Teacher Bashing

Teacher bashing is all the rage these days, unfortunately.

Teachers are leaving the profession, and I am hearing from teachers I trust that the exodus would be greater if the economy were better. While I think that aspects of the profession ought to be criticized, particularly the ‘trade union’ mentality of some—but not all—union leaders, the bashing is way out of line.

I write about this in my forthcoming book, The Influence of Teachers, but here today I am simply presenting the words from one veteran teacher, a woman I know to be dedicated to her students and the profession.

Please read and reflect.

I teach in a public high school whose students reflect the full socio-economic range of our county.  But rich or poor and regardless of the educational backgrounds of their parents, many of my students seem to need me to parent them as well as teach them. 
On any given day, in order to teach I must also address the results of this kind of parenting:

–The gay teen whose mother tells him she wishes he had never been born and refuses to come get him when he cuts himself in the school bathroom;

–The-15-year-old whose smell makes us wretch because his clothes aren’t washed and he doesn’t bathe regularly;

–The 15-year-old girl who is shoved through a pane glass window by her mother’s boyfriend when she asks him not to smoke around his new infant daughter (her half sister);

–The affluent boy whose parents’ acrimonious divorce (his father’s 3rd) forces him to quit the tennis team this spring because the shared custody arrangement (alternating homes nightly) leaves no way for him to get home from school after practices and games;

–The mother who corners me in the parking lot at Safeway to challenge a grade on her son’s paper, saying it’s because he rushed that he didn’t clean up the evidence of plagiarism in his essay, and I have to re-grade the paper because his IEP entitles him to extended time (the plagiarism itself didn’t trouble her);

–The 14-year-old boy who cannot stay awake in class because he is out until after midnight most school nights; his mother says, “he doesn’t listen to me,” and add that, in her opinion, he’s “too old to have a bedtime;”

–The mother who tells me to stop calling her about her child’s behavior and says, “When she’s at school she’s your problem.  Stop expecting me to do your job.”

–The phone that does not ring when report cards and interims go home showing failing grades.

–The father who berates me for chastising his daughter (who has 3 Es and 2 Ds) when I find her hanging out with her friends in the hallway rather than participating in an optional after-school Exam Review session which the teacher is running voluntarily and on his own time.

  I am not alone. Many teachers feel like punching bags and crash test dummies.

Now, dear reader, ask yourself: would you trade places with that teacher? Could you last in the job as long as she had and still be as effective and caring as she is? Does she have a right to be upset?

For reasons I don’t understand, many powerful people are defining public education’s problem as “Bad Teachers.” That’s simplistic and dangerous.

Your thoughts on what we can do to make things better?

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45 thoughts on “Teacher Bashing

  1. For 40 years, literally, I have heard and read comments like this. As an inner city public school teacher, administrator, PTA president and parent, I vigorously disagree with this person’s view point. I’ve heard it a lot, and I think it does not help solve the real problems. John says this person is dedicated to her students & to profession.

    Maybe. A person who is dedicated to her students and profession might include information about some of the parents who are supportive.

    Yes, there are critical parents. There also are nasty teachers. There also are welcoming teachers and supportive parents. We have two children (one if their 20’s and one in her 30’s who work for an urban school district. They have plenty to say about some teachers and some educators. They would agree with comments earlier in this paragraph.

    Today’s Minneapolis paper has the story of students who did everything that was asked of them in taking classes – but may not graduate on time because the district did not make sure their teachers were certified. The relevant administrators are on “paid leave”. Meanwhile, the students may not graduate on time.
    Is John going to look into this?
    http://www.startribune.com/local/114181519.html?elr=KArks:DCiUnP::DE8c7PiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr

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  2. Could you please provide some evidence to back up your statement that “many powerful people are defining public education’s problem as ‘Bad Teachers’?” Who exactly is “bashing” teachers? Can you provide an actual quote to illustrate what you mean? For example, I hear people like Diane Ravitch say all the time that Bill Gates and Arne Duncan bash teachers, but when I look up their speeches I only ever find them heaping praise on teachers and their power to change kids’ lives, while also acknowledging that teachers can’t do it alone. It’s true that powerful people all the way up to President Obama say that a small minority of ineffective teachers ought to be removed from the classroom, but surely that’s not “bashing” teachers generally.

    So, are you sure you haven’t just bought into a myth being spread by critics of current education reform ideas?

