(Mods, this started as IMHO, but then it was MPSIMS, verged on BBQ, but I only used profanity as adjectives, which I think is acceptable in IMHO.)
Last week, I found myself talking about the most important teacher I’d ever had, and it saddened me to wonder if he would even want to be a teacher these days. Really, what’s their big crime? Being too underpaid? Spending their own money to get additional school supplies for their students? Working much longer than 40 hours a week? Dealing with what passes for parents these days? And don’t bring up that BS about not working over the summer. Do you think they summer on the Continent? No, they don’t, because they have shitty salaries and have to summer at summer school (teaching), construction sites (constructing) and whatever other jobs they can get, or they spend their summer spending money to continue their own education.
Teachers get very generous pensions that give them, approximately, their shitty salaries! The bad teacher who manages to teach only one thing to one kid has already produced more good for the human race than anyone whose job involved CDOs or (financial) derivatives. I’ll start demonizing teachers just as soon as the least competent of them start getting $100 million bonuses pulled out of my pocket through my rectum because “we need to attract the best ones.” Until that time, don’t fucking give me any lip about teachers and their luxurious lifestyles.
Yes, there are bad teachers, and yes, bureaucracies can manage to produce negative work at very high costs (hey, I live in California), and FFS, unions are self-serving! Why is it reasonable for people to say, “Of course MegaDemonCorp outsourced its operations to South Korea; they’re responsible to their stockholders, and my emotional detachment from this is a demonstration of my intellectual superiority over you,” but unions acting in the interest of their members are anti-American? EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT, and it’s something that needs to be consistently supported over many years in order for our collective children to become educated, productive adults. The children are the noses we’re cutting off to spite our faces. Yay! We’re showing tough love by ruining one or two generations of kids so we can show our displeasure at administrative incompetence! And our goal is to subject the whole thing to the brutal, instantaneous honesty of market forces! Oh, what lessons they’ll learn as they sit down in their fifth school in eight months because the previous four didn’t balance their resources efficiently!
Do the fuckers who demonize our teachers and want vouchers and home schooling realize that it doesn’t matter if they’re the richest family in town if their town is in shambles? Hell, I’m never going to have kids, but I gladly pay my taxes to help the kids in my neighborhood become well-educated and prosperous, because I don’t want hordes of uneducated thugs wandering the streets terrorizing people and eating brainzz.
Arrgh! I apologize, because I’m going off in different directions with this post, but when I was in high school, I was pretty miserable. I was poor, but I attended a public school in an upper middle class district, and I was noticeably younger and smaller than my classmates. I was on the outside, and the most important thing in my life was to not draw attention to myself, but this one teacher would just not let up on me. He’d regularly say things like, “Mr GroosLastName seems to think there’s a whole RANGE (waving his arms) of answers to this problem, because the force could be going in the opposite direction. Like the friction is going to … change direction. Does anyone BUY that?” (This only sticks in my memory because of its similarity to the thermos joke).
He generally did this when I was right, but eventually he started throwing me up there when I was wrong. At no time did I enjoy the experience, because whether or not I was right, I was being different. He was giving this quiet, alienated kid more reasons to feel alienated. Except, of course, that a vague idea was gradually insinuating itself into my consciousness: the bizarre notion that being different was not always a bad thing. If you’ve survived the ages from about 13 to 18, you know how alien such a concept that is.
His approach might have completely shut me down, but I think he knew what he was doing. He knew my existence was generally quite miserable, but he engaged me in a way consistent with his personality and, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure he consciously embarked on a year-long effort to get me to the point where I’d actually believe him when he suggested I set my sights on MIT or Caltech.
So, sorry to brag, but yes, we just crushed Occidental in basketball, the culmination of our diabolical plan to not win a single conference game in 26 years just to set them up and POUNCE! If you get beat by a team now and then, it’s just what happens, but when you get beat by a team that’s gone zero for 310 in 26 years, you are just the biggest damn losers out there. Don’t contradict me on this, as I will not hear any dissent on this matter.
Actually, I was being cute and writing a long e-mail about NCLB to a colleague at work, but in the last two paragraphs, I finally laid it bare: I was actually talking about a new program management system at work, which revolves around some metrics designed to help identify programs that need help. My colleague is one f the higher level managers evaluating this system. Well, I’ve seen it in operation for a year, and I’ve seen that the goal (as interpreted by the day-to-day managers) is not to deliver metrics that help upper management identify programs in need of help, but rather to encourage people to find creative ways of generating numbers which show apparent improvement at all times and in all ways.
Like NCLB, the goal is, as in Lake Wobegon, for everybody to be above average. No matter how well a program is doing, it’ll have to do better next year. So they start hedging their goals, sometimes seeming to react with relief when they encounter “exceptional” problems that can justify underperformance, resulting in “they did well, but of course, they also had to contend with that big problem…” In another weird consequence, programs get called on the carpet for delivering things too early. I have to say this: WE DO NOT KNOW AND CANNOT QUANTIFY EVERY FUCKING THING. We know that tests are a reasonable way of gauging retention, but we should also know that human interaction is a complex and still a rather mystifying subject. Your kid might learn a litte more about fractions one week, or he might learn how to accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings, or he might be standing in front of a class, sweating, having just been told by a middle aged man that, for the next few minutes, they are effectively equals, and your kid can attempt to support an assertion that may contradict something the man just said. These things are not on any standardized test that I know of.
A test question asking for the product of two numbers is very different from a question about the total energy in a system wherein, reading between the lines, one picks up the idea that the questioner might actually be asking an additional question: what will we know when we know the total energy in the system? Wow, I’m deep, but I’m just trying to point out that there was an underpaid, abrasive, but usually kindly stranger out there who, when I was 14, started (figuratively) smacking me on the side of the head, challenging me to START THINKING, and again, I’m pretty damn sure he was not attempting to help me breeze through some standardized test. Would this miracle of a person, cut from the finest cloth, voluntarily take on a difficult, low paid job that nowadays comes with the added bonus of excoriation by imbeciles in the national media?
Oh; of course I had one most important teacher – he was the bestest. But I got really lucky and had at least a dozen more (public school) teachers who were merely awesome.
So, to summarize, here are my points.:
[li]Teachers: Good, underpaid and under-appreciated.[/li][li]Metrics don’t count for shit if they don’t exist within a comprehensive model of their environment.[/li][li]Hi, Opal![/li][li]Beavers Rule![/li][li]Okay, I’m going there: If you hate teachers’ unions on principle, go eat some food that gives you indigestion. For hours. If you have a specific instance of malfeasance that somehow managed to negatively impact a large portion of students’ educations and thus contributed in some way to the eventual downfall of our civilization, please contribute, as I obviously have an open mind about this.[/li][/ol]
So, were my experiences atypical? Should we just have a love-fest for teachers? Or are they lazy, greedy ne’er do wells whose idea of a party is trying to keep 30 kids on Amphetamine Salts from running amuck?