Chapter Seven:  Meet the Teachers

The devoted teacher is in constant conflict.

Mrs. Hart

        The last bell signaling the end of the school day is going to ring in just five minutes. Mrs. Hart sits at her desk feverishly correcting math papers. She has bus duty, so she won’t be able to stay and finish. This is annoying. There will be little time at home to get them done, because she has to help at the school carnival that evening. Her students have been at P.E. this period and come barging back into the room all sweaty and loud. She gruffly tells the kids to be quiet and get to their seats. They pay little attention to her, knowing that they will soon be free anyway. They hassle around the door. The bell finally rings letting them pour back out of the room. Mrs. Hart continues her work and remembers that she has to get out to the bus loading area. The little people file past her on their way to freedom. She has to slow a few of them down. If it weren’t for the papers that need to be corrected, she would really enjoy getting outside.

       The last bus finally pulls away. She turns and walks back into the building. She has now been in or around the school for more than nine hours. If she can get through those papers, it will end up being ten. As she continues correcting, she notices that many of the kids are just not getting the concept she has been teaching this week. They will be tested on it in just two days. And they don’t appear to be anywhere near ready for it. If she takes more time on this concept, she will have to rob time from the English period. Not good, either. The whole class lost some ground in English on the last test. She has to find some time to go back over Math. She remembers some ridiculous book she looked at that talked about taking time to create and discover. She chuckles to herself. This is the real world.

       Nearly done with Math, Mrs. Hart will be able to read through some English stories. She needs to get home. She loads up her bag with papers and heads home. There she sees a couple of her children. The rest are at volleyball practice. They exchange a few words. She takes out her grading. Before she knows it, it is time to go to the carnival. Maybe she will take the papers with her. She decides against it. She’ll finish when she gets home.

       Now late evening, she returns from the carnival. She goes over some papers as her kids start coming home. She’s tired. It’s probably best to finish up after she gets some sleep. Next morning, she exchanges words with her kids for a few minutes and heads off to school. She finishes reading the stories, pleased with how well the students did. Still on bus duty, she watches the same faces pass her on the way to the building as on the way out only a few short hours ago. She slows down the same kids and responds to the same greetings. The busses are all unloaded. She goes back to her room to get ready for the kids to come in from playing. The bell rings and they pour in, all sweaty and loud.

       Mrs. Hart is a dedicated teacher. She cares for the little people. She enjoys her work. But let’s never forget why she teaches. She teaches to make money. Is that wrong? No. But let’s not get confused about what motivates anyone to go to work in the morning, no matter how much they enjoy it. No matter how gifted a teacher Mrs. Hart is, can she possibly give your little one what he needs, especially in his formative years? Where exactly would your little one fit in Mrs. Hart’s world? Would he occupy the same place as he does in yours? Remember, the formative years can never be redone. That time when a little person decides, or is told who and what he is, happens only once. And it is a very short time. Are you willing to give them it to Mrs. Hart, dedicated though she may be?

       Even though Mrs. Hart has her own kids, she cannot see life as you do. Teacher’s children do not have the same experience as the rest of the kids. Mrs. Hart will spend even more time at the school than the little people. That building and what goes on there become her life, her livelihood.  And it is consuming for her. She is dedicated. She cannot see that the world she lives in is not the real world. It is not the world you live in, nor the world that your little one will live in. That isn’t bad or good. It just is. To your little one, Mrs. Hart would be the parent figure, like it or not, for seven of the thirteen hours he is awake. Can she possibly educate as you could?

       She has a vision for what her students can accomplish. She knows what’s at stake in her classroom. She knows the need to discover and create. She is aware that she has more time with the students than most of their parents do. She tries to make herself available to the parents. She tries to balance the effect of incessant, unnecessary competition. This teacher is usually in conflict with what she knows is right and what she is compelled to do.  She is often upset about the fact that she spends more time teaching other’s children than she spends with her own family. If her class scores lower than usual, the principal will be right in her room to discover what the problem is. If she uses her preparation time to settle a dispute, she won’t get her grades in on time. If she doesn’t get her grades in on time, parents call to see what the matter is. If one of her students doesn’t have enough sparkling stickers the parents will call. If a student won’t do his assignments, she can’t get the parents to call her back. When students take a test, she gets graded as a teacher.

       The pressure is constant. She is required to follow the programs and policies whether they are best for the kids or not. She sees the light fade in many of her students’ eyes. She isn’t able to reach them. The relentless conflict between the system and what is right takes its toll. Her own curiosity and imagination are stifled. Her own self-esteem is smothered. She knows that much of what she is forced to carry out is doing the same to her students. No matter how much time she spends, no matter how determined she is she cannot hold back the current. Yet she stays in the rushing river that is dragging so many little ones downstream, hoping to pull one out. 