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    • Exhibit A has to be “Waiting for Superman,” of course. In addition, several states have already either repealed tenure laws or are working on it. And while some praise teachers, I don’t hear them talking about the quality of the work place. Why aren’t people of power upset about a profession that loses 40% of its work force in the first five years?
      I don’t want to go on and on here, but I do hope you will take a look at my book, The Influence of Teachers, when it becomes available in about two weeks.

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      • John,

        I assume that you were not In California during the recent election but many candidates, particularly Republicans and particularly Meg Whitman, bashed the teachers’ unions and teachers in general for–their often used line–“the failure of our schools.”
        I agree that teachers have increasingly difficult jobs (my wife is a longtime h.s. teacher) and that teacher-bashing, particularly when it becomes a political staple, does not make their jobs any easier. And the only solution that the teacher-bashers offered was more charter schools–despite the very mixed record that charter schools have.

        Murray Sperber,
        Visiting Professor,
        Graduate School of Education,
        University of California, Berkeley.

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      • I started my career with Price Waterhouse, one of the big consulting firms, and the attrition rate in the first five years was mush higher than 40%, more like 60% – 70%. They system should be disigned to weed out the weak and ineffective as soon as possible. That gives people who chose the wrong profession the opportunity to find one that they are better suited for. This was Jack Welch’s philosophy in reviewing managers. “Do them a favor and don’t let them continue to fail by staying in a job they are not suited for”.

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      • John,
        I think the reasons that people are unsympathetic about the workplace issues is that they are viewed as self-inflicted.

        I understand that great teachers want to be valued and treated as professionals, and they absolutely should be. However, teacher’s unions have kept teaching from being the profession that it should be.

        Insistence on lock step pay based on criteria that have little correlation with results, tenure protections that go beyond due process and into the realm of the ridiculous, no differential pay for different positions or workplaces, work to rule on 200 page contracts in some places, etc. all have turned educators into assembly line workers in some kind of 18th century education factory.

        Teachers need to fix this situation by being activist in their unions, which do not represent the highest aspirations of the profession. Some are doing that now (e.g. Educators 4 Excellence). More need to.

        This is especially true in these economic times, when teachers are losing the support of other traditionally democratic voters because public sector unions are getting many benefits that the rest of us aren’t getting.

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    • Today I googled “bad teachers” and discovered there are currently about 5,090,000 results. Five million. Is that credible evidence to you that today’s teaches who are dedicated to their students and diligently working on their behalf may have a gripe about all the talk of “bad teachers”?

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      • Just a technical point: try googling “bad teachers” in quotes, meaning the phrase. Your google picked up anything with both “teachers” and “bad”.

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      • Hugh is right. “Bad teachers” produced 157,000 results. But I don’t think the numbers prove much either way.

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      • It’s true that the numbers don’t mean too much in this context. But, I may have some Google results that are more meaningful.

        Use the “News” link on Google to search for “ineffective teachers.” You’ll find 71 news stories, the most recent of which is now 10 hours old from the New York Post.

        Search “bad teachers” and you’ll find 141 results, the most recent of which is 3 days old from WOOD-TV.

        “Fire teachers” brings 126 results, including a 55-minute old story from Bloomberg.

        I think this demonstrates, at the least, teacher quality is an issue in the news.

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      • John, I have been following the rich debates prompted by your fine coverage of the education scene in the US. As a specilaist in both education and media I am currently engaged in the business of improving the quality of teaching, morale and status of teachers both in the UK and in the US.
        I was one of the founders of Teachers TV which has been using high quality television delivered via a 24/7 TV channel and a subtantial web portal http://www.teachers.tv.
        I am now working as Chief Executive of the Teaching Channel developing a pilot version of the same concept in the US. The aim of the channel is to provide a national service, on TV and broadband, for sharing good and effective practice from teacher to teacher and school to school and indeed from state to state.
        If we are able to replicate the success of this model where in the UK it was reaching 25% of the profession every month, then I believe we could make a real contribution to address the very real sense, amongst public school educators in particular, that they are being blamed for the failure of the education system. ‘Waiting for Superman’ focused on the charter school movement as the solution. There is a lots to learn from the success of the best performing charter schools, but the real challenge is to focus on the very many examples of innovatiion and improvement in the public school sector. The Teaching Channel could start that process. Do email me if you would like to know more.

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    • There are few people who come out and say, “We have a bunch of crappy teachers.” However, the actions of the people speak in place of their words. NCLB is a textbook example. Our country is entrusting hundreds of millions of dollars to private companies to hire non-educators to develop tests to tell us if our kids are actually learning. They do not trust the teacher’s evaluation of a student. These standardized tests drive the state mandates on what should be taught, when it should be taught and how it should be taught between August and May. Thus, the state is saying that they do not trust teachers to organize and instruct the curriculum on their own, even chastising those who attempt to do so. The only time teachers get to have free reign is the last 3 weeks of school after the testing is done. As a retiring teacher said recently, the end of May is the only time of year he feels REAL learning happens, because that is when project based learning and real life application happens.

