Sunday, February 27, 2011



As I heard the tread of pupils coming up my ancient, creaking stairs, I felt like a tart awaiting her clients.

A.L. Rowse
On Life as an Oxford Don.

In the classroom, where the wheels hit the road, teachers face an unrewarding and frustrating tenure. It is an absolute wonder that we can even keep teachers in the classrooms of this country. Disruptive students, unsupportive parents and unproductive government requirements are the burden teachers carry as they try to impart information and process to their students.

I have taught elementary and high school, and have been an elementary and high school principal. I have made my bones in education and can speak with authority as both a teacher and administrator.

Now that I am retired, almost everyone I associate with is a non-educator. And, when the subject of education comes up, as it often does, without exception I have to listen to complaints of how bad teachers are, how easy their job is and that they are overpaid. Both parents and grandparents seem to relish criticizing teachers in general. The less educated the respondent the more critical the complaints.

Most teachers are better educated than your bank president. Many teachers have one or more Masters Degrees and some have Doctorates. Yet, doctors and lawyers and bank presidents do not have to recertify every four years, but teachers do. The federal government is constantly devising new hoops for teachers to jump through to obtain or retain their certification. Teachers do not work from nine-to-five. Most teachers arrive at school an hour to and hour-and-a-half early to prepare their classrooms and lessons and remain after school for an hour or more. Almost all teachers work at home on their lesson plans and take papers home to be graded. Teachers are required to participate in parent teacher meetings and in school and after school enrichment and sport activities for students. Yet, when states attempt to reign in spending the first item on the chopping block is always teacher pay and benefits.

Chaos ruled in the classroom
As bravely the teacher walked in.
The havoc wreakers ignored him.
His voice was lost in the din.

Roger McGough
The Lesson

Parents have trouble disciplining two or three of their own children. They usually find that giving in and compromising with them results is a more congenial home environment. They deal with outburst, resistance to authority and temper fits at home, yet can’t understand how their child could be a problem in school.

When students come into a classroom they are required to sit in an assigned seat – which they do not want to do. They are required not to communicate with other students – which they resent. They are required to pay attention – which they do not want to do. They are required a modicum of decorum - which they resent. They are given assignments – which they do not wish to complete. Students resent the teacher’s authority which attempts to curtail the egocentric adolescent peer structure that is the primary focus of their entire lives.

Students would much prefer a chaotic classroom. When teachers can’t keep order the students are in charge. The greatest pleasure that a classroom can derive is to demoralize a new teacher.

Class discipline must be the major objective of the classroom teacher before instruction can commence. In a public school classroom of twenty-plus students you will find a small number of students paying attention – a larger number of students distracted – and a small number of students intent on disrupting the instruction. Discipline is achieved by establishing class routines. In an ideal classroom students would carry out the routine with very little input from the teacher. It only takes one or two disruptive students to destroy the class routine and disrupt the teacher’s presentation.

Little Johnny comes into the classroom every day and during the middle of the lesson drops his text books onto the floor, or in some way creates a big commotion. When given detention by the teacher (the only disciplinary tool a teacher has) Little Johnny tells his parents that he accidentally dropped his books and the teacher punished him. Into school comes the irate Mom to complain to the principle and accuse the teacher of picking on her kid. In the majority of cases the principal will not back the teacher and try and placate the parent.


Little Jill insist on talking to her girlfriend during the lesson; and when called down she is snotty, uncooperative and obnoxious. When she receives a C on her report card: in comes Mom…

The principal was hired with the approval of the school board – and little Johnny’s and little Jill’s mothers are both on the school board. The principal is responsible for the teachers and the instructional quality. But, the principal is also responsible for placating the school board that can hire and fire the superintendent: the principal’s immediate boss. At the administrative level, appeasing parents is the politics game that is necessary to mollify a school board composed of non-educators. School Board level politics absorbs most principal’s attention in deference to instructional oversight. The principal’s job relies on keeping parents (thus Superintendent, thus School Board) happy.

At the classroom level, smaller class sizes and the ability to remove disruptive students would enhance the learning environment and allow teachers to teach and students to learn. Parents of disruptive and uncooperative students should be held responsible for their children’s behavior.

At the district level, removing non-educators ( school boards politics) from the education equation would result in the ability of administrators to focus on educational quality and achievement at individual schools. It would allow principals to confront parents of disruptive students with real world choices: insist your child behave and cooperate with teachers or fund you child in a private school.

At the national level, removing the unqualified government officials from establishing education reform would be a giant step toward positive reformation of the nation’s schools. Remember, politicians have no standardized test to qualify for their job – so have no proven qualification to oversee schools.

"Is our children learning?"
George W. Bush

I am not a proponent of public schools as they exist today; and do not see vouchers as an answer.

Here is my formula for bringing public schools into the 21st century:

Congress should only have authority to approve financing for public schools. A Cabinet Level, federal education department, composed of certified educators, should have the authority to contract with professional education companies that would run schools as a business. Companies could be held accountable to the state and federal education department for student achievement. A state department of educations, composed of certified educators, should be able to modify federal standards for their unique population. School facilities, infrastructure and maintenance should be the responsibility of the state

It makes sense that companies composed of certified professional educators could run schools more efficiently and economically than the present public education system.

I am sick of hearing about the need to increasing teacher certification requirements and the existence of unqualified teachers as the problem of education. This is the barking cry of politicians running for reelection.

This nation does not respect teachers. Parents do not support teachers. And, no one wants to admit that the lack of parental discipline and parental expectation are the overriding factor in a failed education system. Students come into the classroom undisciplined and unreceptive. The education of the child should be the parent’s responsibility – the school should be there to assist.

All right - I've rethought it: One more entry on education,
The Ol'Buzzard

1 comment:

  1. A group of teachers is just like any group that labors for their money. Within the group, there are good ones, bad ones, slackers, and over achievers. Singling the group out as the root of education's failure to produce quality grads is as you insinuated, scapegoating. Endemic problems of a system are never one part of that systems fault. The fix needs to be system wide as you point out.

    I am a non educator. I went to 12 different schools before I graduated from High school. Dad was in the Air Force. I experienced school systems from Japan to Florida, Maryland to California and I can state that the quality was mixed at best. Sometimes it was the teacher, but more often it was the school system and its curriculum. No matter what school or what teacher I was dealing with, my parents insisted I deal with them and produce grades that were consistent with how smart they figured I was.

    All in all, I found school to be very easy academically. My issues were more of the discipline type. I was a classroom disrupter. I was the kid who gleefully put teachers feet to the fire with questions that may or may not have been subject related. In short, I was a pain in the ass student. Smart and a smart ass. It took 3 years of military school to straighten my sorry ass out. And it's odd, but the rigid inflexible life of the military school freed me up to really begin to learn by exploring, not by rote.

    I deal with the results of our education system all the time in my bike shop. By "our education system", I include parents as they are in my opinion more important than the teachers.

    I have this game I play with the new punks who might stop by and buy something with the crumpled $20 they yank out of their Gangsta below the hips pants. I make them tell me how much change they should get back. The over all results are sad. I could rip so many of them off.

    Who do I blame for this failure of a basic LIfe skill? Not the teachers. My father made sure I knew how to count money before I hit kindergarten. It seems that most parents expect teachers to not only cover all of their kid's education, but to also raise the little bastards also. In my opinion and it would seem yours also, parents are the bigger problem.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."