     Mrs. Hart will finally get out of the current, because she won’t be able to stand being a part of what the system is doing to little people. Are there teachers that are not as dedicated as Mrs. Hart? I’m afraid so. You should have an idea about these teachers before you make any decisions about putting your little one’s future into their hands. There are many of them in your community’s public school. Let’s take a look some of the types of teachers you would entrust your little one’s future to:

    The Lazy Teacher.

    We won’t spend much time on why this person is lazy. But it might have to do with spit up mush.  It might have to do with arrogance. It might have to do with sparkling stickers.

       The lazy teacher can appear very busy. Sometimes the lazy teacher will stay late at school.  This teacher could be authoritarian or quite lenient. It may be hard to spot the lazy teacher. Grades will be in on time. School policies will be kept. This is the teacher that is content to know only enough in a subject to keep the students at their present level. It takes too much effort to know any more than the necessary facts. DVD’s and audio books are common in this teacher’s class. Often the lazy teacher won’t even talk about the class subject. He will talk about the upcoming game, his trip or a movie. The students will get the information from their books when they do their homework.  This teacher understands that he will get paid the same whatever effort he puts in. It takes extra effort to come up with ways to engage the students in discovery and creation. Put your little one into the Public School and you can count on him having this teacher. He exists in every public school.

    The Beloved Teacher. This is a sweet, friendly person. She is a warm, kind individual that has no business teaching. Her motivation and reward for teaching is to be liked, liked by students, liked by parents, and liked by the mailman and the gopher destroying her lawn. She is dangerous. She will “see to it” that no one fails. She is a lousy teacher that hides behind her most-beloved status. This teacher is starved for validation. She is starved for attention. You can’t help but wonder if it stems from her experience in the Public School when she was a little person. The Beloved Teacher must be loved at all costs, even the students’ educations. Believe me there is at least one of these in your community’s public school. Your little one wouldn’t learn much from her, but he would like her a lot!

    The Angry Teacher. Who knows why this person is always angry. She will sometimes yell. She will give excessive punishments. She may use a police whistle. She may demean. She seldom smiles and greets others, especially little people. The Angry Teacher has a captive audience (literally). She can take out her anger on the little captives in many ways. The little people in her class might get good grades. But they will also get the mental and emotional results of constant anger. If you put your little one into the Public School you can expect him to be subjected to one of these teachers. He would not be able to get up and walk out, like you can if your waitress is mean. With a chronically angry person as his parent figure for seven hours a day he would learn things that would be very difficult for you unteach in the short time you would have left with him.

    The Spineless Teacher. This teacher will give endless “retakes” if students don’t do well on a test. He doesn’t want a visit from the principal, or the parents. So he will see to it that the students get passing grades. These retakes have dark effects on the little testers. If a test can be retaken by those that did not study, then what’s the use of studying? Why go to the trouble of preparing for the test? If it happens often enough even the students that used to prepare will learn that there will always be another chance. They guess and get a few answers correct. After enough retakes the little tester will have enough correct answers to pass. They will retain the answers for a couple of minutes after the test.

       The same method is used for other school work. Deadlines will always be moved ahead.  Homework can be redone or done later.  Now that’s education! The teacher successfully teaches the little people to be stupid and still pass a class. So sad that when they leave the Public School, they find out that there are very few retakes in life (unless, of course, they work for the Public School!).

       The teacher of the next grade will have to do something similar, or it will appear that her students aren’t learning. They come into her class not knowing the information. If this new teacher doesn’t let the class retake and redo, the bad grades will be credited to her. And so the cycle can continue for year after year. Why is there such a gap between grades on the report card and the actual knowledge the students have? Spineless teachers! The Public School in your community has at least one of these. Please don’t subject your little one to him!

    The Who-Cares Teacher.  This is the teacher that gives the profession a bad name. This is the guy that is up to the public trough looking for what he can get with the minimum output. This teacher will get his grades in on time. He will show up to parent-teacher conference. He is not motivated by anger. He is not motivated by competition. He is not motivated by greed. He is not motivated at all. He meets the minimum requirements. He doesn’t cause any hassle or make any noise. The administrator might think he is a stellar teacher. Can you guess why?  Trust me; there is at least one of these in your community’s Public School.

    The Entertaining Teacher. This teacher is so fun! She is loaded with personality. The kids and staff love her. She loves the laughter and applause. The only thing missing from her class is learning. It’s alright, though. She feels content if the kids are enjoying themselves.

    The Trapped Teacher. She is sick of being restricted and confined. She hates being used by the District and State. She is tired of not being appreciated by the public. She is insulted by the amount on her paycheck. The kids aren’t learning. The parents don’t care. Each day it’s more of the same. If she could only get out! But she needs the job. What else would she do? She is trapped. This teacher would be your little one’s parent figure day after day for at least one year.  Believe me she exists in your community’s Public School. While this teacher feels trapped, she still has the choice to walk away. She gets paid. The little people she teaches are not so lucky. Even if they don’t like it, they don’t have the option to walk away. They don’t receive a paycheck. I feel sorry for the trapped teacher. But who pays the price for how she feels?

