OP-ED | Don’t Blame Teachers
No one has ever accused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of being diplomatic, and that fact was never more apparent than in the education reform portion of his State of the State speech Wednesday. One wonders if his speechwriters, in an obvious attempt to position Malloy for the national stage, realized the utter condescension they were showing to the very constituency required for success.
If we want to improve our schools, teachers will be the ones who are battling it out on the front lines every day.
Let’s just break down the dissonance in the speech, shall we? Here’s pro-teacher Malloy:
“Connecticut will not join the states trying to demonize and antagonize their way to better results…We won’t get drawn into making a false choice between being pro-reform or pro-teacher…I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I am both. I’m pro-teacher, as long as that doesn’t mean defending the status quo, and I’m pro-reform, as long as that isn’t simply an excuse to bash teachers.”
And finally: “I’m trying to be careful in explaining this tenure reform proposal because I know there are those who will deliberately mischaracterize it in order to scare teachers.”
But then the façade of teacher support falls apart. Because in describing tenure Malloy parrots Billionaire Boys Club school chancellor Joel Klein’s “if you have a pulse you get tenure” line: “To earn that tenure – that job security – in today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”
So despite all the “I love teachers” rhetoric, using the utmost care to explain tenure reform so it wasn’t “deliberately mischaracterized”, the governor chose to deliberately mischaracterize how teachers obtain tenure under the current system in order to play to the reform crowd and achieve his political ends.
As one teacher commented on Facebook: “REALLY? So you mean I DIDN’T actually have to teach all those classes, grade all those papers, communicate with all those parents, attend all that professional development sessions, complete a portfolio, and have all those observations and evaluations? All I had to do what SHOW UP? Why didn’t someone TELL me that?”
Blaming teachers is terribly fashionable amongst the gubernatorial set these days, as is blaming students and their families, as best (or rather worst) exemplified by the Hartford Courant’s Editorial Cartoonist Bob Englehart, who blamed “dysfunctional inner-city poor minority families” because “for the most part, losers raise losers.” But while such rhetoric might win Malloy points with Republicans and the charter school crowd, is it really going to help improve the quality of our public schools?
Just as in the private sector successful companies have great leaders, successful school reform should start at the top. I found it telling that the governor’s first stop to sell his educational reform plan was with administrators, not with teachers, and that his reform package had absolutely no reference to evaluating the people who can be responsible for the bad decision-making that impedes teacher – and thus student – success.
As the author of books for young people, and a parent of teenagers, I interact with teachers every day. I see them online, on their own time, participating in chats to further their knowledge of teaching skills and looking for innovative ways to enrich their students’ learning experiences. Yes, there are some teachers who need additional support but why are we messing with the majority of good teachers while not dealing with the administrators who are holding them back?
We’re losing gifted teachers because we’re making their day-to-day life untenable and blaming them for the ills of the entire education system. If Malloy is serious about reform, I’d like to see him pay more than lip service to being pro-teacher, and show the will to tackle school administrators in the bargain.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.