Giving Hope to Our Public School Teachers

Last evening, when three members of the leadership team of the Bad Ass Teachers Association made a guest visit to Justin Oakley’s “Just let me Teach” on the IndianaTalks internet radio network there was discussion about getting more public school teachers to join the BATs and to stay active in their unions. It was suggested that many teachers are losing faith in their unions and are not remaining active.

No one knows better than the Bad Ass Teachers Association that American teachers are more discouraged than ever. Everywhere they turn they are under attack and it is easy to understand that they are losing hope that what they are doing for their students is making a difference and that their efforts are appreciated. That many teachers in Indiana and throughout the U.S. live in fear of losing their jobs if ISTEP+ and other standardized test results do not improve borders on criminal, particularly since most educators know that the infamous A to F grading system for Indiana’s schools really stands for “Absurd to Farcical.”

It is difficult to maintain a positive frame of mind when teachers are being blamed for problems over which have little or no control and when they are asked to work in environments in which they are as much victims of a system as their students.

What teachers need more than anything is hope that a better day is coming but to whom do they turn for hope and leadership?

They cannot look to their state and federal governments or the business community because these seemingly unassailable forces are linked together in what can only be perceived by the teaching profession as a relentless quest to destroy public education.

Many are losing hope that their unions and associations can withstand the withering assault on basic purposes that unions were created to serve.

Even the wonderful organization that we know as the Bad Ass Teachers Association and their rallying cry that “we’re not going to take it anymore,” are viewed with skepticism by some. What good does it do, some teachers ask, to stand up and shout that we’re not going to take it when, the reality is that teachers feel such a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness that anything they say can make a difference.

As appealing as the mantra of the BATs may be, I hear some teachers saying that no one wants to hear us complain, they want answers!

Teachers can rally around candidates for public office, whether local school boards, or state or federal executive or legislative offices but almost always find themselves supporting candidates who are as short on experience in public office, or in building a successful election campaign strategies as they are short on funding. And, almost always, these candidates for office find themselves running against opponents with strong support of mainstream political parties, powerful political action committees, and a movement that professes to be working to save American children from the shortcomings or our public school corporations.

We live in hope that the miracle of Glenda Ritz’s election to Indiana’s office of Superintendent of Public Instruction was a turning point but how often can we expect the stars to be so perfectly aligned as they were on that election night that we recall with such fondness? Are we to be content to celebrate candidate Zephyr Teachout’s recent primary election defeat in New York City because she won 34 percent of the vote and raised awareness?

We listen with rapt attention to the celebrated champions of public education like Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling Hammond who stand for teachers and other educators and who speak with eloquence. Sadly, these few heroic champions must somehow offset the power and momentum of the corporate reformers like Bill Gates, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and the legions of multi-billion dollar businesses and foundations who line up in support to the demise of public education.

The problem is that the champions of the cause for public education and our public schools and their teachers offer so little upon which we can all take hope. These champions cry out that the problems of public education are nothing more than a myth and that our public schools are performing better each year, even if in small increments.

The problem is that such protestations, no matter how eloquent the appeal, ring hollow to the overwhelming number of Americans and even to an overwhelming number of the teachers on behalf of whom such advocacy is offered. It is a message that has precious little credibility.

Advocacy Groups for the support of Public Education can be found in States all over the U.S. with Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education; Indiana Coalition for Public Education just two examples here in Indiana.

Why don’t these advocates and the leadership of our various unions, associations, and other organizations working on behalf of public schools and their students and teachers shout loudly that,

Yes! Public Education in America is in crisis but it is a crisis that exists in spite of the valiant efforts of teachers not because of those efforts.

Why do they not stand and proclaim that:

Professional educators are the only ones who truly understand what needs to be done to return the status of public education to its rightful place as one of the essential components of a democratic society and a healthy economy.

Why do they not shout out that they have:

a real solution to the challenges of public education that will protect rather than damage the all-important relationships between our public schools and their communities, not to mention our students.

Why do they not:

develop an action strategy to transform the educational process and present it to the professional educators to enlist their support and commitment to a real and achievable solution?

And, most importantly, why do they not begin:

the process of selling that solution to the American people?

In recent posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and in a recent tweet on Twitter I shared a message from a poster of Michael J. Fox that read:

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.

Our teachers know exactly what must be done to turn our schools around so they meet the needs of all American children and not just those who have an affinity for academic endeavors.

Our teachers know that the educational process is flawed when we don’t assess where a child is when they report for their first day of school and then expect them to move down the same path with a diverse classroom of other children on the same chronological schedule.

Our teachers know that the educational process is flawed when they are unable to give children enough time to learn and instead are told that their job on that lesson is done and then give the student a “C,” “D,” or “F” and ask them to move on to the next lesson; a lesson at which they are even less prepared to succeed.

