Let's stop blaming teachers for everything! 

Last week’s news that the entire staff of Beach High School will be out of a job at the end of the school year — principal, teachers, even the janitor — hit town like a thunderbolt.

While not entirely unexpected — the school was entering its eighth year on the “needs improvement” list, part of the No Child Left Behind Act’s Kafkaesque reforms — any time such drastic action is taken, it gets your attention.

The firing is not without national context: A high school in Rhode Island gained similar notoriety recently when all its teachers were terminated in similar fashion, as part of the so-called “turnaround model.” It’s all the rage.

In Beach High’s case, there’s the added creepiness factor of the quid pro quo the school received in exchange for firing the whole staff in one fell swoop: Instant qualification for $6 million in federal grants.

Basically, the government made Beach an offer it couldn’t refuse, a la Vito Corleone himself. What a shame our government stoops to Mafia tactics — but then again, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

It could very well be that every single teacher at Beach was subpar in some way and deserved to lose their jobs. Highly, highly unlikely, but possible.

But if so, why say that 49 percent of them can possibly be rehired, as is the case? Is that not the very definition of a bureaucratic dog–and–pony show designed to make people feel better rather than accomplish real change?

Accountability has to start at the top, not the bottom. I’d feel better about wholesale teacher firings if subpar administrators were likewise terminated with extreme prejudice.

I suspect even the fired teachers might feel just a little bit better, or at least not so uniquely persecuted.

This systematic bullying of teachers — who are still a pretty powerless group, despite political rhetoric to the contrary — smacks of blaming the victim. That always seems to be the easiest route, and an increasingly common aspect of American life and politics.

I don’t know how much longer politicians will be able to kick the can down the road by victimizing teachers while failing to address core issues. We are already at a crisis point.

The United States continues to plummet down the list of industrialized nations in terms of overall education, graduation rates, and particularly in math and science.

Our education crisis is nothing less than a national emergency, every bit on par with the threats of Islamic fundamentalism and nuclear proliferation. Perhaps even worse, because threats from within are always the most insidious and difficult to eradicate.

A teacher’s job would be hard enough even with full support from society: Long hours, dealing with problem students, dealing with problem parents, dealing with administrators, teaching for the test instead of the curriculum, saddled with textbooks that are tailored for the average school district in Texas.

But considering that teachers are rarely supported by society, and are instead generally blamed for society’s failures, I don’t know why teachers continue to do what they do.

But they do. Teachers voluntarily take up the profession knowing in advance that the pay is low, the hours long, and that they, not their superiors and not their elected school boards, will be held accountable for failings in the classroom — as well as outside the classroom!

Teachers in America, quite simply, are set up to fail.

This isn’t a hidden agenda, by the way, far from it. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it, but nothing’s ever done about it.

Like putting mercury in tooth fillings, it’s one of those obviously counterproductive things that makes no sense whatsoever, but that no one ever seems to argue with.

The clear alternative — holding parents      accountable for students’ character and dedication — seems to be unthinkable.

It’s just so much easier to focus on teachers rather than on parents. You can fire teachers.

Let me be clear: I understand everyone’s gripes with teachers unions. There’s little doubt — and President Obama seems to agree on this point, by the way — that teachers unions in some cases act to shield subpar teachers from accountability.

But it’s important that we throw aside ideological blinders and look at the real issue:

Students who for whatever reason refuse to learn are rarely held accountable. Their parents, who by definition have in some way fostered their children’s attitudes, are almost never held accountable.

Quite the opposite, in fact. In every school district all over the country, students with disciplinary problems — i.e., students who keep other students from learning — not only garner the bulk of teachers’ attention, they often indirectly garner the bulk of funding.

So how’s that workin’ out for ya?

In the case of Beach, things are working out to the tune of six million bucks. But after that money’s spent, then what?
Will the new teaching staff — presumably at least 51 percent all-new faces, as the law dictates — enjoy a higher level of support than the previous staff?

If not, then we may as well flush that $6 million down the toilet for all the good it will do.

(Meanwhile, students who actually want to learn are getting a hard-knocks education in how America really works: Do bad things, get attention and money. Do good things, and no one notices. Or in the Chatham County version, they’re often singled out and accused of being “elitist.” Hell of a lesson either way.)

What our politicians — and therefore the voters that put them in office — don’t seem to understand is that if our teachers fail, America fails. It really is that simple.

Everyone’s upset about health care reform. But while Obama’s reforms are far from perfect, they can always be tweaked with subsequent legislation by subsequent congresses.

Everyone’s upset about the national debt. But as President Clinton showed us, nations can cut deficits through wise policy, and we can sometimes even be left with a surplus.

But when you lose a generation of American children because of poor education, you lose them forever.

Game, set, match. No do–over.

Teachers are our last, best hope of fighting the destruction of society from within. Where the family fails, when home life isn’t what it needs to be, when the media peddles little else but sex and violence, teachers are the ones who can fill those gaps.

And on those wondrous occasions when parents and teachers are indeed working together — well, there’s literally no end to the good that can follow.

Our greatest asset as a country is not our guns or our bombs, not our money or our global influence, not our movies or our music.

It’s our people.

Education and character are what make people great. Parents and teachers are the ones best able to pass those lessons on.

Anyone who gets in the way of those lessons being passed on are the ones who are truly not doing their jobs.



About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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