The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Over the past year I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of speaking, presenting and collaborating with educators all over the country. In talking with educators from every state in the US as well as numerous of the US Territories, I have gained a unique perspective of the state of education in our country. Now, I am not going to pretend to be an expert but want to share some of the things I have seen, heard and experienced. Despite what the title suggests, I will go a bit out of order in my observations.

The Bad:
There are bad teachers teaching in our schools. I have seen them. I have talked to them and listened to them talk. I have heard more stories from other educators about these bad teachers than I would ever have time to share. They are out there in our schools teaching students every single day.

To be clear, I am not talking about the teachers whose students’ standardized test scores are low. Nor am I talking about the teachers who are labeled bad by some subjective administrator evaluation. I am talking about those teachers who are demeaning to children. The ones that teach the same way in year one as they do in year thirty one. Their lesson planner rolls over and the copyright dates in their packets are before the students were even born. Some are even engaging in inappropriate relationships with students or are abusive. These are the teachers that as parents we never want our children to have. They are out there and nearly every teacher or administrator I talked to could point out at least one in their building or district.

While this sounds bad, the reality is that these teachers are by far in the minority. They are few and far between but unfortunately they get all the press. These teachers end up on the 5 o-clock news for their antics and often embarrass our entire profession.

The Ugly:
As I have travelled and spoken to media, education lobbyists in Washington and even a handful of politicians and policy makers, I see lots of ugly. That is not a knock on these people’s personal grooming but more on the actions of the individuals within our government and our major media outlets. Despite what people want to believe, real change in our country’s educational system will only happen with a concentrated and real effort on the part of at least one of the two major influencers, media or government.

The national media has more power to change public perception and put pressure on politicians than any teacher’s union or grassroots movement in schools or on social media. Yet, they choose to report on the negative and continue to perpetuate the stereotypes that prohibit educators in our country from achieving a level of professional respect that many other professions are afforded. It is literally ugly at times to watch the education stories that show up on the news and in the papers. Media outlets are letting the few bad teachers tell the story for an entire profession.

Government is such an easy target these days in an election year where everyone is pointing fingers and casting stones. However, the reality is our state and national governments are doing little to help the state of education in our country. We have politicians around the country speaking of the importance of special programs and extracurricular activities in our student’s schools. Yet, when it comes down to voting and allocating resources, those are the first to get cut. There are policy makers that claim they don’t want teachers teaching to tests. Yet, they create systems of accountability that not only necessitate teaching to the tests but also set up a system built to encourage cheating and not collaboration. It is ugly to see the amount of pontificating that happens with little actual action to support those words. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

In addition, fake political campaigns in an election year to artificially show respect for teachers will not create any lasting change. Our politicians spend more time trying to get reelected and further polarizing the people of our country that any improvement or this so called “system” may be an unachievable dream.

The Good:
Of course I saved the best for last which is the good I have seen. Despite the bad teachers, disinterested media and incompetent policy makers, there is good abounding in education and it is everywhere. I could write for days about the stories I have heard from educators across the country and beyond. One such story is of Chad Miller, a teacher from Hawaii, who shared with me his school’s mission of promoting peace and a philosophical approach to learning. Then I was blown away when I learned that the Dalai Lama himself visited Chad’s school to talk about his mission and the work of the teachers and students. The work that he and colleagues are doing along with their students is inspirational to say the least.

I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of teachers that share their very best work and that of their students through social media. They have no obligation to do so but still choose to share in an effort to better learning for all students. Spend an hour following a hashtag or a discussion thread and you will see powerful work happening in 140 characters every minute of every day.

In my heart I believe an overwhelming majority of educators are doing good work. They are working day in and day out to the very best of their abilities. They spend countless hours perfecting their craft and making the learning experiences in their classrooms the best they can be despite the lack of funding and professional respect.

The Verdict:
What does this all mean? What have I taken away from this? Well, it is actually quite simple to me. Celebrate the good, fight the bad, and acknowledge the ugly.

We must bring each other up in a genuine manner and celebrate the good around us. Send a note to a peer who is doing something positive or trying something new. Encourage the positive work that is happening in your schools in big and small ways. We cannot settle for mediocrity nor should we tolerate it and need to fight against all forms of “bad” in our schools. We need to provide opportunities to support and improve teachers but also know when enough is enough. Cut our losses on those teachers who refuse to improve and focus on those that have a chance to be better. Acknowledge the ugly media campaigns and political circus but don’t spend our time focusing on things we really don’t have control over. Recognize and be informed but remain focused on what is important…the students. At the end of the day we must remember that above the tides of ugly and bad that can easily discourage our work as educators, there is far more good that we must recognize and appreciate. 

6 comments:

Bill Ferriter said...

Hey Pal,

This line is REMARKABLY powerful, remarkably sad and remarkably true all in one:

Media outlets are letting the few bad teachers tell the story for an entire profession.

It saddens me, though, that we can't grab that attention away with the voice we're building in online spaces.

I get it - traditional media is still the primary driver of conversations.

I just hope that someday our voices will be just as important in crafting the story.

