Education Reformers Need To Lighten Up

It's not indigestion. It's the trademark education reformer face.

Michelle Rhee has a perpetual scowl. Michael Bloomberg wears a long face. Bill Gates is always berating kids to grow up. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but you would think it could at least provide the down payment.

Even after their recent victory here in New York City, where they can now publicize each teacher’s “value added” data, it is a sure bet that they will stick to their curmudgeonly ways. Teachers here now can look forward to the same public relations bludgeoning that teachers in Los Angeles have been experiencing.

They are all rubbing their hands together in anticipation of more wholesale firings of veteran teachers. Oy, the firings. All the time with the firings.

Here is a new approach. Instead of blaming teachers for things over which they have little control, like numbers children receive on some test, how about praising teachers for things to which they contribute very little.

Case and point: many years ago a student transferred into my Global History class in the middle of the school year. He was fresh from Bangladesh. At the end of the year, he would be required to take the Global History Regents Exam. Great.

He was a week removed from his arrival in the United States. Not a word of English escaped his lips nor filtered into his brain. All he came to school with was a notebook and a smile. Day in and day out he sat in my class as he struggled to copy the volumes of notes I wrote on the board each day. As time wore on, that smile turned into a distant stare. I was still waiting for a homework assignment or essay from him.

Then one day he raised his hand. He gave the right answer to a simple question and I was sure to praise him for the effort. He did the same the next day, and then the day after that. Then I noticed that the homework folder felt a little bulkier. Once I opened it up, I found a complete homework assignment in what would turn out to be his trademark bumpy writing.

It got to the point where he started answering more and more complex questions in class. Even those killer questions that usually elicited crickets would be met with his lone hand thrust up into the air. His homework assignments became more and more detailed. His essays, while very poor in English, were very full of history. By the time June came around, he received a 98 on the Regents Exam, which meant he even nailed the questions that covered topics we studied while he was still in Bangladesh.

I had him the next near for United States history and he continued his hot streak. When I saw him around school, he was always with a group of friends. He seemed happy and well-adjusted.

About a year ago, I was taking a taxi into Queens, looked at the driver’s identification photo and immediately recognized the face and the name. It was him! Throughout the entire trip, we reminisced about the good old days and he told me many times that I was best teacher he ever had. Once it was time to pay my fare, which was very expensive, he refused to take my money. I pleaded with him, but he would not allow it. Little stories like this are what make it worth being a teacher.

My question for the sour-pussed ed deformers is: do I not get credit for this? He decimated all of the standardized tests and went on to become a functioning member of American society. Can this be shown in the value-added data? Can I get some merit pay for this?

I mean, we all know it was not my doing. He came to school with a motivation to learn. He had many wonderful teachers who helped him with his English and encouraged him to stick with it. His circle of friends made him feel comfortable and accepted in a brand new country. There were a whole host of reasons behind his success.

But as long as we’re in the business of publicly shaming teachers with crappy “value added” data that has very little to do with what goes on in classrooms on a daily basis, why can’t we go to the other side of the spectrum and blame them for all of the happy, well-adjusted and intelligent students that pass through those hallways every day? If the bogus graduation rates are up in NYC, why aren’t the teachers getting a parade down the Canyon of Heroes?

The truth is, stories like the one with this student happen every day all around the country to all types of teachers. It is the reason why the teachers who have remained in the system for so long stay. Even though we know in the front of our minds that we are not the only factors in the success of students like this, we live in the moment and accept heartfelt gratitude when it is shown. All the while, the corporate reformers loom above us, promising to hold us “accountable” for these same things over which we have no control.

The trademark grim face of the average billionaire education deformer is a sign of what is happening behind that face. They assume all teachers are bad and will stop at nothing to destroy the profession. As long as they punish us for results we cannot possibly control, maybe we should start taking credit for the same.

Next time the unemployment data (which is also bogus) improves, teachers everywhere should say “you’re welcome.” Next time war with Iran is averted, the NY Post can run an article praising teachers for their superior statesmanship.

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3 responses to “Education Reformers Need To Lighten Up

  1. Reblogged this on Kmareka.com and commented:
    Not sure I agree with everything in here, but it helps to keep in mind that all the dead seriousness and crisis manufacturing of the education reformers may not be good for our health.

  2. The final kick in the nuts is that most reformers would not consider this a success story since this kid is *just* a cab driver.

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