Teachers ain’t what they used to be.
When I was a young-teen, the word ‘teacher’ evoked visions of my unkempt-haired, absent-minded, eccentric, Arabic-spouting, generous, seemingly-all-knowing English professor. There was simply nothing that he didn’t know. Even in college, we had a much-feared teacher at Notre Dame who would track down truants smoking and gossiping at tea-stalls and drag them into class. I’ve seen the same man break down into tears upon hearing an orphan’s story of misery. I’ve always wanted to be like them.
Today, the word ‘teacher’ evokes (in my mind) a mugshot of a desperate, wrong-side-of-30 substitute teacher accused of sleeping with a 14-year old. They will have sex with students, fake bomb threats to bunk school, sell grades and put shit (feces) in kids’ schoolbags! Bad teachers are everywhere. Of course, there are the dark mentors who preach fanaticism in remote Madrassahs in 3rd world countries.
Student-Teacher Sexual Encounters: While perceptions are undoubtedly influenced by mainstream media’s saucy reporting of such ‘affairs’ (somehow, not statutory rape) – the numbers may just be high enough to give rise to stereotyping. And the world is doomed to reap what it sows.
I hold that 3 factors contribute most to the rapid decline in teacher quality:
- Lax qualification/performance criteria that allows unscrupulous, twisted, immoral and stupid people in to the profession
- Strong corporate investment and involvement in education infrastructure, curriculum and staffing
- A cookie-cutter approach to education where diversity is suppressed and teachers trying to cultive it, shunned.
Recently, Gerald J. Conti’s resignation letter went viral and garnered a lot of positive attention. Mr. Conti is a veteran educator with 40-years of experience and a fierce dedication that is contagious. He has lived by the code that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” He’s grown old at the job and has lost his brother (and also colleague) during this time. Surely, we all know the type and are reminded of someone in our own lives by Mr. Conti. His resignation letter, after 4 decades of selfless service and devotion, is saddening and inspiring at the same time. Here are some excerpts:
… it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian.
The analogy that this (education reform) process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?
My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations.
We [teachers] have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America.
After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.
The amount of humility, wisdom and insight in this simple resignation letter overwhelms me. I wonder what one of his classes would’ve been like. I fear, soon, many students will too.