Mike the Mad Biologist

If you haven’t heard (wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t), in the Alabama State House, a legislator switched parties–from the Republican Party to the Democrats, which, given the trend, especially in the South, over the last few decades is surprising. What’s even more surprising is why he switched–teacher bashing:

Chalk up another Democratic win this week: Alabama State Rep. Daniel Boman, who entered the legislature as a Republican in November, is switching parties to become a Democrat after he says the GOP went too far in attacking teachers in the state…

Now there’s Boman, who’s walking away from the GOP after it took on the state’s public school teachers.

From the Tuscaloosa News:

Boman, a 36-year-old lawyer from Sulligent, said Wednesday’s vote on a bill to change the state’s tenure and fair dismissal laws for educators convinced him he was in the wrong party.

Digby identifies the dangers of the teacher bashing strategy (italics mine):

Republicans are walking into a minefield with these attacks on teachers. Everyone’s had them. many of us are related to them. Most of them, at least in the lower grades, are women. Turning them into the enemy is going to turn many millions of people against their own families.

Once again, I’m struck by how the Republicans have run out of ways to Obfuscate their real agenda. People aren’t liking it much once they realize that they have finally met the enemy and apparently it is them.

There are four million teachers in the U.S., not including retired teachers. Oddly though, I get the impression that most of the pro-reform bloc, especially the punditocracy, don’t know very many teachers. Like actual union members, they are an abstraction*. There’s a reason why someone like Jon Stewart has reacted so furiously to the teacher bashing, in spite of his class and cultural (i.e., ‘progressive’) membership: his mother was a teacher. The fiction that teachers are lazy government employees who don’t care about their students doesn’t ring true. Because he knows teachers. Not professional reformers who might have taught for a couple of years a long time ago (e.g., Michelle Rhee; Teach for America**) or think tank policy wonks, but people who, year in and year out, have taught students in classrooms.

Because when you do know and listen to teachers, you hear about a lot of problems that aren’t ever discussed. Students who are unready to learn. Sclerotic administration. Inadequate resources for science teachers (we should never have to raise money through Donors Choose–although you should give–a civilized nation would provide the money). The warping effect of standardized tests (even teachers who score well typically hate them). Class sizes that are too large. Students who don’t show up regularly. The inability of administrators to deal with severe discipline problems, including violent students. In biology (and other courses), political presure–and lack of administrative support to counteract that pressure–by the theopolitical right to alter areas of the curriculum (e.g., evolution, rightwing historical revisionism). The lack of funding to learn and implement new teaching methods and curricula.

I realize it’s human nature to blame everyone and everything but yourself, yet most teachers will admit there are dreadful teachers. But over the years, largely through circumstance, I’ve come to know teachers in a variety of school systems, rich and poor, urban and suburban. Between what they tell me and what the data suggest, it seems that many of our schools’ problems won’t be solved by ‘incentivizing teachers’–that is, flogging them harder.

Educational ‘reformers’ need to get out more.

*One factor is that many pundits/policy wonks have graduated from elite institutions and simply don’t move in those circles.

**It also seems that Teach for America teachers are disproportionately sent to poor schools. Between the socioeconomic gap and the unique challenges poor students face, this gives them a very skewed perspective, especially if, like most Teach for America graduates, they leave classroom teaching.

Comments

  1. #1 jensan
    June 1, 2011

    I love to stand up for teachers against the simplistic notions most conservatives have about what will “fix the problem.” The problem is multi-headed and knotted. It will not be fixed by any simple remedy. However, the one place I think teacher’s unions shoot themselves in the foot is in protecting advancement through seniority. There must be a better way to gauge the effectiveness of your teaching than by how long you’ve stuck it out listening to whining kids, perfectionist parents, incompetent administrators, unfeeling school boards and ridiculing state legislators.

  2. #2 Ema Nymton
    June 1, 2011

    Well, jensan, how about we just agree that you’re a moron and leave it at that?

  3. #3 Min
    June 1, 2011

    jensen: “However, the one place I think teacher’s unions shoot themselves in the foot is in protecting advancement through seniority.”

    Teachers trade pay for other benefits, including job security. Without seniority they do not have as much job security. Get rid of seniority? A good idea, IMO. But then you have to pay teachers more. Lots of luck on that!

  4. #4 Mike Crichton
    June 1, 2011

    Jensan: However, the one place I think teacher’s unions shoot themselves in the foot is in protecting advancement through seniority. There must be a better way to gauge the effectiveness of your teaching

    No doubt there is. But historically, “merit-based promotion/pay” has often been used as a code word for union busting. By strange coincidence, employees who were involved in the unions never seemed to show sufficient merit. Funny, that. It was very difficult to prove anything, but the pattern was blindingly obvious. So while I think it would be a good idea to do away with seniority in principle, in practice, I don’t blame the unions for being suspicious.

    Ema: Well, that seems completely uncalled for.

  5. #5 Schenck
    June 1, 2011

    Jensan is right, the Unions are doing way too much damage to themselves and the teachers by not letting up more on getting rid of senior deadwood. Its not a cure all, but its also something that the public responds strongly too. And if we’re not careful, we’ll have politicians, especially state governors, put in place who will simply get rid of tenure by fiat.

    I also agree with Min here, I don’t really know just how many people give up a lucrative career in something else to instead become teachers, but its still true that teaching represents a trade-off, less pay for more job security. That sort of trade-off has existed in lots of other fields; less pay for more job security, pensions at retirement, etc. But notice, even pensions are being negotiated away.

    I think that teachers might need to really start asking themselves if having their Union fight for people who shouldn’t be teaching in the first place is worth loosing tenure over.

    But let me also be clear, there are PLENTY of other, bigger, problems than deadwood.

  6. #6 Beth
    June 2, 2011

    @Schenck

    “I don’t really know just how many people give up a lucrative career in something else to instead become teachers, but its still true that teaching represents a trade-off, less pay for more job security.”

    As the child of a teacher and the friend of several others, I can tell you that few teachers choose their careers simply for job security. What security there was is much shakier today, anyway.
    A number of my high school and college classmates have become teachers. They teach because they like teaching, because they like sharing knowledge with their students, and because they like to help young people explore the world through stories, through history, through poetry, and through the sciences. A teacher who wants the job simply for the security is unlikely to be much of a teach-er.
    Then again, a teacher who wants the job for its pay is nuts.

  7. #7 Beth
    June 2, 2011

    @Schenck

    “I don’t really know just how many people give up a lucrative career in something else to instead become teachers, but its still true that teaching represents a trade-off, less pay for more job security.”

    As the child of a teacher and the friend of several others, I can tell you that few teachers choose their careers simply for job security. What security there was is much shakier today, anyway.
    A number of my high school and college classmates have become teachers. They teach because they like teaching, because they like sharing knowledge with their students, and because they like to help young people explore the world through stories, through history, through poetry, and through the sciences. A teacher who wants the job simply for the security is unlikely to be much of a teach-er.
    Then again, a teacher who wants the job for its pay is nuts.

  8. #8 Beth
    June 2, 2011

    Sorry for the double-post! Wonky computer issues here. Could the duplicate be removed?

  9. #9 Samantha Vimes
    June 7, 2011

    I’m working on my degree and then credential. I want to be a teacher for the look on a student’s face when the bafflement melts away in the light of understanding. And everyone I talk to who is involved in or interested in teaching (and good at it) loves that look, too. But there do need to be sufficient material compensations to make all the hard work worth it; feeling good about your job goes a long way, but there are still bills to pay.