I went to see Waiting for Superman the other night, and the more I think about it, the more annoyed I feel by this movie. Basically, it’s an indictment of the public education system (no news there) that places the blame squarely on “poor teachers” … and on the teachers’ unions that make it difficult to fire these poor teachers and to reward the good ones.
I don’t disagree with some of the points that they make in the movie. I am sure that the unions make it difficult to fire people, as does the tenure system (which predates the unions). However, IMHO this movie offered a gross oversimplification of the elements involved in the problem.
What about administrators? How about school boards?
Consider that phys ed teacher who’s been at your local middle school for 23 years and is well-liked by the school board. He becomes the principal and is put in a position of providing educational leadership to a staff of, say, 80 teachers. So basically, this friendly, popular, possibly a-little-bit-burnt-out guy becomes the CEO of a small business with a budget of several million dollars.
And maybe it turns out that he’s not such a nice guy after all. Maybe he’s a bit of a bully. What does that do to the morale of your excellent teachers? How is that a situation that is going to inspire excellence – either from the staff or the students? Believe me, years ago when I worked in a school district in Pennsylvania, I saw this happen a lot. Yes, there were poor, underperforming teachers – but that was not the only issue … and it still isn’t the only issue in this system.
IMHO (again) the schools reflect what’s going on in our culture. What does it say about us that the value of education has been boiled down to a matter of competing with the rest of the world? Does education have no intrinsic value here in this great experiment that we call America?
What does it say about the value we place on education that some of the leading lights of our major political movements are so proud of the fact that they don’t know shit? If we’re celebrating that kind of incompetence, and even considering putting people of that ilk in charge of our country, what are we telling our kids about school and learning and education? If our biggest heroes are celebrities and athletes, how can we really expect teachers to imbue our sons and daughters with a love of learning?
What we value, what we truly value, is truly reflected in the performance of our schools. I think pointing our fingers at “poor teachers” is really crap.
We need to look at ourselves as a culture – THAT’S what needs to change.