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Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 10/10/2010

How to save schools right now: Let teachers teach

By Valerie Strauss

This post was written by LouAnne Johnson, assistant professor of teacher education at Santa Fe Community College. A former high school teacher, Johnson is the author of several books including Dangerous Minds and, most recently, Teaching Outside the Box. Her website address is

By LouAnne Johnson
We don’t have to wait for Superman to save our public schools. We can save our schools ourselves. Right now. Without firing the teachers or disbanding their unions. Without creating more standardized tests. Without pitting schools against each other in a race for dollars which should rightfully be divided equally among the school-age children of this country.

As with many complex problems, the answer is a simple one -- so simple that it is overlooked.

The answer can be stated in seven words that even a child could understand: Train teachers well -- then let them teach.

The problem with public schools isn’t lack of parental support or computers or equipment. It isn’t an overabundance of television or junk food or violence. Those things contribute to the problem.
No argument. And money is helpful. But throughout the world, there always have been students who learned to think and read and write with very limited supplies, sometimes without a classroom or textbooks, without standardized tests, without merit pay for their teachers. Those students learned because their teachers were permitted to teach.

Most American teachers are good at their jobs -- when they are allowed to do their jobs. And that is the primary problem with our public schools. Teachers are not allowed to teach.

Or rather, they are told how to teach in such great detail and required to document what they are teaching in such great detail and expected to spend so much time teaching students to pass the tests that will prove the teachers have paid such great attention to detail that the teachers don’t have time to teach the information and skills their students need.

Money isn’t the answer.

Teachers appreciate being well-paid, but most of them don’t enter the profession for the money and that is another reason why so many people misunderstand the situation. Many people work for their paychecks.

Of course, teachers appreciate being paid for their work, but most of us are willing to work for far less than we could earn elsewhere because we are passionate about the work we do. We know how important it is to educate the next generation of Americans. We don’t work for paychecks -- we work for pupils. Paying us more will make us happier but it won’t make us better teachers.

Better training and preparation make us better teachers. Objective observation and helpful feedback make us better teachers. Mentoring and staff development and sharing best practices make us better teachers.

Mediocre teachers don’t need to be fired. They need to be observed and mentored and properly trained. They need to be supported by administrators and peers and parents. They need the opportunity to watch excellent teachers in action. They need to be given the time and the tools to become good teachers -- and then if they still can’t or won’t do the job, it’s time to say goodbye.

Firing bad teachers is expensive, and firing teachers doesn’t solve the problem. The solution, again, is simple: The colleges and universities who prepare mediocre teachers, and the state licensing bureaus who license those mediocre teachers, need to be held accountable.

It is their job to train and evaluate teachers so that when those teachers are licensed and hired, they are prepared to do their jobs well. Teacher training programs and licensing bureaus need to establish and uphold high professional standards. Which brings us to the final piece of the problem puzzle.

Teachers aren’t treated or viewed as professionals by their fellow Americans, most of whom believe that because they once attended school, they are now qualified to teach school and to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Very probably, those same people have flown in airplanes, undergone surgery, or paid somebody to prepare their tax forms. Yet they don’t feel entitled to provide instruction to their pilots, doctors and accountants.

Licensed American teachers hold earned bachelor’s degrees in either a secondary content area or in elementary, childhood or special education. In addition, they have completed between two and four years of postgraduate study, including an internship or field experience comparable to the internships of medical doctors where they learn how to do their jobs under the guidance of experienced mentors .

After completing their academic programs, teachers undergo criminal background checks and apply for licensure, at their own expense. They spend days taking hundreds of dollars worth of tests -- again at their own expense -- to prove that they have the basic skills (math, science, reading, and writing) and the content knowledge (English, social studies, visual arts, mathematics, and so on), and the pedagogical expertise (zone of proximal development, designing assessment rubrics, differentiating instruction, engaging the amygdala) required to do their jobs.

Don’t know what the zone of proximal development is or how to identify it? Don’t know how to design an assessment rubric or how to differentiate instruction effectively? Haven’t got a clue how to grab the attention of an adolescent amygdala?

