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Teachers on the defensive?

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, July 16th, 2011 at 11:58 am in Education.

This Readers’ Forum piece appears today in the Contra Costa Times. I am reposting it here to give blog readers the opportunity to comment.

“From the community
By Ron Borland
Guest Commentary

Something’s gone terribly wrong with our country. Suddenly, we’re turning on our public servants, the people on the front lines of society, and making heroes into villains. Only the military escapes society’s wrath.

Everyone else in public service is being accused of being on the public dole, especially public school teachers.

And so these good people live in constant fear for their jobs, worrying if the next state financial shortfall will set off yet another round of massive layoffs.

Along with their own jobs, they worry that those valuable instructional aides and office staff will disappear. Meanwhile, like most of the working stiffs in our country, take-home pay stalled long before the recent recession and they suffer the burden of an increasing number of nonpaid furlough days.

As for the future, a future they work so hard to ensure for their students, it’s bleak. Unlike Finland and other countries who have invested heavily in teacher training and expertise to achieve educational gains, America increasingly endorses a “drill and kill” “teach to the test” system where more and more is expected with less and less financial, staff, and popular support.

Meanwhile, teacher pensions are in jeopardy while the public looks at upper tier pension abusers and makes the leap of logic that all public employees are cheating them.

Nobody goes into teaching for the money, but it used to be a secure, respected position.

Now it’s a job with no significant pay raises, one under constant public scrutiny and criticism, with the prospect of being laid off or losing your pension down the line.

Ultimately, one worries how we’re going to get qualified people to aspire to these jobs in the future.

And make no mistake, job conditions have deteriorated. It’s a much more difficult job than it was 10 years ago. Despite massive budget cuts to education, pressure to achieve impossible No Child Left Behind test standards are growing with class sizes.

With the loss of ’20 students-1 teacher’ requirement in grades K-3 in California, classes have ballooned to near 30 students in some districts. Upper grades have seen similar increases and, as numbers explode, so do class management and behavioral problems.

Add this to the ever-growing ‘The Rules Don’t Apply To My Child’ brigade and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect storm in our classrooms.

Culturally, our country’s approach to citizenship is increasingly weighted more toward rights and privileges than responsibility. When you spend time in a classroom you quickly see how far things have gone. There is a troubling sense of entitlement and denial in many of today’s parents and this is being passed on to children.

It’s hard to teach when you have students in your class saying, ‘My mom/dad says I don’t have to listen to you.’

As for handing out discipline, it’s difficult in a system where community support is fragile and any accusation against a school can lead to immediate conviction in the court of public opinion.

One of the big mistakes people make with the public school system comes in thinking the system consists only of teachers, administrators, students and parents.

It also consists of neighborhoods, communities, government, media, culture and business.

Indeed, we’re all a part of the public school system and until we pull together in support of teachers instead of demonizing them the system will never reach its potential.”

Ron Borland has served as a substitute teacher in four Contra Costa school districts in the last 11 years. He is a resident of Oakley.

Do you agree with Borland that teachers are demonized and many students feel they don’t need to listen to them?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Another MDUSD Mom

    The criticism of teachers has developed through a culture that begins with the profession itself. No one would dispute that a good teacher can change lives. No one would dispute that a teacher who changes lives should be revered.

    The problem is that a culture has developed and is advanced through the union and its membership. As someone who has worked in the private sector my entire life I am dismayed at the continual complaints from the teaching profession. Low pay, no benefits, have to work extra hours, take work home, too many meetings, stipends for this and stipends for that, awful students, awful parents, awful administrators, no appreciation, etc….

    I make a salary similar to a teacher who has worked as long as I have in my profession, my profession requires a college degree, I pay toward my benefits and it is too expensive to include my family, my company has 4 paid holidays per year unless they fall on the weekend, I get three weeks of vacation per year, I have taken work home with me this weekend and do so often, I also stay at work until I finish the work that needs to get done. I love my job and do not complain. I have no guarantee that I won’t be fired tomorrow. I have no tenure, no summers off, I don’t have the same holiday schedule as my kids, and I would say in the private sector I am closer to the norm.

    I would fight for higher salaries for our teachers if they would give up tenure. I would feel pride in the work our teachers do for our students if the focus shifted from complaining to innovative classrooms and engaging lessons.

    It is a tragedy that we have not found a way to forge a better partnership between our schools and our communities. In places where that has been accomplished great things have happened. At some point both sides need to be focused on the needs of the kids. What Mr. Borland doesn’t understand is that his greatest allies and champions of his cause could be parents. We just want to know that our children are the focus of a public education system… not anything else.

