The Repressed Teacher

Teachers are the most regulated professionals in the United States. In the classroom, on the train, at the supermarket and on facebook, a teacher’s every action will be judged in the light of their profession. Much of it is necessary, since we are entrusted with other peoples’ children and paid by their tax dollars. But too much of it is downright ridiculous. Now a teacher in Chicago is under investigation for showing clips of the Daily Show in his class. A few weeks ago, a teacher in New Jersey was fired for posting that she felt like she was teaching “future criminals” on her facebook wall. In a 21st culture which entails a deluge of sex, violence, drugs and crime via our media outlets, teacher standards of morality are stuck in 17th century Salem. Teachers are held to standards that most other people refuse to countenance for themselves. I remember one day the super of my old apartment building yelled at me for knocking down a “Wet Paint” sign that I did not knock down at all. In return, I very snidely told him off, which caused him to mutter under his breath “some f***ing role model you are!”. This was a man with two young daughters who obviously never thought of his own duty as a role model. This is the type of everyday judgment and double-standard that drains on the personal life of a teacher. Our human and vulnerable moments are either judged by hypocrites or used as grounds for termination by petty and vindictive administrators. This type of sanctimonious repression is only killing our education system.

All teachers, high school teachers especially, deal in a world of ideas. In fact, I believe that the public school classroom is the single most important forum of ideas in the United States. For many of our kids, it is the only place they can get exposed to substantial intellectual discussions. It is one of the few places left that can offer a refuge from the vultures in corporate media out to destroy their attention spans and imaginations. A child’s encounter with the world of ideas should be free for them to take risks and encourage their greed to know more. Unfortunately, it is impossible for teachers to do this. We are in the most repressed profession on earth. All of our topics must be safe, non-controversial and insipid. Our methods must not embarrass or make students feel bad in any way. While no teacher should make it a point to be controversial or demeaning, knowledge itself sometimes gets at topics of controversy. Discussing something as American as racism is a potential pipe bomb, yet it is vital to an understanding of America. Children certainly will not get an honest race discussion from our media and it is just as unlikely that they will hunt down intelligent discussions of it online. The schools are the only places where they might potentially have a real discussion about race. But teachers are so scared of the fallout that they tend to stick with the saccharine clichés of “tolerance” and “diversity”. The list goes on. Not only racism but poverty, sexism, homophobia, religion and a slew of entirely relevant issues are either ignored or made totally vacuous by us overly regulated teachers. Something as open, free, elegant and glorious as unadulterated knowledge is maimed when it is entrusted to an institution as myopic, hypocritical and reactionary as our public school system.

We are the only professionals who get bossed around by non-professionals. Mayor Bloomberg, the education researchers and the wealthy charter school leeches have not educated one class of students between them, yet they foist their half-baked schemes for reform on us. All of them justify their schemes in the name of the “children”. Want to sound like the good guy? Tell them you are doing this for the “children”. Mayor Bloomberg apparently puts “children first….. always”. The education researchers fall over themselves to prove that their lame methods are better for the children. The wealthy charter school liars claim they provide quality education to underprivileged children. But “children” are their least concern. Bloomberg has not bothered to improve the neighborhoods from which these children come, being more concerned with taxing cigarettes and painting bicycle lanes in gutters. The education researchers do not concern themselves with what type of impact constantly changing their methods might have on the kids who have to suffer through those constant changes. The wealthy corporatists who build charter schools because they care so much for underprivileged children do not actually provide any jobs or services in the communities that keep those children underprivileged. The proof is in the pudding. If any of these people cared about “children”, we would not have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the world. The collective money and brain power of these smart, wealthy people could have saved these children they care so much about decades ago.

No, it is not children they care about, it is schooling. All of them, every single one, get lots of money and power if they have a slice of our public schooling system. That is what everything comes down to. They only use the name of the “children” because they know the general public eats that up. They have to repress teachers because we are the ones who do the schooling. If we feel empowered like actual professionals, their “reforms” go nowhere and they do not get the money and influence they seek. It is a power play and it has never been anything more than a power play.

I have been teaching for 12 years, knowing that I will always be paid less than peers with my same level of education. 12 years, despite the fact that I have no more job security thanks to Bloomberg’s reforms. 12 years of working every minute of the school year, writing lessons, doing research, making units, grading papers, improving my craft. 12 years of being judged and spied on by hypocrites.

And not once did I ever say I do it for the “children”

9 responses to “The Repressed Teacher

  1. I agree with a lot of what you have to say. We forget that the real answer is to inspire students – not just try and download a list of random facts into their heads. Yes, Ed-business has hijacked the charter movement and turned it into a for-profit venture and many school leaders are trying harder to not get into trouble than to do something great. But, at the end of the day, education is what happens when dedicated people like you shut the door and teach.

    i feel for you and look forward to what else you have to say.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. As someone who sees the system from a different position, I have a question for you. As you say, principals basically want to stay out of trouble. We here in NYC see it all the time. Principals do things to win favor with their superiors. What strikes me is that how that usually means that principals do things that either have no real value to the school or are downright destructive. Is there a way to combine winning favor with the superintendent with also doing what is right for your school? In NYC these two aims seem mutually exclusive. Generally speaking, how does a principal both keep his or her job while still running the school in a constructive way? It seems to be a mystery here in NYC.

      • Ah, that’s the art of the matter…. In a large district like NYC, the principals boss has 1-2 other bosses – who, they are trying the make happy so they can move up the food chain. They, too are trying to not get in trouble so they can advance. But, here is the real and sad truth that a lot of principals and their bosses don’t realize…to really move up, you have to take some risks and dare to be great. They need to look at their staffs and see what can make them great at something – anything. One school I was at, I saw I had a great team of performing arts teachers – so we became a great performing arts school. Everyone loved us even though our test scores weren’t as high as some thought they should be because we were great at something. And, that’s the secret. Principal’s need to: 1. Commit to and love the school and 2. find something the school and teachers can be great at. That’s it. Hope your principal understands that and works with the staff to find greatness – not conformity – because any fool can go in an just get test scores up.

  2. That is a response after my own heart. Principals here in NYC have more power now than ever before. Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority use it to destroy teachers and any sense of initiative and independence they might have. As you say, there is such a thing as daring to be great. I never understood why having a secure job and a good rating from the district means you have to be a dictator. Why not make having a great school for the kids and a great work environment for the staff your main goal? The ratings can fall into place after that.

    As a teacher, I can get the kids through the standardized exam as well as teaching them history. I do not have to “skill and drill” my way to good test scores. That is why I am going to apply for one of the principal’s programs here in the spring. I believe there is a meaty, largely uncharted plane that combines happy superiors with happy students and staff.

    Thank you for the input.

  3. I feel your pain. In almost 30 years of teaching I never once had a principal whose first concern wasn’t his or her career. All were just passing through on their way up. One even referred to the staff as “you” and not “us”. They spend more of their time out of the school than in it. It would be a dream to work with one whose main concern was the students. My solution was to retire and write a book (more therapeutic than literary)


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  6. m lewis redford

    ‘It is a power play and it has never been anything more than a power play.’ Yep!

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