Then you probably aren’t a teacher.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 10, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  dangerous minds, louanne johnson, superman, teachers, waiting for superman  
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Unfortunately, Ms. Johnson, teachers in our urban public schools who, as you put it, "Don’t know what the zone of proximal development is or how to identify it? Don’t know how to design an assessment rubric or how to differentiate instruction effectively? Haven’t got a clue how to grab the attention of an adolescent amygdala? Then you probably aren’t a teacher" don't accept this conclusion. Like Ms. Strauss, those who can't do what you just suggested, don't accept the conclusion that teaching isn't for them if they can't do what you outline. Instead, they blame economics, parents, resources, schedules, classroom space, unsupportive administrators, etc. And while you're right that teachers enter the profession "not for the money" but because they love it doesn't justify low pay and no performance bonuses for those who overcome the odds. The fact that someone has been teaching for a long time should not get them more pay if they are not effective nor should it protect their jobs. In theory, you're correct--train teachers well and let them teach. But, in practice, like in every job in America, it's not that simple. Even the highest paid baseball players in the world are managed and held to results. The notion that teachers should just be allowed to teach regardless of results is so archaic, absurd and insulting that it has led to where we are- American students are 25th in the world in science and 19th in the world in math because we just "let teachers teach." We propose the ludicrous notion that just because you have a degree you can teach. Until education adopts a model of accountability, results and yes- GOD forbid- merit pay we will lag behind our competitors in the world. Our best teachers deserve to be compensated at the highest levels, our mediocre ones need to be supported and receive less pay (that's right- less pay) and those who are ineffective can not be permitted to "just teach" they need to go!

Posted by: teacher6402 | October 10, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Teachers could do their job money or not if parents and other stakeholders wuld do their job. The doctor treats the illness, the dentist pulls your teeth. In most professions you don't require them to take on all the ills/personal problems of the patient. You pay before you even get the service. Why should teachers be bashed because children come to school with issues that hsve nothing to with the skills they are being paid to do. Teach academics like science and math so we won't be so low in the ranking. America take responsibility for helping to educate your children. Its not the sole responsibility of the schools or its teachers. Demand that the media have some accountability as well. Demand that parents be accountable. Finally for those who go to church or believe in a certain religion, the service is not the only thing you depend on to instill those beliefs in your children , you instill them in additon at home and through your faithbased activities. Educating your children should be the same way.

Posted by: frankiesimmons1 | October 10, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

"In addition, they have completed between two and four years of postgraduate study,"

You mean masters degrees in education? I have one of those too. It was like returning to kindergarten. Calling them graduate degrees is like renaming the ground floor of your house the 'tenth floor' and then claiming you live in a ten story house.

"including an internship or field experience comparable to the internships of medical doctors where they learn how to do their jobs under the guidance of experienced mentors ."

Comparable to doctors? A medical internship lasts one full year and then is followed seamlessly by an additional two years. This is for those in internal medicine, and the residencies for other specialties are far longer.

My "internship" for teaching lasted FIVE WEEKS for high school and SIX weeks for middle school. It was the HS that I needed more.

In addition, medical interns are not expected to administer "their own" remedies to their patients, and use tried and established methods as directed by their superiors. Student teachers, in insane contrast, are expected to make up new and "creative" lesson plans that are base purely on ignorance and lack of experience.

"and the pedagogical expertise (zone of proximal development, designing assessment rubrics, differentiating instruction, engaging the amygdala) required to do their jobs."

Most of the tests for these fads are just as thin as the alleged training for them or the evidence for their effectiveness.

Posted by: physicsteacher | October 10, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Critical comments may pick apart certain lines in Johnson's post, but they don't contradict the basic premise. Too many schools and teachers are increasingly hamstrung by policy "solutions" that typically reduce overall effectiveness in the pursuit of narrow goals that are hardly worth focusing on. When you force intelligent, creative, effective, motivated, innovative teachers to march in lock-step, to follow a script in the pursuit of test results, you risk losing those teachers, and you guarantee that they will either deliver an inferior education, or waste time and energy trying to look obedient and compliant while still doing what's right for students. I know teachers and have heard of many more who have to do "secret" science or art lessons with their elementary students because they're really supposed to be doing test prep. We have fetishized data in the pursuit of a flimsy sort of accountability in this country, and Johnson has it right. Give teachers the support they need to do the job, and where there is room for improvement, make it happen. But no research or examples I know of would support the idea of improving results through threats or restrictions. It seems that many critics out there would advocate for work conditions they wouldn't want for themselves, and classroom curriculum they wouldn't want for their own children. The justifications for such approaches ring rather hollow.

