A Note from the TEA

A Note from the TEA

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Al Mance, TEA Executive Director

Pervasive public discussions about failing schools have been at the core of education change since 1983. While the 1980s discussions were precipitated by publication of A Nation at Risk, the current national education discussions are stimulated by the near collapse of America’s economic system. 

During times of economic recession Americans tend to look for someone to blame. The public looks for something outside of themselves to hold accountable for the prevailing conditions. When all else fails they blame public school teachers, thus avoiding individual responsibility. George Bernard Shaw said, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” 

The public has assigned to public school teachers the moral obligation to successfully teach all students. Career professional teachers have always accepted this obligation. They will not shrink from it now.

The public has never understood professional teaching but thinks it does. To everyone who has attended school, teaching looks deceptively easy. Exploiting this perception of teachers gave No Child Left Behind its political traction.

The parent who feels good about teaching her infant may be perplexed when the child becomes a toddler and begins to speak. That same confident parent who becomes a public school teacher quickly learns how woefully inadequate his or her parenting skills are for teaching 20 first graders. Of course, anyone who has not studied education should not be expected to understand the complexities of teaching.

Teachers do not teach only those students they have known and watched develop from birth to their classroom. Public school students come from diverse backgrounds. It is the professional’s job to teach all of them. The contextual factors of socioeconomics, class size, interruptions, number of absentees, racial makeup of the class, and day of the week will all influence the teachers’ “instructional behaviors.”

The gap between the status and value of the teaching profession is born, in part, of the distorted image the public has of its complexity. The profession has not yet developed the rhetoric necessary to explain this complexity to the public and policy makers and to develop their trust. It must fight for a place in the education policy-making arena that allows its voice to be heard in decision making about the conditions and contextual influences under which professional teaching is practiced. This is the fight we are facing.

The use of student growth data, as measured by standardized tests, in teacher evaluation; incentive compensation schemes based on student growth data; calls for increases in the length of probationary periods; and the definition of effective teaching based on standardized test data are direct results of the public’s misperception of professional teaching.

The recent shift of power in the Tennessee General Assembly may generate new state education “reform” initiatives. Any probability that they will produce improvements in teaching and learning conditions for Tennessee’s teachers and students is exceedingly small. It is the job of professional teachers to give ideas a fair hearing and prevent destructive proposals from being adopted or implemented. 

The Tennessee Education Association is the state’s largest professional organization representing over 52,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.

wcp 3/10/11

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