Monday, January 23, 2012

Teaching--It's Not A 'Privilege'

A friend draws my attention to this:

When I send my children off to school in the morning I expect a few things to happen:

1) They should have fun at school

2) They should feel inspired and challenged

3) They should be allowed to explore their passions

Is that too much to ask! I don’t want to hear why my second grader needs to take benchmark exams (which are more like midterm exams you take in college), simply because you want your school scores to test high so that you can receive more state funding. This is not why I send them to school and this is not the definition of teaching. If you have teachers who love to teach and do their job well… then get the hell out of their way and let them teach. If you have lousy teachers who do the bare minimum then fire them before they taint the minds of our children. An education is the right of every child, but teaching those children is a privilege.

My Question: If a doctor doesn’t do her job well and harms her patients she loses her license. So, why don’t the teachers who harm the education of our children lose their licenses?

First, this person seems to have her blame leveled at several different people in this short piece. A classroom teacher does not decide if a second grader needs to take benchmark exams, or whether it would be better to have them learn with all their senses by doing a great unit on butterflies. So the 'why does my kids have to take the exam, just so you dumbos can get EVEN MORE state funding for your free public school' whine really has nothing whatsoever to do with the teachers. Or the administrators, in most cases. This is a state- and federal-level fight here. 

However, Mrs. High Expectations also seems to have absorbed the popular fantasy that the real problem in schools is bad teachers who somehow cannot be removed from the classroom. Hence the coy little whine about how doctors who are bad doctors lose THEIR jobs. (No, chica, that's not actually true. Even doctors who kill their patients usually settle through their malpractice insurance. You have to screw up more than a second-grade teacher generally does to lose a medical license.)

But never mind. This is someone who wants her kids to have a great school experience, and she wants everyone who's not contributing to to that out of the way, and as someone who hopes for her own future kids to have a good school experience, I can relate, and I'll keep my own thoughts about 'bad teachers', and what that really means for another day.

What I'm looking at is the 'privilege' statement.

Look, as someone who just spent eight years in education, and is now bailing, it's hard in some ways to say that teaching is not a privilege, if by 'privilege' we mean something special and wonderful that not everyone gets a chance to do. By that standard, many professions are privileges, as are many life experiences.

However, it is relatively rare for someone to write a blog post telling their doctor that practicing medicine is a privilege. They may tell their doctors that they are crappy doctors, or that they're getting sued, or that they're miserable excuses for human beings, but even pediatricians don't get the 'but taking care of my children is a privilege' nonsense nearly as much as teachers. (I am reminded of Brendan Behan, commenting on how people always remind you that 'a priest is a worker too'. He points out that people rarely feel the need to remind you that a ditch-digger is a worker too.)

This is because 'privilege' when we talk about teachers usually has other subtexts. It means "You're getting paid too much." It means "I blame you for my child's problems." It means "I blame you for our school district's decisions." It means "You're a Madonna or a dirtbag, depending on how I feel about my child's educational experience this week." It means, "I read online somewhere that teachers are getting paid $50,000.00 to sit in offices in New York because there's something wrong with the union there."

Teaching is not a privilege. It is a job. It is a moderately paid, highly responsible, extremely difficult job. If you do not like the job your child's teacher is doing, do something about it. Do what my friend Drora recently did, and get you kid transferred to someone else's classroom. Talk to the teacher. Engage politically, and find out WHY the second-grade teacher has to teach to the test, and what would happen to her in your district if she declined. But do not stand there and simper about how privileged teachers are, and how grateful they should be for the opportunity to do the job they were trained for.

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