Posted by: DavidBCohen | October 10, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Good article!

Posted by: jlp19 | October 10, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

In response to teacher6402 - I most certainly did not say that we should just let teachers teach regardless of how well or poorly they teach. I specifically stated that those who don't teach well need to be properly trained and then if they can't do the job. they should be let go. And I didn't say that teachers shouldn't be well paid. I said that teachers wouldn't teach better simply because you paid them more money. I think if you read my comments in context, instead of isolating specific phrases which take on a new meaning by themselves, you would find that we agree on most things. For example, I didn't say or imply that simply because you have a degree you can teach. I said that if you train somebody to do a job and license them to do the job -- if they can't do the job, they weren't properly trained or they simply weren't up to it. Both of those things could be address before a teacher starts teaching. Not afterwards.

Posted by: louannejohnson | October 10, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't allowed to teach without interference either. But it wasn't because of standardized tests, but in the pursuit of the latest and greatest education fads.

In most other professions you are told what to do and how to do it. What's unique about teaching is that those who are telling you what to do are fools.

Posted by: physicsteacher | October 10, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Physicsteacher makes an excellent point and one that I should have addressed in my essay - many teacher education programs have field experience or student teaching components that meet minimum state standards but don't adequately prepare teachers to actually teach. That's why I believe the first part of the solution is teacher training, and why we need to hold teaching training institutions responsible for the work that they do. Instead of trying to fire bad teachers, we should be looking at how we can better prepare teachers and only license those who have the knowledge and skills to teach. Any effective classroom teacher knows that if you develop solid leadership skills, get a good grasp on human psychology and learn how to effectively engage students, you can avoid most misbehavior -- much, much easier (and more cost effective) than trying to change bad behavior once it starts.

Posted by: louannejohnson | October 10, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

To Ms. Johnson,

I agree with you on most points. I suppose I was passively expressing frustration that in DC there are many teachers who recognize that they do not have the skills to be effective teachers and instead of growing or seeking support they simply use the union to protect themselves from accountability at the expense of our kids.

Also, as I'm sure you would agree, teaching is as challenging as being a doctor or lawyer. Unfortunately, there are so many people who become licensed to teach who have weak content skills, very poor pedagogy, and even less ability in developing relationships with kids. I can recall many of my colleagues studying for days for the teacher Praxis exam- this test is so easy that anyone who couldn't pass it is virtually stupid-- yet, I know many teachers who take it multiple times and eventually teach our kids--scary.

These people squeak by in the system because they are often loud, confrontational and difficult and principals don't want to deal with them. Before you know it they have tenure and they build support to fight change or accountability--see the Washington Teacher's Blog--They are constantly fighting professional development--they refuse to examine student data as a reflection of their teaching--they often take off on PD days and are late or don't come at all to collaborations and they always blame the kids and parents for everything. They are the "cancer" of education and they are damned and determined to keep people like Rhee from holding them accountable. This is why they dumped a million dollars to the Gray campaign--in the hopes that he would slow down or even stop reform efforts. The teachers' union has emphatically become the powerful political action committee of laziness, incompetence and unwarranted tenure. They have no desire to hold themselves accountable to student results and performance--they, like Ms. Strauss, love to cite research about student home life, economics and parenting--because these arguments, if true, prevent any evaluation system of accountability.

For the first time in this country we are faced with a true "cold war" on education--one that the unions are hell bent on winning-damn the kids or adults who get in their way. They are so committed to their effort that they were able to remove a mayor who improved schools, saved the district millions in closing underenrolled schools, and reduced crime. This is a "war" they must lose or America will soon become a nation of illiterate students.

It is with great anticipation that I await Gray's choice for Chancellor. It appears he is serious about his legacy and commitment to reform.

Posted by: teacher6402 | October 10, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

One of the things that bothers me most about teacher training is that an education degree, in itself. has nothing to do with being well-educated. I became a teacher through a career-switcher program. The few college education classes I had to take were, for the most part, empty, mindless dreck. They were to the academic world what twinkies and cheeze-puffs are to nutrition. I don't think I could have stood taking enough of those classes to earn a full degree in education. I suspect that most good teachers are good in spite of, and not because of, their education degrees.

