After a week of assaults on the idea of public education, from the LA Times’ series on the difficulty firing teachers to a New Yorker story on the necessity of axing them en masse, I am feeling a little…ahem… insecure. Am I great teacher?  Nope. Am I slovenly? Do I intentionally short change my students. Of course not. Have I been made to feel slovenly? Definitely. A few questions:

  • Are we really failed teachers in failed schools?
  • Has this image of been manufactured?
  • If the idea is to get rid of all of the crappy teachers, where do they get the good ones?
  • Does being a “good” teacher mean not belonging to a union?
  • Can test scores determine success/failure?
  • Can they predict/guarantee it in the future?
  • Is it cynical to judge someone else’s children with methods that we would never use to judge our own?
  • How have we public school teachers become so maligned?
  • How has our union let this happen?
  • How did we get this way?

I don’t have the answers, but I can say that my excitement for teaching and love of children has never been the result of threats.  I change when I think change will benefit my students, not when it’s forced on me.  When I’m doing something wrong show me how to it better. Respect me, treat me like a professional, a human, and I’ll jump as high as you want.

I’ve been writing a novel about a school in the Rockies during the depression, and have been drawn to Eleanor Estes’ quiet, funny The Moffats as a source of inspiration. There’s a great scene where the Moffat children are charged with getting reluctant Hughie Pugg to his first day at school:

‘What’s this, what’s this?” a voice boomed behind them. They turned around. Mr. Pennypecker, the new Superintendent of School!

“What seems to be the trouble?” asked Mr. Pennypecker, rocking from heel to toe and clinking the keys in his pocket.

“Hughie doesn’t want to go to school, sir,” answered Chester, red as a beet.

Mr. Pennypecker put on his glasses and examined Hughie critically. Hughie stopped his blubbering and hung his head.

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Pennypecker with an air of finality.  ”We’re all going to school.”

My sentiments exactly.  The responsibility for better schools belongs neither to politicians nor corporate charter entities.  It belongs to every one of us–students, parents, teachers, administrators alike.

We’re all going to school.

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