Hope you're well,
Bill

denice K said...

It's amazing that many think a bad teacher consists of having low tests scores. The attitudes affect students whether the student is high, low, or in the middle. Continuing the same daily regime every year does not reach all students. Teachers that do not want to take a technology class or want to Deal with special education because they feel like it is more work or part if their job need to have a reality check. I have also we these teachers and their attitudes are clearly shown through discussions and they way they teach the curriculum. I have friends that are bad teachers and do not enjoy what they do and can't wait for the next day off. The concern is that many of these bad teachers are dentures and know they will not lose their positions as long as they do the minimum. These teachers are also the ones that slip under the radar and make you cringe because they make the good teachers look bad. I think thanks entire teacher progression should be upset by the media and how teaches at portrayed. What's wrong with great teachers and giving them some credit? The Ellen DeGeneres show, which is a talk show, reveals outstanding teachers that have been exposed because of something extraordinary they did for students or the community. If schools would show more encouragement, initiate change, and not fight the positive that teachers are trying to pursue the good would shine more. Teaches would be less stressful. A website teacherscount.org has various ideas and insights to assist education professionals with stress management, resources, etc. If teachers could have a way to shine amongst all the politics and negative going on maybe the bad and ugly would not be the shining stars. I truly believe teachers of the future are going to be evaluated at higher standards regarding attitudes and education. This will have a huge impact on the future of a child's education and the media will then have to find something else to talk about.

Mandy said...

I couldn't agree with you more that we need to celebrate the good around us. I have been let go three years in a row at the beginning of my teaching career when all the budget cuts first began and it created an environment where you were no longer true co-workers or team members rather. The collaboration declined and I began to be unsure of who I could really trust and who I needed to be leery of trying to throw me under the bus just to try and save their own job. If, as educators, we can find a way to bring a little positive to the work day for those around us, I feel that it is possible to get back to the Good category you mentioned. The focus comes back to the students, as it should be, rather than trying to one up someone to save yourself. I am very fortunate to have a principal that realizes the value in a positive work environment. But at the same time, he is very much aware of the staff members who don't love their job and come in to just go through the motions and he announces every year to the new teachers to stay away from that small 5% of the staff in the building. He doesn't beat around the bush and just comes right out and tells you like it is which is just one of the many things that I feel make him a great leader- which I feel is also key in having a positive work environment. Everyone needs a little bit of positive encouragement, regardless of the form it comes in!

Anonymous said...

I totally loved this post and I absolutely agree. There are a lot of bad teachers out there. I have subbed for years and it has always amazed me that certain teachers use the same lessons, handouts and projects year to year. I understand how easy it is to get in a routine. Developing lessons is time consuming but what are we teaching our students by doing this? Should our students be allowed to copy, cut and paste their assignments? What message are we sending? Maybe if our lessons were brought current, students would be more engaged in learning and challenged to work hard and complete tasks.

In response to the “Ugly”, I also totally agree. Unfortunately many teachers have lost sight of their true calling. They have lost touch with why they became a teacher in the first place. This attitude carries over into their dress, their attitude and their performance. What teachers forget about is that the “funk” they are stuck in hurts many people in the educational world. It impacts students, other teachers in the building, administration and the community.

In response to the “Good”, I totally agree as well. I do believe that there are good, effective, impacting teachers who accomplish what they set out to do and that is educating the youth of today. These teachers enjoy their students, create amazing lessons, work well with fellow teachers and promote school unity. I have worked in buildings that contain awesome teachers but that is rare. Unfortunately, the bad seems to overweigh the good.

However, as a new teacher who has changed careers, to pursue a lifelong dream, I feel that we can change this! If we celebrate the good around us, focus on the positive and look for ways to motivate others, we can bring education back to the status it once had. I have attended many activities that I feel would be a great tools to use when motivating teachers. Kagan training is a great tool for supporting lesson plans and teaching creative ways to introduce new concepts, and other professional development skills. Brain break meetings are a good way to get teachers to talk about themselves and learn about other teachers to promote staff unity. Team building days spent at nearby Forest Preserves in which curriculum and fun are interwoven also builds community.

Jeff B said...

The bad section that you describe is unfortunately all too true. I can identify colleagues in my building that are simply bad teachers as well, ranging from a second year teacher to a 20 years veteran. It is disappointing to work as a paraprofessional and know that you can be teaching and managing a classroom far better than the teacher you are assisting. The reason this is detrimental is because, as you stated, these certain few often embarrass the profession on the local or national news. What’s more is news sources rarely take the time to step away from the negative to report on positive movements taking place in our schools.
“Real change in our country’s educational system will only happen with a concentrated and real effort on the part of at least one of the two major influencers, media or government.” I love this statement and it holds true to the profession. People are hesitant to believe a teacher or the opinion of educational minds; however a media or government statement seems to be the end-all-be-all. Because as we all know, the government and media never lies…never.

Gretchen Schultek said...

I appreciate your perspective. I have passed on to other great educators to remind us that our job is so vitally important to the future of this country. Thanks for sharing!


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