Posted by: aed3 | October 10, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

This is the best thing I've read about the problems teachers face under the new reforms. The reason I left the profession was that I couldn't stand to be micromanaged and forced to adopt methodologies that simply weren't going to work with the students I had. I went back to the private sector, where employees, many of whom are not any better prepared for their jobs than some of the worst teachers, nevertheless have a voice and, surprisingly, due process. Without a doubt, teaching is one of the most honorable and important jobs a person can do, but today teachers need rock solid egos and ear plugs to continue teaching in the midst of all the negativity and ideologically driven nonsense that has replaced actual content in our nation's classrooms.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | October 11, 2010 2:12 AM | Report abuse

Thanks anyway, LouAnne, but I don't think what we teachers need is jargon to rescue public education from the for-profit privatizers who are deprofessionalizing it.

These bottom-feeders love rubrics, happily claim their computer-generated "individual" programs differentiate instruction, and even think they own the adolescent amygdala, in the flickering stare of a thousand hours of video games.

“How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders”

This manifesto puts the for-profit agenda right on the table: all Rhee's mealy-mouthed declamations about the importance of teaching are window dressing. The purpose of teachers in the classroom is to administer the for-profit fraud of "online learning", both in district classrooms and in the virtual charters secretly embedded in public districts.

No, don't pass over the link thinking you already know about "Kaplan Higher Education" or "Kaplan Test Preparation".

Open the link. Read what the Washington Post Corporation is secretly selling to your children, for its own profit, at public expense, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, "Kaplan K12".

Superintendents are openly appointed by mealy-mouthed billionaire practitioners of "leveraged philanthropy", but the Washington Post has not disclosed to its readers its investment in the destruction of the public education "status quo".

Rhee and Klein are closing schools out from under whole communities, so displaced children can be scavenged by hidden partners like Kaplan K12 Virtual Charters:

"Imagine capturing the per-diem pupil payments for every child, even if she never even walks through the door".

Posted by: mport84 | October 11, 2010 4:56 AM | Report abuse

This piece is fundamentally flawed as the American education system currently attracts teachers from the bottom third of college graduates. From Sunday's Post:

"The late Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1997 to 2004, was open about the problem as far back as 2003. "You have in the schools right now, among the teachers who are going to be retiring, very smart people," she said in an interview. "We're not getting in now the same kinds of people. It's disastrous. We've been saying for years now that we're attracting from the bottom third.""

If our doctors were coming from the bottom third of graduates, we wouldn't be saying, "just let them practice medicine." We would be alarmed.

Truth is that very, very smart women went into teaching for many years (or nursing, or secretarial work) because they had no other options. That has changed and the profession of teaching will have to change, too. "Just let them teach" is utter nonsense.

Posted by: trace1 | October 11, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Teacher 6402 says, “American students are 25th in the world in science and 19th in the world in math because we just "let teachers teach.”

That’s an opinion without basis in fact.

As for the million the union “dumped” to the Gray campaign, don’t forget that Fenty had four times that amount* and Gray started with zero when he announced his candidacy against the incumbent Fenty 6 months before the September elections.

Before Gray even announced, he had a lead in the polls* in a hypothetical match up with Fenty. Obviously something besides Union support was propping Gray up before he raised a dime. I think it was his competence as City Council Chair, the will of the people and widespread distaste for Fenty.

Also, not knowing until after the election that Gray was reform-minded indicates ignorance or willful misreporting of the facts. Unlike Fenty, Gray as councilmember voted for mayoral control of the schools under Mayor Williams. Gray again supported it under Fenty and made it very clear during the campaign to anyone listening or who bothered to visit his website* that he was in favor of continued school reform.

Given your numerous mangling of the facts about the election, I give no credence to your broad, negative characterization of DC teachers.

*References in the order mentioned above

Posted by: efavorite | October 11, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the modern day job of teaching has become a realm in which teachers are not allowed to practice the art of teaching. Scripts, rigid schedules for doing exactly x, y and z (TEST those brains to GAIN or you LOSE your job, teacher, principal, et al... See: Central Falls) and unquestioning adherence to the fad du jour are out to get you... and your teaching talent. (What a waste of materials, too! Hokey books are used as window dressing - Klein! - while worthwhile lessons are done on the sly (shhhh!), or the unhelpful books are shoveled into the basement when the next "more better" unhelpful edition comes out, or, (more) better yet, the next "most best" fad materializes...

