It often seems that it’s always open season on teachers, that they are available for target practice in the form of harsh criticism or verbal and written abuse from current parents, former parents, current students, former students, administrators, lay leaders and, in the case of public education, public officials and the media.
This is unfair and painful because relative to most other professionals, even the best-paid teachers are not well paid. In fact, even by the standard of the teaching profession, few are well paid. Many more – and certainly in Jewish day schools and yeshivas – earn miserly salaries that often do not arrive on the scheduled pay date.
Of late, and especially in public education, there has been a disturbing escalation in the criticism of teachers. It hasn’t helped that severe budgetary constraints in cities and states have resulted in cutbacks, with benefits provided to faculty and staff being a good place to locate savings.
Admittedly, retirement at a relatively young age, hefty pension benefits that have become more onerous to government because of extended longevity, and generous medical coverage at a time when premiums have soared have contributed significantly to the feeling that there have been excesses – and that fiscal prudence dictates that existing arrangements must be challenged and altered.
There is now in public education a confrontational atmosphere, with teachers and unions seeking to protect what they have secured while others who claim their focus is on the bottom line going after not only what may have been excesses but also the dedication and competence of those who teach, as well as their right to organize.
Although unions are far from blameless, it merits noting they are not created to be instrumentalities of disinterestedness. Rather, like thousands of other organizations and groups, their mission is to secure what they can for those whom they represent. Inevitably, this results in a measure of overreaching in contract demands and, at times, in an attitude of protectiveness toward those who do not belong in a classroom.
We can hope that when the economic climate improves and public coffers are in better shape, the animosity that has arisen in recent years will be tempered. It is already a near certainty that many teachers who are now in the classroom will not get all the benefits they have come to expect. It’s also certain that there will be continued criticism of teachers, the focus being on what is achieved or not achieved in classrooms and not on the financial bottom line.
Insufficient attention is given to the sociological baggage brought into classrooms that affects educational outcomes. These are the negatives and even pathologies that undermine what schools and teachers can achieve – widespread conditions such as parental strife and family dysfunction, behavioral and emotional problems, sexual promiscuity, drugs, the impact of the street and of much of what is referred to as popular culture, including the Internet.
The last mentioned refers not to online teaching and the promise that it may or may not hold to add to or improve on the classroom experience, but rather the addictive nature of the Internet and its capacity to divert young people, as well as adults, away from their responsibilities.
Teachers and educators are also social workers and while some are miracle workers as they achieve wonders with students in their charge, it is more than a stretch to expect that teachers will accomplish miracles. Unfortunately, that is what is increasingly expected of faculty, as they are judged and evaluated by how students in their classrooms improve on test scores and on other standardized measurements, irrespective of the reality that children are not standardized and that too many have bad things happening in their lives.
This isn’t meant to excuse poor teachers. There are some who never should have been placed in a classroom and there are some who once had what is needed to teach effectively and either no longer have the requisite fire in their belly or for other reasons are not doing a good job. Those who have been hired but should not have been ought not be retained and that is the responsibility of principals and administrators. For those who have given years of good service, soft and empathetic means should be utilized to move them toward retirement.