    There is no question that there are great teachers doing wonderful things, that should be celebrated but it is difficult when the profession is tainted with those who are protected from accountability.

  • Just J

    Well said MDUSD MOM. I feel the same. Except I used to love my job and I used to work late and take work home and I unsed to have benefits That is until I was laid off. I have been out of work for so long that I am finding it hard to find a position anywhere. I am not complaining just pointing out.

    To say that the parents have a sense of entitlement that is being passed down to the kids is just another finger pointing blame game. I don’t think we can blame all parents. We can’t blame all teachers. Our system is broken. I have come across many good teachers and I have come across many bad ones. I am guessing it is the bad ones that state the entitlement issues because a parent has brought some concerns to the table and they took it personal.

    I feel that my child is entitled to a good education from a highly qualified teacher. If they are not getting it I help, if many other students in the class are having the same problem then the problem is not the kids….It is possible that the teaching style of the teacher is either outdated or the teacher just does not care anymore.

    As far as more communication between the school and community….Teachers stand up and use your right to free speech. If it is broken and you say nothing then you are part of the problem. Parents if your children are constantly getting into trouble find out why if you don’t you are part of the problem. Unions get out of education. Stay out of my childs life. Let the people who know what they are doing do it. Admins, go back to the basics.

    Hope all of that made sense.

  • MDUSD Teacher

    @ Just J: I am a teacher in the MDUSD and I can assure you that every time I’ve exercised my right to free speech it has resulted in disciplinary action that required union intervention for me not to be fired. We don’t have tenure after two years in the district; we have due process rights before the district can fire us. Among my situations requiring the union were having the nerve to request a U.S. flag in my classroom (it’s in the Ed. Code but my admins have consistently been opposed to any display of patriotism), daring to discuss with my principal a VP who was involved with a married teacher (resulting in huge favoritism and comments from the students), reporting that same VP for falsifying student records sent to colleges by simply eliminating all failing grades, and the list goes on and on.

    The district tried over and over again to force me out for reasons unrelated to classroom performance. If I didn’t have my union, I’d be long gone from the district, and probably from the teaching profession.

    I find it ironic that the first two comments following an article responding to teacher bashing are critical of the profession and our right to be unionized. This is exactly why it’s more important than ever for teachers to stick together, both as professionals and as union members, in order to beat back the barrage of armchair educators who find it easier to slam teachers than to try to do the job themselves with shrinking resources, unfunded mandates, corrupt districts, more challenging students, impossible expectations, and politicians of all stripes that treat teachers like pinatas during every election cycle.

  • Just J

    I just looked up the person who wrote this article. He is in fact only a Sub. teacher and that is as far as his credential goes. So how would he know what parents are saying to their kids? In what context are they saying it? Is it in response to some garbage that he spewed the day before? (personal opinion or fact)

    There has been many occarions that I had to explain to my kids that what the teacher said was opinion and not fact. (you would not even believe some of the stuff that comes home) There have been teachers that state the facts and leave personal opinion out of it unles asked for a healthy debate. I don’t really think all teachers are under attack but some are and those are the ones that are protected by their Unions to keep their job even if they don’t teach.

  • g

    Certainly there is some truth in what Mr. Borland has to say. However, I can’t agree with much of it. He says that we are suddenly turning on our public servants when there is nothing “sudden” about it. We are not “turning on” them, we are holding them accountable. He says they are “on the front lines”. Oh, if only that were so. Many are too often in the proverbial “smoke filled back rooms” waging war against the public that put them out there hoping and praying that they would indeed keep the promises they made and take up the “front lines of society”.

    Teachers mired themselves down in this quicksand when they decided the almighty dollar was the goal and they would rather make more money than teach for the love of teaching, or the job security that came with that true dedication to a chosen profession.

    Then, far too many college students, with no goal or calling to any particular profession, realized that with just a bit more class time on their part they could get a nice white collar job, some pretty decent money, and when the school system was flush with funds, some relatively decent job security. The problem was (and still is) a love and desire to teach did not play a very big roll in their decision to go into teaching.

    That old screaming cry to “unionize” has become a mass whimpering whine of “woe is me”, and those who would still love to teach for the sake of teaching are little more than pawns in the political quagmire.

