Friday, September 25, 2009

Teachers: You Could Learn A Thing Or Two

"Old teachers are the ones who stuck around when the buildings were falling down. When there wasn't no money."

-- Speaker (presumably, a teacher) at last night's protest against Michelle Rhee's proposed DCPS layoffs

Let me state unequivocally that I do not agree with Michelle Rhee's policy. She hired approximately 900 new teachers over the summer, and recently announced plans to lay off hundreds more by September 30th. This action is supposedly predicated on budget shortfalls. The assumption is that she will not be letting go the young, inexpensive new hires, but rather veteran, higher-paid employees -- so the move in many ways amounts to union busting. Hire a bunch of new people, then use the economy as an excuse to get rid of the old ones.

This stinks for a lot of reasons. Dan Brown at Huffington Post makes the case against Rhee's methods very well here, and I generally agree with his points. Experience matters. You can't just flush out a quarter of the teachers and replace them with rookies and expect things to work.

And it's obvious that the problems with the system don't rest squarely on the shoulders of the teachers. You could have 3,800 of the best teachers in the world, but that doesn't change the fact that you're trying to educate tens of thousands of kids who don't care, may be growing up in poverty among other home life problems, and won't graduate more than half the time. The best cadre of teachers on the planet could not solve that problem.

But at the same time, when I hear something like what I heard on NPR this morning, I just cringe. In front of a microphone, at a rally, protesting the unfairness of veteran teachers being dismissed in favor of new hires, the speaker can't even find it within herself to use proper English?

This is a pretty sad statement. I don't care about the differences between cultures. I don't care about urban dialects. While I personally don't speak that way, I do say all kinds of other crap that is not proper English when I'm hanging out with my friends. I'm fine with people speaking any way they please when they're in casual company.

But I would never speak like that to an audience, or around kids, and if any teacher of my child ever spoke that way, I'd be shedding no tears to hear about their pink slip. At the bare minimum, our teachers should be able to form a sentence with some basic semblance of proper grammar.

I suppose we will find out soon enough what Rhee has planned for the schools. I can't agree with her approach, nor do I think it will solve any problems. It's so typical of the Fenty administration -- rule with a heavy hand, damn the consequences. Just about every significant action that the administration has taken is dramatic and untested. It's out with the old and in with the new. While there's nothing wrong with infusing a lumbering institution with some new blood, when you get rid of all the old blood, suddenly, the system doesn't just change, it breaks. You can't change city hall overnight.

At the same time, hearing that made me put myself in Michelle Rhee's shoes for a minute. I wonder what she sees going on in the schools every day. Those are some pretty uncomfortable shoes. I wouldn't want to wear them.


Shannon said...

In the future, we won't have no double negatives.

Jamie said...

I can't not disagree with you.

Shannon said...

A triple negative? My mind is BLOWN.

Dan said...

I work with someone in the food industry who previously was a HS teacher in SE, and his major complaint was the students and their inability to want to learn or be taught (or have any authority over them). It all starts at home whether or not kids want to learn/succeed, to put all the blame on teachers is a touch misguided. However, I do believe it's the ability to connect with locals (ie. speak whatever "dialect" they speak) that, perhaps, with helping with educating them.