Well, that's what can happen when you have a media fortune billionaire (Bloomberg) running your school system with a handpicked Clinton admin. lawyer (Klein) as chancellor - neither of whom knows squat about educating NYC's demographics...
They took the test successes (what else?) of the plum neighborhoods - and I mean plummest - very deliberately carved out in zigzagged, snaky fashion into one District 2, and made Alvarado's (supt.) unique Calkins' writing/phonics OUT/Math algorithms OUT (math's to write and write about!) into 1-size-fits-all 4 all NYC. (Didnt they know parents from Dist 2 often made up for Alvarado's cult curriculum deficits by buying tutoring and Hooked on Phonics for their kids? That not all NYC parents can do this? Guess not!)

Mayoral control has been such a miracle (!!!) for NYC... NOT. (As the dumbed down test scandal of this summer past has shown us.)

As for the Fenty/Rhee Dynamic Duo, I only wish they would have been able to stay on as a team, overseeing DC schools (apologies to sane union members who voted against that Weingarten-corrupted BAD contract that allows Rhee to thwack at you with her infamous broom).

I wish this because, now, with Mayor Fenty shown the door - a "new breed of Democrat" who brags that he "runs govt as a private enterprise" - and most likely Rhee being curtailed or shown the door, we will never get to the inevitable point of proof of the poverty of their reform measures.

Look at Rhee's IMPACT intro, or brainwashing wall (very 1984), and I think you will see where failure is simmering... but dammit, I want that pot to boil over. I want the reformistas to have to wade thru the muck, the waste of money, time, instruction... the neoliberal mess theyve made... Let them fly a bit higher, crash a bit harder. Let it be known what a fraud it is.

On the other hand, with the Rhee/Fenty march to excellence aborted, we will have to endure the reformista fans forever whining about how perfect DC schools would've been, IF ONLY... if only those nasty unions, if only those clueless black voters, if only, if only, if only... their reform champions had been able to bring their education miracles to fruition! These dreamers will fog up the view... of reality.

"Sigh"... An Einstein behind every lunch tray... IF ONLY...

Posted by: NYCee | October 11, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

aed3 has a point. as far back as the 1960s,when my mother was working for her teaching degree, she made the same point.
She was able to get a "cadet" certificate after two years of college and teach while she finished her degree; she complained that the courses were repetitions of the earlier ones and had nothing to do with education. She also was put in charge of a self-contained elementary classroom and expected to teach all subjects--since she was an adult returning to college, she had last taken a science course in high school, 25 years earlier!

Worse, the student teaching at that college didn't occur until the students' senior year. She knew many students who got that far, discovered they didn't like teaching (or kids weren't as much fun to be around all day as they had thought), and couldn't transfer their credits to another major. It seems "Philosophy of Education" just isn't part of any other curriculum in a college.

People talk about "teacher training" as though they are dogs to be taught tricks to; maybe we should talk about "teacher education."

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 11, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

In the nineteenth century, medical journals were full of articles outlining courses of treatment that didn't work. The reason? The doctors who were actually treating the most patients didn't have time to write journal articles, and they were treating the most patients because their parents were getting well.
I've got a feeling that much educational reform is very similar: It's developed by people who haven't been in the classroom for a long time. Unfortunately, administrators force it on teachers because they want to be able to say that their using the latest best practices.
Here's the problem: just a little bit of thought would show the weakness of these reforms. The big thing right now is rubrics. Having had these all through high school, students immediately ask for them when they get an assignment in college. But there are never rubrics in the workplace. Still, someone says they're the latest best practice, and teachers will be using them until somebody comes up with a new buzzword or a new latest best practice. And no one ever has the integrity to point out that this particular emperor has no clothes.

Posted by: amstphd | October 11, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Wow, teacher6402!

