How “Waiting for Superman” can lead to Education Reform…

I wanted to hate Waiting for Superman, I really did. In fact, I got caught up in what I was reading and expected to see 102 minutes of bashing teachers. I watched the episode of Oprah devoted to it, I’ve read the articles in Time and other magazines and newspapers and I’ve devoured what I could online, and you know what? I didn’t see teacher bashing in this film. Instead, what I saw was a film that should, if nothing else, get the much needed conversation going.

You don’t have to be Diane Ravitch or Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan or Joel Stein to know that there are serious problems with our educational system. And you also shouldn’t need to be any of the above mentioned people to realize that change needs to occur in order to achieve a level of education that every child in the United States deserves. Yesterday I watched a film that looked to expose the elements of our industry that need to change in order to start this process, and yes, getting rid of the bad teachers is one of the factors that must occur. In my opinion, Waiting for Superman didn’t belabor this point – but let’s not kid ourselves, bad teachers exist and those of us who are working hard every day to do our jobs should be offended that our unions that prevent their dismissal do so.

I’m taking Davis Guggenheim’s stats as fact – should they be wrong, then my opinion would change – but there is no way in the world that over 600 teachers alone from New York City should be paid to sit in what is referred to as the “rubber room.” (Please note: according to the New York Times, this practice no longer occurs according to this article). Quite simply, we should be appalled that this practice happened. Now don’t get me wrong, due process must happen – but this shouldn’t take years to happen. The dismissal of bad teachers, let alone teachers who have committed atrocities that warrant sitting in a room for a long period of time, is simply one of the things that must happen in order to see change occur.

While teachers as a whole were not attacked, the “lemons” who get passed around from school to school in Milwaukee due to their lack of effectiveness and tenure certainly did. And they should. As I said earlier, we are all responsible for seeing change happen and we all must play a role in this in order to see this necessary change. When we allow our industry to be filled with ineffective teachers who’ve been granted a lifelong job after as little as two years, then those of us who do our jobs suffer as well. Allowing these teachers to skate through year after year only hurts our reputation in the eyes of the public and this doesn’t help matters when it comes to further reform.

Through a friend on Twitter, I learned of an excellent project completed by students at State College High School in central Pennsylvania. It is a response to student suicides which have happened due to being bullied due to their sexual preferences. In essence, the video takes a strong stand to say that those of us who sit on the sidelines and aren’t willing to take a stand are just as responsible for their unfortunate deaths. This is the same situation we face when we allow our unions to hide these ineffective teachers. Sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing will get us nowhere – and fast.

So we should go all Michelle Rhee on teachers then, Lenzi? I don’t doubt that you’re saying this to yourself, as my views on this sound a lot like hers to this point. No, this is not what we should do now. What we must do now is come to terms with the idea that tenure is an outdated idea. It doesn’t help us, it hinders us. It makes our profession about US instead of what it should always be about – STUDENTS.

We must overhaul the way we are evaluated and we must figure out a way to determine what makes a good teacher. We must be ready for the consequences should we not meet the requirements we have come up with.  We must profess the idea to those coming up through the college ranks that while this profession is the greatest on earth, it’s by no means easy and we must expect more out of colleges as they prepare those who will enter our profession. We must realize that being a senior teacher doesn’t necessarily make one a strong teacher, just as being a new teacher doesn’t necessarily make one a great one. We must play our role in this crisis. We can’t simply sit back and blame the bureaucracy (which certainly deserves blame, don’t get me wrong) without admitting that we must do our part as well.

I realize that the clip from State College isn’t the highest quality, but its message is. I hope that you took the time to watch it all. If you did, I also hope that you agree with me when I say that the I Am can just as easily apply to the problems we face in education today, just as the We Are can be applied, or to use what I’ve just focused on, We Must

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The “Manifesto”…

Wow. That was truly my first reaction when I read the manifesto published in The Washington Post today. For those of you with a sense of history and perspective, the last time that I truly heard this term even used seriously, we were tracking down a guy in the woods of Montana. As a teacher, this piece is simply appalling. Please, before you read anything else in this post, if you haven’t already clicked on that link above and read the words of Joel Stein, Michelle Rhee, et. al., make sure to do so.

The last thing that I want to do is claim that our system of public education doesn’t need work. It does and anybody with half a brain can see this. But divisive forces like Mr. Stein and Ms. Rhee aren’t helping anything by having a piece like this published. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And this is truly a shame.

Until we can all come to the conclusion that WE ALL must play a role in this absolutely necessary turnaround of OUR educational system in the United States, we are only going to continue to tear each other down. And let’s get this straight: by ALL, I mean all of the stakeholders in our system – which means EVERY SINGLE CITIZEN IN OUR COUNTRY. That’s teachers and parents, administrators and students, school board members and legislators, Michelle Rhee and Joel Stein, John and Jane Doe. If we all don’t climb aboard the bus, to use the metaphor we use over and over in my school district, we just aren’t going to be able to achieve anything.

I’ve been doing a ton of reading in the past couple months regarding educational reform and have some pretty strong opinions. I hope you continue to read as I spout them out.

To be continued, you can count on that…