  • Just J

    @ mdusd Teacher,

    I hope you did not take offense to my post. It was meant in the most positive way to teachers. (good teachers) I was not saying that you should get rid of the union I was saying the union should stay out of education policy and what can and can’t be said. I think teachers are on the defensive but they really should not be. You knew when you became a teacher that you would have to deal with the parents as well as the child. We all have different personalities and different ways of processing the information given. Our system is broken all the way up and down the line. It is time to take a stand. If you want to stand with other teachers to make a change then make it happen. If you are one of the great teachers I will rally parents to stand with you.

    Teachers have a tough job and if you thought it was going to be easy then I am sorry for you. We all have to work together to change it. Quit whining about how hard it is and think about what is broken and let us all come together to fix it….after all it’s not about you or me it is about our Children.

  • Tom Gilbert

    It is really easy to bash a profession when you know so little about it. Bad teachers do not last. Why would good teachers want to keep them around? why would teachers want them to weaken the union?
    Unions employ quality workers and that is what you expect when you hire union shops. Only union professionals work on my house. I know I can count on the quality and I know they are well trained.
    Teachers are the same. To be a credentialed teacher in California one must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in the credential program. A candidate must have classroom experience and possess at least a Bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. President Bush would not qualify for the CA teaching credential program.
    The teachers have obviously failed some of the respondents to this essay. Their teachers clearly did not develop their critical thinking skills. Their teachers also neglected to instill in these respondents the need for strong research to form well informed opinions and make well informed decisions.
    One respondent claims to have an occupation that requires the same amount of education as is required to be a teacher and makes about the same salary. I have no idea what that occupation would be. The top tier for a teacher in the highest paid districts is somewhere near $90,000 and that’s what a teacher makes after 20 years of service and is just about ready to retire. Teachers also spend their own money on classroom supplies. What private sector job expects their employees to make that sacrifice? Furthermore teachers do not take work home once in a while and work a little over time. Most teachers take work home every day and work long after their contractual day has ended. This includes weekends as well.
    Apart from all of this. teachers are not asking for higher salaries. Teachers are well aware of the financial mess that this state is in. Teachers are far more concerned with what is happening to their students as a result of this mess.
    The worse part about this whole educational debate is that the end result of the attempt to improve education is that we now have more unemployed people with masters and doctorate degrees than we have ever had at any other point in history. Even if the economy improves, this will always be the case and as more and more people become better educated this problem will only get worse.

  • Doctor J

    @TG Unfortunately bad teachers do last . . . because teachers do not police their own ranks. Tenure is awarded by site administrators, not be teachers, and once it is granted, its way too late. But I think the more significant problem is with once excited teachers, that for whatever reason, lose the enthusiasm and just go through the motions. Actually I agree with you that if the teacher’s unions had more power to police their own, there would be better results.

  • CW

    My mother-in-law is a retired schoolteacher and while it’s a hard job that has gotten even harder in recent years with all the budget cuts, it’s also one that comes with a ridiculously cushy retirement benefits. My MIL was eligible to retire at age 58 (although she did not choose to do so until she was 61) at a guaranteed 75% of final year’s salary with annual cost-of-living increases plus family health insurance coverage until both she and FIL are eligible for Medicare. Just try to find a private sector job these days that offers similar retirement benefits.

    All current teachers who are more than 5 years away from retirement should be immediately switched to a cash-balance plan, and all new hires should be only eligible for a 401k-type defined contribution plan.

  • This Is Ridiculous

    Teachers receive crappy pay with the understanding that they’ll get a decent retirement benefit. Why not whine about all the CEOs on Wall Street – the ones who really got our country into this mess? Teachers aren’t the problem.

  • A real teacher

    @CW Your MIL is either being less that truthful with you, or she worked in some fantasy school district on some other planet. I am a teacher and I know lots of teachers who work in lots of different school districts and nobody I know is eligible for a “ridiculously cushy retirement” with 75% of final year’s salary and annual cost of living increases. That’s laughable. No teachers get anything like that, most especially at age 58 (or even 61). I have to teach until I am 70 because if I retire any earlier I won’t be able to live on my less than cushy retirement benefits. Health insurance coverage? HA! In my district, as in many others, teachers pay large portions or all of their premiums. I have “tenure” and nonetheless I have been laid off 3 out of the last 4 years, only getting called back at the last minute after spending the summer wondering wheether or not I would have a job for the coming year. Before I became a teacher, I spent 15 years working in the corporate world, in management level positions, and I made 3 or 4 times the amount of money I make now and yet I never worked harder than I do now. I biggest problem with education in America is the existance of Know Nothings who are full of unsubstantiated opinions and no facts at all.