... you make your colleagues sound like really horrid teachers and human beings. (I just checked out the Washington Teachers Blog, btw, where you claimed this would be in evidence. It wasnt. I found topical posting, nothing horrid there at all... )

But hey, you know what? Let's say you demonstrate that you work amongst a gaggle of the worst teacher creatures on earth; show us DCPS is one godforsaken, miserable rubber room, without the rubber, including your own cesspool of a school.. But even taking that as a given, which I dont, it still wouldnt mean Rhee's reforms: her IMPACT, her firing formula, her merit pay, etc, will make it better.

To think it does is just very bad logic.

Unfortunately, we have had some very good clues that Rhee was a very bad choice to head a public education community. But let's leave her personality defects aside, for now. Out of the picture entirely. Can we instead agree that most everyone would want a school's chancellor who has a grip on reality? Like, a good chancellor would not think pigs can fly, for starters?

Can pigs fly?

I would ask Michelle Rhee that question, in all seriousness, because I would not accept as a given that she knows they cannot.

The reason why is in the intro to her much beloved IMPACT curriculum guidebook's section for "value added" teachers. (You know, those unfortunate teachers who have nightmares about their students' test scores, given how these can IMPACT their JOB security... )

Okay, here we go! What one first encounters when one clicks on the (PDF) of that part of IMPACT is a blue background intro page with 6 mantras repeated over and over. (This is what a teacher must parrot, I am sure, if Ms Rhee wants her philosophy regurgitated to her, and I am sure she does.)

• Our schools must be caring and supportive environments.

• Our decisions at all levels must be guided by robust data.

• All children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the highest levels.

• It is critical to engage our students’ families and communities as valued partners.

• Achievement is a function of effort, not innate ability.

• We have the power and responsibility to close the achievement gap

I concede that bullet points 1 and 4 are really important to successful public schools. However, I do not concede that Ms Rhee gives them anything other than lip service. (I also concede some truth in the other points, but NOT as written!)

Now let's go to # 2, 3, 5, & 6.

Can pigs fly, Ms Rhee? Can they?

I mean, just look at #3!

Again, can pigs fly, Ms Rhee?

Can someone please tell Ms Rhee that pigs cannot fly! Please.

What a complete and utter fraud she is, she and her phony philosophy. And how utterly stupid, the fans on the sidelines, who cheer on this whacky Empress and tell her how amazing is the exquisiteness of her non-existent new suit.

Posted by: NYCee | October 11, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this article. I could have written it. I left education because I couldn't stand being told what to do by people who had no clue. I second Jennifer and Physics Teacher's comments.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 11, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to everybody who has posted their comments in response to my essay. I realize that in 850 words, I only skimmed the surface of some deep problems. But I stand by my premise that if teachers were properly trained and permitted to teach we would see some drastic changes in student achievement. I'm not saying "Just let teachers teach." Unless they are well-trained and actually possess the skills and knowledge, they can't do a good job. And if the teacher exams are a joke, it isn't the teachers' fault. It's the licensing bureaus' and teaching training programs that need to be updated and improved.

Sometimes I make this suggestion, tongue-in-cheek:
If we want to solve the problems in our public schools, we could simply require that alls Senator and elected Representative enroll their own children in the poorest public schools in their home districts. The majority of elected officials do not send their children to public schools. And many of those officials have never attended a public school. Yet they make the laws and distribute the funds for those schools. Talk about a disconnect. Every time they enroll their own children in private schools they clearly state their lack of support and belief in public schools. But if their children had to attend them, I think we would see some massive funding and improvements enacted very quickly.

Okay, enough ranting. I have lesson plans to prepare. It's 10pm and I just got home from work. I love teaching. It's a good thing they pay me such a high salary. That makes it all worthwhile. ( I hear you laughing.)


Posted by: louannejohnson | October 11, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Hi Louanne:

Wanted to add this on, yesterday, re ed courses:

Most education courses are, in general, useless, except for getting one over the hurdles to get into the job of teaching. Observing and picking the brains of good, experienced teachers is much more helpful. My father said the same of the college education courses he had to take in his day ("They're BS!") and that was a far, far day away from these days. And the beat goes on...

I am surprised, given how long VIDEO has been around, in its various incarnations, they dont include more videos of teaching, esp in the areas of interest of the college students, for observation, discussion, dissection...

They seem to drift so far from what actually happens in the classroom and from what teachers really need to give them a leg up...

Having said that, thanks for your very sensible contributions. Yes, it is hard to say everything in one post, but you made some very good points. It's also appreciated that you came back to comment.

