Teacher's unions: the albatross

A history lesson on unions: Worker (Joe the Factory Button Presser) jeopardizes product (plastic crap no one would buy unless a commercial told them they needed it) with a strike in order to pinch customer (guy who really thinks he needs plastic crap and will bitch unless he gets it) which will urge boss (fat bastard who doesn’t do anything unless the customer threatens not to buy plastic crap) to acquiesce to worker demands. Result: customer bitches, boss acquiesces, worker wins, plastic crap rolls off the lines once again.

An observation on teacher’s unions: Worker (under-paid, under-appreciated teacher) jeopardizes product (sweet child who really needs to learn how to add and subtract) with a strike in order to pinch customer (parent who works two jobs and doesn’t really know what goes on with their children from 7:50-2:10) which will urge boss (person who has never set foot in a classroom and who is, in the end, unable to produce money out of thin air since the American People care more about football than education) to acquiesce to worker demands. Result: customer is unable to advocate for the product, boss finds strikes an annoyance, worker loses, product missed a week of school, now struggles to add and subtract, and wonders why no one seems to care about them.

Lesson: Unions do not work when the product is a human being.

The God of Collaboration

I am not a believer of hell, but if I were asked to describe my ultimate purgatory it would be to sit down with a bunch of other history teachers and write common lesson plans every week. I was recently asked to do this at a job interview for an “innovative” school. Three of us were asked to plan out a week’s worth of lessons in 20 minutes. In twenty minutes we achieved the most apathetic, incoherent, compromised bunch of garbage I’ve ever seen.

We took each of our, no doubt coherent, educational philosophies and hurriedly amputated arms and legs, throwing bits into the pot, having neither the time nor will to object to what was being created. The result was a Frankenstein of attitudes about learning and students that no one would be able to live with. The Kids Learn Best From Each Other teacher cannot also be the Kids Don’t Learn Anything From Each Other teacher. The Creative Project teacher cannot also be the Multiple Choice teacher. The Textbook teacher cannot also be the Down With the Textbook teacher. Would I be exaggerating to say that it’s akin to asking a Christian, Muslim, and Jew to sit down, pull out the best parts of their faith, and then require each of them to teach the selected bits of the other faiths as passionately as they would teach their own?

“Collaboration,” in the sense of common lesson planning, is a crime against teaching as a craft. Perhaps I am alone in believing there exist master teachers who craft lessons, skillfully use the tools in their box, choosing the proper tool for the given circumstance, and uniquely and expertly mold their students. More and more, schools are opting for uniformity, a lowest common denominator which, no doubt, improves the worst. This is for teacher accountability and to give kids a more equal educational experience so that some students are not stuck with the “bad” teacher. But the real result is tragic. No one gets the incredible teacher—there are no incredible teachers. Teachers cannot tailor their lesson plans to their specific classrooms and so students become a homogeneous globule. The efficient teacher, the teacher who is willing to invest extra time into a particularly incredible lesson, the teacher who has a vision of a coherent unit where every concept, skill, and assessment pairs logically with the material being taught—this teacher will necessarily have to compromise and the talents that make this a particularly special teacher are nullified in the name of the God of Collaboration. 

Reflections on Newtown

As a teacher who has lost a student to gun violence, my heart absolutely breaks for the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They taught us in Ed School not to get too close to students, and to keep a professional distance. I met a teacher who practically boasted about being the teacher of students who were killed, “execution style,” as if I would be impressed by those feathers in his cap. Others I’ve met are merely indifferent. If I taught Ed School, I would say your heart should break as if that child were your very own. Mine did.

But I’ve heard precious little about the teachers on the news. I have seen only how some are calling to arm teachers to prevent future tragedies. That would be the solution if the question was, “how can we further deincentivize people to go into the teaching profession?” We pay them meager wages, expect them to work 50+ hours a week, drown them in bureaucracy, overcrowd their classrooms, and now we can give pistols to these people who have never held a gun and expect them to physically protect their students against psychopaths with automatic rifles.

The vast majority of teachers would never need this weapon, and they would spend countless hours worrying about whether Joey, who wants to cap his double-crossing drug-dealing neighbor, will steal the gun, and whether it will somehow accidentally go off in class. Teachers would need to take a course in shooting, and practice at the shooting range, in their “free” time. And then, when the psychopath breaks into the school, he knows that the teachers have guns. They are therefore the first to go. Now there is no one protecting the children. Pretty soon there is no one teaching the children either. 

On-line (non)learning

  • NPR reported a few months ago that the Denver Public Schools received $2.5 million from a private company to develop on-line learning programs.
  • NPR reported a few days ago that the graduation rate for new, en vogue, on-line high schools is 22%. The state average is 75%.

Let’s reflect on teenagers: They are human beings. They procrastinate. They get distracted easily, especially when they are around anything with buttons. They crave affection and attention, especially from adult role models. They are social beings. They learn from others, and academic peer pressure is priceless. When they don’t understand something they need someone to explain it because chances are they won’t go to a library and figure it out themselves. They still like getting stickers on their homework when they do a good job.

A computer is not a human being. It caters to people who “learn at their own pace” which means learning for procrastinators grinds to a halt. Computers and television and iPods and iPads and iPhones created ADD, not academically-focused or driven students. Computers may get warm, but they do not hug, place their hand on your shoulder to acknowledge your frustration, and they certainly don’t help facilitate positive peer pressure or human contact. On-line learning isolates kids, leaves them confused, and fails to motivate them. On-line learning places the burden of getting a good education on the students, not on the schools, the teachers, or the state. People like the idea of on-line high schools because they are cheap and people think they understand how “teens today” operate. How about investing $2.5 million into superb teachers who know how teenagers actually operate?