education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Once upon a time teachers were respected members of the community. They were responsible for nurturing the young, and educating the next generations. In recent years teachers have become the victims of politicians, and the villains of society.

In order to help teachers, the New York Times sponsored a conference entitled “Building A Better Teacher” which was held on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in New York City. Once again, teachers were the focus of an embarrassing and humiliating bit of unwanted attention that was designed to improve their teaching ability.

The very title of this conference would make a teacher cringe. One can build a pyramid, or a school, or even a better Drone aircraft; but how does one build a better teacher?

The CEOs, education experts and media personnel on the panel were an impressive list of people with excellent credentials in their respective fields. However, one must ask these experts a few questions: What do you know about public school education? Have you seen the inside of a public school in the last few years? Have you ever taught a class in a public school? Have you spoken to teachers in recent years? Have you any idea of the quality of students that enter our classrooms today?

How do you go about building a better teacher? A teacher is a person, a human being of blood and tears. Isn’t it condescending to a profession and to a whole group of people to pretend that you are going to build them better?

Where are the teachers on your list of academic and education experts?

Teachers have been battered and persecuted in the media as if the ills in education are their fault. Well, it’s not.

There are many reasons why our English and math scores rank 25th and 27th on the world stage, but teachers are not to blame for that, because teachers do not write education policy, lower standards or voluntarily inflate grades and pass students along to the next grade.

On the list of budget cuts, education is the first to feel the axe. Student services are cut and teachers’ salary become non-negotiable. In fact, instead of investing in schools and public education we are investing and enlarging our prison system.

Education is big business in this country, and students and their preparation for the future are at the bottom of everyone’s stinky list. If the people in power in this country are seriously interested in ending poverty, then they must start to build a better education system and better educated students.

People outside of the academy – politicians, CEOs, talk show hosts, the media – are the critics, and policy writers of education and its curricula.

For the last fifty years the standard of education in this country has been slowly eroding because of failed policies, limited money invested in education, and lower and lower standards to the point where we are mass producing ignorance, and creating a new under class.

The Times CEOs and education experts should take a walk through the corridors of a typical NYC high school. They should start by looking at the student body which includes former prison inmates, gang members, and long term absentees. We have mothers and fathers, some as old as twenty and twenty-one in our classrooms. Our students rarely forget their cell phones and electronic toys, but often forget their books, pens, and homework. They dress for the beach, night clubs, and other social settings, not for an academic environment. They are rude, irresponsible, lackadaisical, and resistant to learning, but demand a “good” grade because they are going to college. When students cheat, nothing is done about it; there are no consequences for their dishonesty. Discipline is a farce. The students discipline the teachers. They know their constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech, and freedom to behave like hooligans in the classroom. Parental and administrative support for teachers is almost non-existent.

The Times people should next look at grade fixing. Teachers fix grades daily, weekly, all year long. If grades were not fixed, many of our students would not pass. Teachers have one standard, and the other people – administrators, politicians, test writers – have a different, lower standard. The pressure on teachers to fix grades comes from without the classroom and not from what transpires within the classroom. Principals and their APs are constantly on teachers back to prove that they are good teachers, and to prove that you are a good teacher all your students must pass with grades of 90 to 100. In the present academic culture, students do not work for grades anymore; they are not given grades based on the quantity and quality of their work, but are given charity grades because we have to make the principal, the school, the DOE, etc. look good and show the world that their policies are working. The principal is working on an A and not an F for his school, teachers become the pawns in the numbers game, and education takes a vacation. The result of course is that most of our students take remedial English and math in college and eventually drop out.

The Times experts should also examine parental involvement in our students’ education. Most parents have visited schools two times: to enroll the kid, and to attend his graduation. As long as their kids wear designer clothes and possess cell phones and IPods they have done their part. They are good parents. It is now up to the teachers to do all the other parts – teach manners, ethics, responsibility, citizenship, and English and math also. Well, it is time for parents to wake-up and start asking their kids’ questions, visit schools, talk to teachers, and actively participate in their children’s lives. Parents should be asking why their children are graduating high school with 8th and 9th grade English and math. They are the tax payers – where are those tax dollars going? What is it used for?

The Times should not forget to look at teacher abuse. Teachers are abused daily by students and poorly educated administrators, especially assistant principals. Students curse teachers, throw things at them, injure them, threaten them, destroy their property, use racial slurs to describe them, but these are not incidents that the administration act upon, or news that the media is likely to publicize. And then the parents come to school and spew their venom because Max and Minnie failed, and that is the teachers fault. They demand passing grades for their lazy and abusive kids because they are going to college, and the teachers and the stumbling blocks on the path to college.

They should also look at NYC teachers who are some of the most educated teachers in this country. All have Masters Degrees, and most have two, along with dual certification. They have more education than is required by any other profession. They are underpaid for the level of education needed for their profession. They are perhaps the only people who do not get overtime pay for the work they take home and the evenings, weekends, and holidays they must give up to grade papers and prepare lessons.

Finally, the Times should look at the administration in a typical NYC public high school.  Most administrators get their positions because of who they know, not because of their qualification and experience. Someone should investigate how APs become APs. Corruption is a given. Principals and APs bully teachers to inflate grades and they have lists of the chosen who get various special assignments that come with teaching one or two classes per day and lots of overtime. Most APs are popular for their lack of knowledge in their subject area, and the abuse and harassment they dish out to teachers.

If the Times is seriously interested in building a better education system, the first step is to rebuild a curriculum that can compete with China, Norway and Finland. After that, they should concentrate on the students. Next, get the parents involved. Then get the politicians and the CEOs out of the policy arena, and replace them with people who have earned academic degrees, including teachers. The Times have a lot of investigating and reporting to do before they start building better teachers. They should also look at Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” for some tips.

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