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Seattle’s public schools sure have been through a lot in the 2010-2011 school year. On top of the multimillion dollar scandals and the firing of superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, we saw funding cuts from the legislature that has decimated our classroom teachers and classroom supports and caused serious overcrowding at Garfield High School and other schools, which meant that some students had to go without teachers or classrooms for part of the year. At Lowell, overcrowding has brought a need for more classrooms, and I have heard that the district plans to take away space from developmental preschool and toileting facilities.
But something else is happening that many parents may not realize: above and beyond funding problems, teachers are being hit hard with a loss of respect. One culprit is the movie Waiting for Superman, which in highlighting “bad teachers” has brought widespread disrespect to all teachers, in every school, regardless of quality.
This hit home hard to me recently at a party. I was deep in conversation with a middle school teacher who has been working 60-80 hour work weeks all year. Somebody came into the room, heard the word “teaching,” and launched into a discussion about the movie Waiting for Superman and this problem of “bad teachers.” I stuck up for her and helped her try to refute some of the flawed arguments, but we didn’t get through. I could see the teacher’s blood boiling as she tried to maintain her composure, finally leaving the house in order to avoid spilling all her year’s frustrations all over this well-meaning but misinformed guest.
Guess what, everybody? If we focus on “bad teachers” we are going to get bad teachers. Because our good teachers are going to quit. They’re already overworked. They are facing layoffs even though the numbers of students in our district are going up. They are losing the ability to control what they teach. And on top of all that, they are losing respect.
Don’t take my word for it, ask a teacher. Seattle is full of teachers. Some of your best friends are teachers.
Paired with this loss of respect are efforts to de-professionalize teachers in Seattle, efforts that will do material harm to teachers and the teaching profession. And this is terrible for our children. Here are just a few things that happened this year:
This doesn’t just hurt teachers. This attacks teaching as a profession. Could we, instead of spending all our efforts blaming bad teachers, ask what quality teaching looks like, and see how we can support it? Looking broadly at “teaching” instead of narrowly at “teachers” gives us the big picture that we need in order to work for real reforms in education, like:
These are all factors that directly impact teachers’ ability to do their jobs, but right now our education system is being privatized, and many of these factors are coming under attack.
Can teachers defend their profession? Yes, to an extent, but remember, they’re overworked already! We need to give them our support, and we need to keep a close and critical eye on what is happening district-wide, statewide, and nationally.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t take my word for this. Ask a teacher. Let them know beforehand that you won’t jump all over them but honestly want their opinion. Listen nicely and don’t argue! And above all, let them know you support them. Every little bit helps!