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Are Public School Teachers THAT Important?

In case you missed it, last week was Pink Friday. People were asked to show teacherssupport for the tens of thousands of teachers facing potential layoffs due to California’s budget crisis. Yeah, it’s crazy. But to hear the public school teachers out here frame it, you’d think the world was coming to an end.

There’s been sit-ins, protests, media campaigns and editorials. We’re being inundated with reminders about how important teachers are, how hard they work, and how critical they are  to the success of our students. There have been tears, impassioned pleas and angry threats.

And, for the most part, I don’t buy it.

Now lest you think I’m just a naysayer, my older son is a Math teacher, his girlfriend is an English teacher, my daughter-in-law is a teacher’s aide, and I work for a school district in SoCal. (Okay, so I’m in the construction wing. Still most of my job involves working around and/or with teachers and administrators.) So me and my family have a stake in what happens to the schools out here.

But listening to some of the teachers’ advocates and union officials you’d think that public school teachers are some of the most important figures in American society. I mean, how did we ever survive as a country without middle school PE teachers?

It’s hard to tell whether or not this conflated sense of self-importance is genuine, or just a tactic to garner sympathy. But neither one works for me. Lisa and I have raised four kids. They all graduated high school. None of them are in jail, have a drug problem, affiliate with a gang, collect unemployment, or profess atheism. They work, pay taxes, and consume American goods. For a short period of time, we home schooled all of our kids. Once they entered public school, we encountered good teachers and bad ones. But no one teacher has been more important to our children’s education than their mother and father. None.

By boasting of their societal worth, teachers inversely devalue the role of parents in the educational process. But, come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what public educators need to do to stay in business — portray parents as ill-equipped, untrained, overly-busy, and generally lost? It’s like a co-dependent relationship — you reinforce my ineptitude so I can empower your superiority. Great trade-off, huh?

Furthermore, for a group that touts its intellectual ascendancy, training, compassion, and cultural relevance, there sure is a lot of panic. If anyone should be leading the way through these dark times, maintaining their composure and acting rationally, it should be our educators, right? Think again. I recently watched a local school board meeting attended by dozens of teachers. The gloom, desperation, and woe projected by these “professionals” was astounding. Is this the best America has to offer?

Memo to teachers facing potential layoffs: You will survive. Heck, what a better way to establish your smarts than by finding creative ways to make it. Hey, I don’t want to lose my job either. But I’ve been laid off before and am a better person because of it. I had to work harder, learn new skills, find another ladder of success and begin the struggle upwards. This is the American way, the kiln that forges our national spirit. Leading us with a “can do” spirit of optimism and ingenuity would bolster our country’s image of its educators far more than the weepy, pessimistic, self-important blather that characterizes so much of the CTA‘s current apologetics.

In a recent speech on education, President Obama said, “Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us.” He’s right. When it comes to public education, America gets less bang for its buck than any other nation. That’s nowhere more true than out here. Despite having some of the highest paid teachers or specialist mathematics tutor in the nation, California continues to rank near the bottom in test scores.

Facing the possibility of deep cuts may be the best thing that’s ever happened to our public schools, its teachers, and parents. Yes, many children will suffer from bigger class sizes and less staff. However, many, many children are suffering right now. Expanding the number of public school teachers has, apparently, not made things — or our children — better. So how does keeping all those teachers employed change things?  If their protestations are any indication, it’s time we started admitting that teachers may be part of the problem.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Nicole March 16, 2009, 1:27 PM

    Daring, insightful, honest, and real. A perfect assessment of the problem. Add to that the government liberal propaganda and brain-washing taking place instead of valuable curriculum, the total lack of discipline allowed, the prejudices waged against the basic tenets of Christian faith principles, and you have a perfect picture of today’s public education. All in all, no wonder the drop-out rates are higher than ever.

  • Elaina Avalos March 16, 2009, 1:38 PM

    Amen! This bit by some teachers is getting old. Maybe there are some that are using it as a bargaining ploy. But I do think many educators believe this way. It’s just another liberalization of our thinking in this country — the global village idea. Except somehow we’ve gone from a global village where the parents are included to, parents don’t know what they’re doing so WE need to indoctrinate (okay, teach) their children. WE know best. So yeah, I do think many teachers believe that they’re THAT important.

    By the way, after watching local news reports about this last week, not a single educator mentioned that California has slipped to nearly LAST in the nation in scores. They’re doing a bang up job.