Have a great day.

Posted by: NYCee | October 12, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

One more thing, since we are talking about what teachers need:

I'd like the spotlight to be shone on how the second largest teachers' UNION, the AFT, has a very high profile, engaged leader, Randi Weingarten, who, every time I turn around, is making some sort of SELL-OUT deal, pushing local unions to capitulate to Race to the Top criteria to win the money, eg, agree to value added evaluations, lifting charter caps, merit pay...

She applauds new laws, from the flood of new state/local laws being passed, to win RttT, that are antithetical to what a teachers' union should be supporting and are not good for public education, for education, period. (I read somewhere that when certain Colorado progressive legislators were actually in tears over the passage of yet another of these bad RttT-friendly "reforms," Randi was giving it her blessing!)

In fact, union leaders should be leading a robust fight against these things, with everything theyve got. Instead, Randi Weingarten seems to have adopted the mindset that this new wave of "reform" is just too big to buck, the tide is too strong to swim against... so, hell, let's go with the flow. I mean, we get the MONEY.

Huh! Let's see how much that RttT money actually helps teachers in the classroom. I wager very little. I think the damage it will do, both in the changes made to get it and in what it will be used for, will far outweigh the advantages.

To get away with this, she has twisted her message to members to make it sound like what they are getting is actually helpful to them, such as the value added deals. She makes it seem that without her intervention, it would have been much worse for them because no smart teacher advocate like her would have had a hand in the outcome.

Well, sorry, but when you give everything away to the other side, that is not helpful to teachers. In fact, her inclusion and stamp of approval makes it worse, because she, in her high profile capactiy, is feeding into the current zeitgeist in the media and political landscape, and, of course, from the business sector, that this is all well and good with teachers. I mean, EVEN Randi Weingarten agrees! Even Randi has "come around" and now "gets it", which is what the reform pushers are saying.

There is no mystery behind why Weingarten, and Weingarten alone, is given just about the only spot afforded the "other side" of this education reform "debate" in the mainstream media, TV and print... She's welcome because she's a safe bet, she doesnt go against the grain, she has become, for all intents and purposes, one of them!

This pro reform capitulation by Randi runs counter to where she used to say she stood. She's serving as a model to other union leaders that they, too, should sell out, use the ridiculous excuses she uses to pretend it's "all good."

Well, it isnt.

Given what a national figure she's become, and how much damage she's doing, I think its time she's taken on by more than local NY bloggers that have her number!

Posted by: NYCee | October 12, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

NYCee - In one of your posts, you said: "Most education courses are, in general, useless, except for getting one over the hurdles to get into the job of teaching. " And the people who are teaching those worthless courses are part of the problem. As college professors, they have the option of creating curriculum, designing valuable and useful assignments, and raising the standard of teacher training programs -- a huge responsibility. When I started my current job, the educational theories class consisted of reading an outdated textbook and writing reflective papers. I talked to students, reviewed textbooks and completely redesigned the course to include a review of five basic theorists (Dewey, Montessori, Vygotsky, Erikson and Piaget), multiple website visits and reviews of other theorists, and a textbook about brain science and how the brain learns. We also have an active 10-hour field observation component where students observe teachers in action and then design their own lesson plans and teaching strategies. Not only are these students getting jobs before they finish their alternative licensure programs -- they are successfully teaching students (and New Mexico has a huge dropout rate and plenty of 'difficult' students) with minimal behavior problems because they understand how children's brains work, how to engage students, and how to individualize instruction. That's what I'm talking about. We CAN improve our schools any time we want to by really focusing on the skills and knowledge that teachers need instead of simply checking off lists of "required" courses and basic skills tests. A good license application process would require a live or videotaped teaching demonstration similar to those performed when you apply for university teaching positions. Rarely if ever are demos required for public schools where classroom management and leadership skills are often more important than academic knowledge during the first few weeks or months of teaching.

Yikes! I can't seem to get off this soapbox, but I must.

Take care and thanks for your thoughtful and intelligent comments. I am happy that this spate of movies is sparking conversations across the country -- I hope that the talking turns into action at some point---thoughtful action that has the best interest of students in mind and not the best interests of politicians and bureaucrats.

Posted by: louannejohnson | October 12, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

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