McClellan: Teachers are the new piñatas - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

McClellan: Teachers are the new piñatas

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 12:56 pm | Updated: 9:19 pm, Sat Mar 31, 2012.

Why are teachers the new piñatas? Why do politicians make teachers a kind of enemy to be attacked so much?

If you believe what you read, teachers are lazy, coarse, left-wing ideologues hellbent on indoctrinating innocent kids. What bunk.

As a retired teacher, I look at my profession and I wonder about its future. And before you try to portray me as some kind of teacher apologist, let me make something clear: We need to fire bad teachers and reward the good ones. For years I’ve believed that tenure too often is an excuse some administrators use to avoid firing incompetent teachers. And too often some unions have gone to ridiculous extremes to protect the incompetent.

In my perfect world, I’d eliminate tenure — as long as there were employee protections against vindictive or incompetent administrators.

So I’m not someone who has a kneejerk reaction to criticism of education. Some of it is deserved.

But what about the attacks today?

Let’s start with an inconvenient fact: We are not going to attract what some believe are the best and brightest to the profession when currently almost half of all new teachers leave their careers within five years for something else. Salaries are part of the reason, but another compelling factor surfaces when those teachers are surveyed: A lack of support, within the school and from parents.

Some administrators have the gall to tell teachers that if kids fail, it’s solely the teachers’ fault. Even if those kids fail multiple classes. Or hardly show up for school. Or show up not having enough sleep or not having done their homework.

Teachers — and not just the new ones — have become increasingly frustrated at the apparent indifference many parents have towards their children’s educations. Not all, not most, but many. Of course, there are great parents, too, parents who take an active role in their kids’ education, hold their kids accountable. Increasingly, though, they seem to be a distinct minority.

And too often, new teachers receive little guidance in their first years. Sure, some districts will give lip service to mentoring programs, but again, too often new teachers are given a textbook, the curriculum guides and shown their rooms. After that, they’re mostly on their own.

Good luck retaining new teachers under those conditions.

And teachers are called lazy, too, the old “nine months of work followed by three months of vacation” argument. True, there is a summer vacation, though it’s far from the three months some envision. But most teachers prepare for the next year in the summertime, working on new curriculum or attending workshops.

Are there lazy teachers? You bet. And they frustrate the heck out of the rest. But most teachers work hard, during the school day, before and after. In my experience, the best teachers are at school early, work all day, and then work into the night. Each day. And on weekends, too.

For those who believe teaching is some kind of walk in the park, I’d ask them to teach for a week. Just a week. And then tell me how easy it is. The physical and mental exhaustion new teachers experience is something you can’t understand until you’ve tried it.

So enough with the “lazy teachers” with a cushy job claim. It’s bogus. And it needs to stop.

As do the attacks by the Legislature. Some try to create the mirage that school districts are at the mercy of the all-powerful teachers’ unions.

Not in Arizona, a right-to-work state that does not require binding arbitration. A school district doesn’t even have to negotiate with a union if it chooses. And if it does choose to do so, it can stop those negotiations at its pleasure.

So those who try to conjure up union bosses twisting districts’ arms to do what the bosses want are creating a useful illusion, useful for their ends.

A final point: Arizona’s about to change the fundamental content of schools, from kindergarten through high school. We are one of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards in math and English (and later, other areas). It’s a great idea in that it’ll give our country a common set of standards for our kids to attain. And the standards are more rigorous, rigor our schools need.

But this is yet another demand on teachers, a change they have to make on the fly, even as they and their kids are held accountable to the current AIMS standards. Imagine understanding, coordinating, preparing for, and incorporating the new standards even as your students are tested on the old standards. Yet that is what teachers in Arizona currently face.

Even as the Legislature creates a new evaluation system no one yet understands because, in typical legislative behavior, the system is vague and they don’t involve teachers in the process.

But soon, teachers know, yet another “new and improved” evaluation system will be used to judge their quality.

Yes, education needs to improve. We do need more great teachers. But the incessant attacks on educators only makes the serious problems even worse. It’s time for them to stop.

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