    The Sweet Teacher. This teacher is deeply concerned for her students. She will do nothing, including teach them, if she feels it might hurt their feelings. She is kind and thoughtful. If she feels something will make one of her students feel uncomfortable, she won’t teach it. If a student gives a wrong answer, she will go to great lengths to protect him from the painful consequences. What’s amazing about this teacher is that she has no problem carrying out such programs as “50-in-a-minute”!

       We haven’t covered it all in our list. And many of the traits overlap and show up in different teachers at different times. Teachers are not expected to be perfect. They aren’t expected to all be gifted. Sadly, the system doesn’t even expect them to care. The Public School system is hostile to the inspired teacher. The teacher must come to see the little people as a vocation to function well in the system. If she sees them as more (like, well, humans), she will be in constant conflict and will either get out or become one of the teachers on our list. I feel for them.

    The Completely Incompetent Teacher.  Being nice or well-read, even having a teaching certificate will not qualify some people to teach. And yet, there they are. Many well-meaning people are teaching subjects they have only fringe knowledge about. Still they are paid to teach. Many people with advanced knowledge in a subject are clueless about how to get it across to little minds. And yet they teach.       Is it fair to say that not everyone should be in law enforcement? Would you agree that not everyone is suited to pilot passenger jets? Is that also true of teachers? Then how the blazes do incompetent teachers get hired, and why are they still teaching? Why are we so afraid to point them out?

       Compared to other professions, it is fairly easy to get a teaching degree. A short search of major US universities will show that most only require a 2.0 GPA to graduate with an Education degree.  Many only require a certain number of credits earned in certain classes. This means that the prospective teacher only has to pass each class. That’s a 1.0 or “D”. So the qualifying process itself attracts incompetence.

       Furthermore, compared to other professions, teaching is one of the most secure jobs in the country. It is almost impossible to fire an incompetent teacher. Unless the teacher commits a serious crime he may be incompetent and still teach. Even if he does commit a crime, many school districts have policies to continue paying him even in jail.

       To fire an incompetent teacher, the principal would have to prove incompetence. Policies are in place to protect good teachers from parents and administrators arbitrarily accusing and firing them without cause. That’s fair. But, just like other Public School programs, the unintended negative consequences outweigh the good intentions. These policies actually protect and promote incompetence. And when the education and future of little people is weighed against the possibility of protecting incompetent teachers, the little people lose out most every time.

       For the principal, proving incompetence is extremely hard personally and professionally. To begin with, how does he even know if a teacher is incompetent? Parental complaints are seen as emotional outbursts from over-protective parents and are approached as such. The parents that complain are a minority. They are the same ones always raising their voices.  As we have already noted, most parents won’t even complain. “We’ll just make the best of this year,” they will say. If they only knew the damage one year could do!

       If the parents do complain, what do they have except the word of their troubled little tattle- tale? Can the complaint be proven? If the principal acts on the parents’ complaint, what does he have, but the same anecdotal evidence?

       The principal may alert the teacher to the parental complaint. Usually that’s as far as it goes. He conducts teacher reviews often enough to know exactly what’s going on in the classroom. Does anyone think that what the principal sees when he sits at the back of the room is what happens the rest of the time? Even the students behave differently. The principal is sitting in the room.

       If it’s obvious the teacher is incompetent, the principal will have a tough time if the teacher happens to be popular. Then there is the poor incompetent teacher’s livelihood to keep in mind. What kind of heartless person would fire someone that depends on the income to feed the family? As always, when the future and education of the children are in the balance, the kids always lose out.

       What does the theater manager do if the person making the popcorn just can’t get it right? He may move the incompetent popcorn maker to beverages. The same thing happens in Public Schools. The incompetent teacher might get assigned to a different class, subject or age group. What if the manager realizes that the incompetent popcorn maker is just not cut out for work in the theater? He will let him go. If he doesn’t, customer service suffers and people don’t choose that theater anymore. If the administrator has the courage to prove a teacher is incompetent, he can’t just fire him. The teacher will be provided with a “mentor”, at your expense, and given a period of a year or many years to mend his ways. In the meantime, he continues teaching.  It doesn’t matter the damage being done to the little people. It doesn’t matter that the popcorn is always burned. What incentive does the administrator have? Customer service is of no concern when the customers pay for the service whether they like it or not.In the Public School, if there is a choice between the institution and the little people, the little people (those with no say in the matter) will always lose out.

         As a Public School patron, you are told that you don’t have any choices. You may believe that the school your little one is assigned to is the only place he can get educated. It doesn’t matter who’s at the popcorn counter. So why bother firing the incompetent popcorn maker? Is there any other organization you can think of where incompetence is protected? Is there any organization where more is at stake than at the school? Why, then, is incompetence tolerated? If you put your little one into the Public School, you would see incompetence. You would be next to powerless to do anything about it.

But it would not be you that would suffer from it…