Thursday, December 25, 2008

"good teachers" and "learning"

I recently was involved in a discussion with a man who used the expression "good teachers." That same day, a woman said it was "tragic" that students did not want to learn. That gave me a good laugh. She must have forgotten what school was like. I openly admit I never went to school "to learn." I don't remember any kids liking school. I hated school and so did all my friends. We loved summer vacations, snow days, weekends, and holidays. We loved when the teacher was absent. We tortured subs like all kids do. We all signed "Maynard G. Krebs" when the substitute passed around the attendance sheet. We never connected school with "learning" and like all kids, we wanted fun during school hours! I can remember sitting with my friend Roberta in the school cafeteria. We bought 8 Hostess Sno Balls that had pink and white tops. Just as lunch was ending, we "scalped" the Sno Balls and left the tops on the lunch table to annoy the teacher who was on lunch duty. We had such innocent fun in school back in the 60s. But, we also turned a chemistry room into total pandemonium when the bunson burner accidentally exploded in the teacher's face.
So what's this hand-wringing shtik about kids going to school these days and not "wanting to learn?" Most kids never connect school with learning. I think adults have to accept that scenario and also stop thinking that learning should be fun. The "fun" has to be taken out of the daytime equation. Schools should be like that old TV documentary "Scared Straight." Anything else sends the wrong message because in the 60s for me it was all about American Bandstand and today it is all MTV. School is not reality TV.
The latest hogwash is for school to be run like a model from the corporate business world, where the teachers who don't "produce" are "fired." That is an even bigger laugh. Obviously, none of those who advocate that agenda have ever been in a school in the role of a classroom teacher. One day in the classroom would be their total cure. They seem to think it is all about crafting excellent lessons where students sit quietly and attentively soaking up the subject matter like dutiful sponges. They believe that students regurgitate on standardized tests what they were taught and thereby show a teacher's merit. They do not understand that there are variables involved such as paying attention, studying and learning the material, and doing the assigned work to reinforce the lesson.
And the most important element of what makes a "good teacher" is the ability to handle and manage what often may be a difficult class with several disruptive students. The teacher needs to be able to manage the schedule of subject time blocks and to execute mandated mini-lessons that are easy to understand and follow. She must communicate with students and parents in a professional manner in soft and measured tones and never never ever "yell. " Yelling is considered corporal punishment.
The teacher has to handle many noneducational tasks and interruptions each day... such as students going to the nurse, parents coming to pick up students, the need for the bathroom all day, notes from parents, fights, missing books, students' needs (the sun is in my eyes, it's hot in here, it's cold in here, he took my pencil, my brother expects his notebook now, my mother told me to call her at 11:00, etc.) And then the class phone will ring and the school secretary is asking for a child to be sent to the office immediately with work for the week because he is being placed on an in-house suspension. During the call, everybody starts talking and when the call ends the teacher has to use all her energy to quiet everybody down again. Two minutes later, the principal booms into the class loudspeaker that a monitor should bring down the class record box. Then a fight from the hall spills into your classroom and the school security guard trips over the students while she is trying to break up the fight.
There are constant disruptions to be handled such as the nurse coming in with notes for immediate distribution, the art teacher returning unfinished paintings, the speech teacher picking up her group, the resource room teacher giving you IP reports to fill out, the computer repair guy coming to class, the principal asking for report cards, the school secretary asking for immunization record reports, administrators who march in from the district office and check bulletin boards for posted standards, the school-based team asking for student assessments, the custodian coming in to deliver new equipment, the testing digiteks arriving which have to be returned within an hour, your planbook is overdue and you didn't list the aim of every lesson, the science teacher comes in and wants your projects for the fair, the music teacher busts in and wants the chorus, a kid vomits in the back, a kid goes to the closet and rips a down coat and feathers fly all over the room, a kid chases another kid into the hall, the AP returns a kid who ran out of the room and she tells you it was because your lesson was not motivating... whew, can we come up for air?
And yes, indeed the teacher will be blamed for everything. There is not one incident for which the teacher cannot and will not be blamed. If an 11 year old student trips on his way to the bathroom, the teacher will be asked by the principal why she did not make sure his shoes were tied before he left the room. If a student does not eat his lunch during the lunch hour, the teacher will be asked why she did not realize the student was not hungry before the lunch hour and send him to the guidance counselor. If a student does not do his homework, the teacher will be blamed for not making the homework more interesting. If a student fights with a sibling on the weekend, the teacher will be blamed for not assigning more reading to provide more weekend distractions. If one student pushes another student on the stairs and they fall, the teacher will be blamed for allowing them to be near each other on the class line. You get the picture. The teacher will be blamed for everything that happens... even if she is not even there. And the teacher must value "instructional time" more than fasting on Yontiff.
Wait! I omitted the most important point for the evaluation and determination of who are "good teachers." She should be a good interior decorator because principals love love love rooms that look like super sweet sixteen parties. Her bulletin boards should have cotton and glitter and pipe cleaners and three-dimensional pop-out technicolor doilies and ribbons. And they must be covered in more plastic than my Aunt Sadie's Brooklyn sofa.
And if anybody asks about the school... teachers must always reply: "It's good," even if it resembles the prison in "Midnight Express" because TPTB hate hate hate whistleblowers. Teachers, be prepared to kiss principals' asses in Macy's window until retirement! OK, how do we determine who "good teachers" are? Well, at the least level she should certainly be able to multi-task! And on a few days along the way be prepared to go home by ambulance. :-D
That was the last fur coat I ever wore. Nobody should wear "Bugs Bunny."

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