Our teachers know that the solution is to give children the time they need to learn and that, in the final analysis, what matters is not how long it took a child to learn but rather than they did learn and can now apply what they learned to future subject matter and eventually to solve the everyday problems of living in a complex democratic society.

Our teachers know that standardized testing is not a measure of a child’s level of knowledge or understanding any more that it is a measure of a teacher or school’s effectiveness. A test is snapshot of a student’s grasp of given subject matter at a fixed point of time and is useful only if it determines first, whether or not a student needs more time and assistance from his or her teachers, and second; where that attention should be directed if, indeed, it is needed.

Our teachers know that the most important determinant of a child’s success in school is the level of support and participation of the child’s parents or guardians working as partners with the teacher on behalf of the student. Teachers know the system is flawed when so many young parents have no faith or trust in our schools because they are, themselves, victims of an educational process that did not give them what they so desperately needed when they were kids.

Our teachers understand that we need to reach out to these parents and pull them in as partners in the educational process, to help them learn to trust that the school and teacher are there to help them help their child prepare for the rest of their lives.

Our teachers know that each child needs to feel that they are special and have relationships with people in their lives whom they can both love and trust. Teachers understand that the child who is hardest to love and demands the most attention is the child that needs it the most. Our teachers understand that every child needs to have experienced what many of us recall when we think back to our most favorite teachers. Our teachers understand that the educational process is flawed when it is not structured to support the development of the vital relationships between our children, their parents, and teachers.

Our teachers know the educational process is flawed when children have given up on learning and are no longer willing to try; choosing to act out instead. Our teachers understand that the solution to keep children engaged in learning as a natural, fun, and exciting adventure is to teach them that they can learn. Teachers understand that kids must experience the joy of success rather than repeated failure and humiliation.

Our teachers understand that our educational process is flawed when they lack the resources to spend their time and energy where it can do the most good rather than be bogged down in meaningless record-keeping, bureaucratic demands, and political interference. Teachers know that they need technology that empowers teachers rather than limit their freedom and creativity and mitigate their value.

Our teachers know all of these things so when are we going to empower them to do that which only they can do?

If we want to give teachers hope that they can live out their careers as a professional involved in the noble and loving act of giving of themselves to their students and families we must rethink what it is that we want to accomplish in education and reinvent the educational process to support that purpose.

These are ideas around which teachers can rally. It is something that they can reach out and touch and feel and that they can sell to the parents of their students and to their communities. It is something that is real and achievable and about which they can be enthusiastic and energetic and then be re-energized and re-enthused with every celebrated accomplishment.

The sad reality is that the educational process in place throughout our system of schools, both public and private, is flawed and that everyone knows it. Every time we shout out in loud denial all we accomplish is to confirm that that the assertions and allegations that public education is failing are frightfully and inarguably true.

Employers all over the U.S. know it when they struggle to find capable employees who can not only do good work but can also accept responsibility for doing their best. They know it when they must spend millions upon millions of dollars screening applicants to find a precious few who can do the job right from the get go and must also spend millions more to re-train and re-educate those who cannot.

The corporate reformers and the government officials who pander to them and who are laboring to privatize education did not wake up one morning having experienced an epiphany that there were huge profits to be earned by taking over America’s schools. They discovered that little truth only after they were compelled by their anger and frustration to address what they considered to be the monumental failure of public education in America because no one else seemed prepared to step up and accept responsibility for taking action.

Our military services know the educational process is flawed when a full quarter of the young men and women who are candidates for enlistment into the Armed Services cannot meet the minimum qualifications for enlistment and when many more are unable to score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to qualify for the increasingly more skilled and technical jobs that need to be done at a high level of proficiency.

Our communities of the poor and minorities who live separate and apart from mainstream American society know that the performance gap that exist between their children and white, middleclass students is staggering in its breadth and scope and, most of all, in its consequences. The growing cultural disdain for the importance of education in the lives of their children is nothing more than a consequence of a prolonged case of hopelessness and powerlessness on the part of these parents that anything they do will make a difference for their children.

Most of all, as I have pointed out in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America and in articles published in my blog Education, Hope and the American Dream, and elsewhere, our teachers know in their hearts and minds that the educational process is, indeed, failing in spite of their labor and sacrifices. They know that the warn-out insistence that the failure of our public schools is a myth is, itself, a myth the perpetuation of which can only have tragic consequences for our nation’s and our children’s futures.

We must open our hearts and minds to the idea that our professional educators are the only people who can solve the problems of public education. They are waiting for their leaders and advocates to stand up an offer a solution in which teachers and the American people can both believe and trust.

American teachers, the unsung heroes in the battle for the future of our way of life, are at the edge of desperation waiting for their leaders to stand up for the truth.

What are we waiting for?

2 thoughts on “Giving Hope to Our Public School Teachers

    • probably not relatives but hopefully kindred spirits. Thanks for commenting and please take the time to check out my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For
      Twenty-First Century America
      . You can read the reviews at my website at or at by searching books for “Mel Hawkins”

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