Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why So Much Anger?

I've seen some tweets and blog posts and articles recently wondering where all this Anger At Teachers is coming from. I think Checker Finn is on to something: I don't think it's about summer vacations, or getting off work at 3PM, or any of that surface stuff. I think it's the perception that teachers are not held accountable in any of the ways the rest of us are. It's not that teachers don't have a stressful job--God knows, they do. And most civilians have very little understanding of those stresses (or sympathy). It's that teachers don't have many of the same stresses the rest of us have, in our jobs. And perhaps this is why there is so little understanding (or sympathy). We're held accountable for performance in myriad ways; they generally are not. So we're angry. Our work is watched, monitored, supervised, often micromanaged; theirs is not--they close the door and do as they please (or so we think). So we're angry. We're paid according to someone's valuation of our worth, and we live and die by that valuation; they get paid based on how long they've survived. That probably makes people angrier than anything else, along wiuth this one: they can't be fired for lousy performance, and we can.

I think these last two might be the crux of the issue. When people from outside look inside at the teaching world, they don't see the stresses and challenges (their perception of teachers remains the kid point of view, or perhaps a parent's point of view), but they definitely see--or hear about--the work rules. They hear that teachers have a job for life, and they resent that. They hear that teachers balk about any serious evaluation tool, and they resent that (because they're evaluated constantly). They may hear, if they're close to the issue, that many teachers resist evaluation because they feel their job is simply un-evaluate-able--that they alone, among working adults, cannot be measured, judged, supervised, or evaluated IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY. It's not that we have poor tools at the moment; it's that the job is...well...magic. Don't ask. You woulnd't understand. Just leave us alone.

That irks people. And it makes them want to lash out and strike back with a bit of vindictiveness. It engenders an "oh yeah?" kind of attitude that makes people want not just SOME evalutaion, but perhaps OVER-evaluation. Stick it to them. Teach them a lesson.

Sure, it's childish. We're childish. Especially when we think someone is being arrogant or holier-than-thou. And all we need is to think it. It doesn't have to be true.

Teachers hurt their cause by thinking--or allowing others to say--that their job is so radically different from the way all other adults work that it cannot be treated like a job in any way. They just do. Teachers hurt their cause by not admitting that things like NCLB didn't erupt out of the brain of George Bush like Athena, with no mother. They played a role. School administrators played a role. Decades of unaccountability plus poor peformance drove people to want someting explicit and mandated. Was it badly constructed? Sure. Was it utterly unjustified and un-precipitated? No.

We're an aggressive, competitive, and results-driven culture, and it's hard to exempt people from that. If our students were leading the international polls in academic achievement, I doubt people would be carping about summer vacations or getting off work at 3:00 (even though we all know most teachers work deep into the night and across the summer). If things were going well, it wouldn't be an issue. But the combination of bad news and what people perceive to be an arrogant refusal to be held accountable for ANY of that news creates resentment. And resentment doesn't open the door for discussion.

And we need a LOT of discussion. Should teachers be held accountable for what they do in school? Yes. How? We don't really know how, yet. Should teachers be held accountable for their students' performance? Yes. One hundred percent? No. Well, what percentage, then? We don't know. Should parents be held accountable ? Yes. How? We don't know, and many of us will be offended if you raise the issue.

There are probably a hundred things like this that we need to discuss--openly, honestly, without hostility or defensiveness. But as in every other aspect of our public life, we can't have those discussions. All we can do is yell.

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