation in determining good teaching practice, no say about who enters and remains in their line of work and are constantly second guessed by supervisors with little to no appreciation of the art of teaching and parents who believe they know more about teaching than we do.       

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