Guest Post: Teachers Again

Mr. Mainhart extends his thoughts:

So I have something else. I’ve been getting some feedback about my original response. Below is my feedback to the feedback.

While I don’t pretend to be smart enough to solve the oft-repeated ills of the beleaguered American school system, after seven years in that system, there are some things I know:

Although the debate predates the recession by several thousand news cycles, it’s gained new currency since the economy took a nosedive. It has lately been driven primarily by money, not what’s best for the students. “The best and the brightest” is code for “the newest and the cheapest”. The best teachers are experienced teachers. Sure, pay them more. But if you take away tenure, when the next crisis hits, they’ll be the first to go.

The specter of the bad teacher is an overblown horror story used to demonize teacher’s unions. Are there bad teachers? Of course. But in the unscientific sampling of teachers that I know, and the teachers they know and so on, the percentage of bad teachers is miniscule, certainly not enough to explain the perceived failures of the American school system. To punish the overwhelming majority of good teachers in order to rid the scourge of the bad teacher is not only unfair, it is educationally unwise. You’d be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Comparing the American educational system with those of other countries is like comparing apples and oranges. For better or worse, America tries to give every child an equal opportunity at education. Yes there are inequities, but equality is the goal. Other countries separate the best and the brightest from the rest of the pack. It’s called tracking. The golden age of high American test scores comes from a time when we engaged in this practice. But that has not been the philosophy behind American education for some time. We promote an inclusive model. A teacher is required to teach at all levels (from those w/ learning disabilities to honors students) *within the same class. *Some are ESL students. Some come from terrible homes. Some are brilliant. Some are average. The upshot of this is that students of all abilities and backgrounds get to experience each other and learn from each other. It fosters tolerance and friendship w/ those who are different. However, the average test scores take an inevitable hit. We can either promote this inclusive model or concentrate more resources on the best students.

Many people (notably our beloved mayor) are trying to impose a business model on education. I argue that the kind of cutthroat approach that works so well in business is not the right approach when trying to mold the minds of children. In fact, it is antithetical.

Students are more than their test scores. Teachers know this. We spend more time with them than anyone, (sometimes even their parents). We’re not just teaching them about math and science (and even art!), we are teaching them to be better people. Anyone who suggests that we put our own selfish needs before the welfare of our students should have their own motivations scrutinized. Because we are no one’s scapegoat. -Derek Mainhart, Teacher post