Tuesday, September 6, 2011

America Succeeds Because Teachers Succeed

I couldn't have put this better. Here's an excerpt from an excellent column, "In Honor of Teachers" by Charles Blow in Saturday's New York Times:

Since it’s back-to-school season across the country, I wanted to celebrate a group that is often maligned: teachers. Like so many others, it was a teacher who changed the direction of my life, and to whom I’m forever indebted. 

A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released this week found that 76 percent of Americans believed that high-achieving high school students should later be recruited to become teachers, and 67 percent of respondents said that they would like to have a child of their own take up teaching in the public schools as a career. 

But how do we expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when we keep tearing the profession down? We take the people who so desperately want to make a difference that they enter a field where they know that they’ll be overworked and underpaid, and we scapegoat them as the cause of a societywide failure.

Thank you, Mr. Blow for saying exactly what other leaders in the United States need to say. By all reasonable and statistical measures, America's public school teachers are doing an excellent job, but have been the targets of unconscionable attacks by so-called educational reformers and budget-cutting politicians who see no problem in demonizing educators as lazy, protected, tax-guzzling ne'er-do-wells.

The truth, according to the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, is that people want the best possible teachers in the classrooms and would overwhelmingly support a member of their family who wanted to become a teacher. Moreover, 71% have confidence in the men and women who are teachers in this country. The flip side of this is that 68% of people say that they hear more negative stories about teachers in the media than positive stories.

One of the more striking findings was that 47% of the public believed that unionization has hurt public education, while 26% say it has helped (25% say it has made no difference). This is where the public is disconnected from the effects that unionization has had on teaching. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the two largest unions, have had a profoundly positive effect on teachers by providing stable working conditions, livable wages and benefits that have enabled teachers to become solidly middle class citizens. Teachers also have fair dismissal protections against being fired for political or economic reasons. This allows us to teach the curriculum and make educational decisions without having to worry about political or emotional interference in our jobs.

And so to my teaching colleagues I say, have a wonderful school year. You do one of the most important paid jobs in this country and you deserve respect and appreciation.

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