  • Glynn March 16, 2009, 2:13 PM

    Mike, in 2003 and 2004, I worked as the director of communications for an urban school district. It was a year of downsizings, restructurings, school closings, outsourcing — you name, this district went through it. There were massive protests — imagine a school board meeting with 400 screaming people inside the room and another 2,000 screaming people outside. Guess how many of those people were parents who had major involvement in their childrens’ schools? Maybe 40. That’s when I learned that urban education is not about teaching children — it’s about jobs. There are some teachers doing some heroic things to teach children — but they’re few and far between. So it’s no surprise that teachers in California would do exactly what they’re doing.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 16, 2009, 5:55 PM

    You’ve made some excellent points, Mike, but my complaint is that 1) education seems to have taken a hit with the “budget adjustments” but I haven’t heard anything about cost reduction of government; 2) teachers and aids seem to be getting the pink-slip warnings but administrative personnel seems to be skating by without any reduction.

    While teachers are not more important than parents and can never single-handedly fix things for kids, they also can’t do a good job of teaching once classes top 33 or so. This I know from first-hand experience.

    I think the only thing that will help public school education is competition. That and an end to mandatory education. Make it something the kids themselves want, and our classes will once again become places of learning, not places where a student puts in time.

    I have to say, though, that I don’t blame teachers for being upset. It’s one of the few professions in which the work load can be piled on without any additional compensation and now we are talking about holding teachers responsible for someone else’s success or failure.

    Yes, there are good teachers and there are bad, but when I had a bad teacher, my parents did what they could to see that I didn’t fall too far behind.

    And some times it’s not the bad teacher. It’s the bad school system (like I had in fourth grade where the district in Colorado was experimenting and had us rotate from teacher to teacher a la secondary schools) or the bad class (and I’ve had some of those in which so much of my time goes into discipline, not near as much is left for instruction).

    The bottom line is, this is a complicated problem.

    Oh, here’s another thing that bugs me, though. Back … what, 15 years ago? We were told all out funding woes for public schools would be solved if we just passed a lottery. So what in the world has become of all that lottery money??


  • Nicole March 16, 2009, 8:39 PM

    Ah yes, the good ol’ lottery scam. I doubt if one cent of the promised lottery money in the state of Washington goes to education. Most all of the levies are from ever-increasing property taxes and the administration gets the bulk of all money and squanders it on themselves mostly. It’s ugly and symptomatic of a problem which holds no one accountable for the mess of poor education and indoctrination into a failing system of education.

  • Mike Duran March 17, 2009, 7:12 AM

    Yes, Becky, it’s ironic that none of the budget cuts, either at the state or federal level, address the size and/or inefficiency of government. This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that government bureaucracy, over-spending, and greed, are at the heart of our current crisis. Apparently, we citizens cannot trust our representatives to check themselves. The sad thing is that the individual citizen is so dwarfed and confounded by government as to be rendered powerless. All we can do, basically, is write editorials and angry blogs. And vote every couple of years… votes that may or may not be overturned by the courts. I fear we are headed towards a 21st century Revolution against Government Tyranny.

    As regards to teachers — You’re right, “this is a complicated problem.” I do not mean to imply that laying off teachers is the only, even the primary, way to address the problem. Nevertheless, one thing that has irked me about the teachers’ response to proposed budget cuts is the inference that all teachers are good teachers. No doubt there are other many factors to “successfully” teaching a class of 20+ students, not the least of which is parental support. But this still doesn’t negate the fact that some teachers are little more than glorified babysitters. Bottom line: The teachers union’s inability and unwillingness to hold bad teachers accountable undermines the achievements of the rest.

    Secondly is this almost flippant championing of children’s educational welfare. Why is it that whenever teachers’ jobs are on the line they go to the “Cuts Hurt Kids” card? It’s a cheap way to sidestep their own culpability and skirt the real issue. If the teachers are really so interested in the welfare of our children they should not oppose school vouchers or some form of merit system.

  • Ame March 17, 2009, 7:17 AM

    “But no one teacher has been more important to our children’s education than their mother and father. None.”


    i absolutely HATE the public-school teacher-mentality that they are SO important and know my child better than I … that there is no way i could do my job without THEM. BLECH!

    i will stop here … i could abuse your comments section with extensive ranting, but i will not. needless to say, i absolutely agree with you … and i’ve never lived in california 🙂

  • guy stewart November 4, 2009, 6:59 PM

    OK…I get what you all are saying, but maybe you missed the irony: if parents are a child's most important teacher and ALL schools are failing to produce competitive children (please don't lecture me about private schools, charter schools and homeschools: I have taught in 2 private schools, one charter school and we homeschooled our kids for 5 years. And I've been a public school teacher for 20 years. I have been inside education for a long time. For me union=administration and the only paradigm shift that would do any good at all is to strike down compulsory education laws), then isn't holding public school teachers as the ones solely responsible for this dilemma…um…somewhat…um…disingeneuous?

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