Grading the teachers, fairly


To the Editor:

Teachers are under attack. Attack from preachers of discord who look to blame the institutions of learning for the state of economic and moral decline of the nation.

An educator fosters thinking to challenge what we know and go beyond. Teachers are scholars, researchers, observers, and active participants. They follow mentors, and mentor followers. Teachers provide the skills, training, and inspiration for all professions and trades.

Yet, certain politicians and media commentators devalue this public service. They create myths about teacher salaries, work hours, and benefits, and challenge the right to collective bargaining. Glenn Beck accuses teachers’ unions of raping the taxpayers while he made more than $32 million in 2009. The national average teacher salary of 2009 was $51,000. If accusatory TV hosts are on-set for a half-hour a day for five days a week, does that mean that they work two and a half hours per week?

The notion that the mayor of Providence can fire all public school teachers to undermine the union and then rehire them the next year as independent contractors with no voice is both insulting and anti-democratic. Political bullying of educators is also happening in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio. This attitude is mimicked in schools. How can we expect students to have confidence in their teachers and to be tolerant and respectful of each other when their so-called political leaders show such contempt for education? Other nations that outrank the US in reading, science, and math are noted for holding teachers in high esteem.

My experience as an educator for over 40 years in a variety of settings, from pre-kindergarten to university, from urban to rural, national to international, public to private, shatters the illusions that a teacher’s life is glamorous and decadent. Arrive at school at 7 am; have an 18-minute lunch; after school meet with a troubled teen; advise extra curricular activity. Arrive home at 6 pm; correct papers all evening; use weekend time to prepare for the next week. Summers represent time to plan, to learn, to study pedagogy, theories, methodologies, approaches, ideas, and techniques, to get degrees and update credentials. School breaks mean space to prepare the next quarter, to sift through current philosophies and styles from schools-without-walls to back-to-basics, from constructivist thought to understanding by design, from reflective teaching protocols to inquiry based learning, from standardized testing to best practices — seeking ways to keep the learning moving, to keep students engaged, to keep the educator excited about teaching and learning.

Schools are a vital part of the community, and likewise, community members can become a vital part of the class and classroom projects. Reciprocation and public service from the schools to the community have positive impact. We can use this dynamic process of collaboration and mutual respect as a model to find solutions to education reforms even when challenged by economic difficulties.

The nation’s education system gets a poor grade on the 2010-2011 report card. We can’t advance in a climate of name-calling, attacks, and scare tactics. Those of us dedicated to enhancing quality of life through education deserve respect for that contribution. By devoting more positive energy as a community to improving education and quality teaching, we are investing in the future.

Lynn Ditchfield, Ed.M., M.A.