      People and Politicians say it with their tax dollars. Most people would agree we need to fund education and pay teachers better. Yet, when it comes time to “pay the bill” with tax dollars, politicians and voters alike say no way (a quick side note: Money does not solve the problems in education, but money is a part of every solution). That leaves us with schools buildings that no reasonable adult would choose to work in. My classroom as 88 degrees this August and has been in the low 60s this winter. A great book on this topic is “Savage Inequalities” by Jonathan Kozol. It leaves us with class sizes that are bursting at the seams, to the point that there is no more space to put desks (yet, with parents complaining about teachers not being able to give their kids individualized attention). It leaves us with technology that is stuck at least a decade behind (we JUST upgraded to Windows XP!). Yet given those conditions, teachers are still expected to close the achievement gap and raise scores. It also leaves us with teachers who have advanced degrees that need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and take care of our families. How can you focus on researching, developing creative, meaningful lessons, and developing as a professional when you are putting in 20+ hours a week working outside of school in order to survive?

      This does not even begin to address parents themselves and how they personally treat teachers. I have had a parent tell me to my face that I as a Social Studies teacher was “teaching their child worthless knowledge” even though I was teaching their child how to analyze, read critically, draw conclusions, make connections and write coherently. Parents have told me that they know all about education because they went through school, and have a child that already went through school… thus, they can tell our team of teachers how to do their jobs. I have had parents send excuse letters for their kids not completing their 1 page reading & questions (that they also had class time to do) because they went to a professional sports game that evening. I have had a parent complain about their child being out of school suspended, even though their child blatantly sexually harassed myself and 3 fellow teachers to the point that we could have prosecuted. Oh, and that same parent had been unreachable when their child was repeatedly disrupting class or when we tried to contact them about their child failing every class.

      This is just the tip of the ice burg.

      People don’t NEED to make teacher bashing statements. Actions have already spoken for them.

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  3. But what were her students’ test scores, John?

    Seriously, though, thank you for taking up this issue. I see and hear so much frustration among teachers these days because these realities are unacknowledged by the education reformers whose full-time job seems to be engaging in a full-frontal assault on public schools and teachers. We spend our days (and nights) actually trying our best to teach, and few of us have the time and energy even to realize how the forces of privatization and union-busting are aligning against us. The amount of money Gates and Broad and Walton have invested in public relations and candidate donations and corporatist training for education bureaucrats could be put to better use helping schools cope with the problems highlighted above. We have schools in major financial crisis while we carry on with tax cuts during a war, and scant evidence that the tax cuts are trickling down or leading to job growth. The rich get richer and cry about taxes and public pensions, while the middle class and working class and working poor slide ever further into debt or bankruptcy. We’re crowding public school kids into larger and larger classes because the wealthy elite with kids in small, private school classes, make vague references in confident voices about class sizes being unimportant. In a PBS documentary years ago, Desmond Tutu rhetorically asked how white South Africans failed to realize that it was in their interest to see that poor black children have clothes, food, and education, that their families have access to adequate water, food, housing, transportation. Sadly, many Americans are living in the same denial about their fellow Americans.

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  4. Lots of whining, folks.

    One of the features of Waiting for Superman was that it praised teachers and talked about how important they were. I guess we saw a different movie.

    Shouldn’t teachers (pk-through College) be carefully review every 5 years? I’d say yes. We have some teachers (please note adjective there) at the k-12 and higher ed level who haven’t made many changes in a decade or more. We have others who deserve to be celebrated.

    We have some parents who are incredibly supportive, and some who are very negative. And we have some who raise important questions – but the response often is that they are teaching bashing.

    Very disappointing that you have bought into these generalizations, John.

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    • Joe, I think you are beginning to lose it. You are starting to see only things that support your pre-existing positions.

      I watched “Waiting for Superman” very carefully. It is an intellectually dishonest movie.

      And just because people mouth words about the importance of teachers does not mean they believe. Sorry, but given my Jewish background, that sounds way too much like “but some of my best friends are Jews.”

      Let’s be blunt. Duncan and Gates and many of that ilk (and yes, the association of the two is deliberate) simply won’t listen to teachers who might disagree with them. Teachers who agree with them? Well whoop-de-do. That is reminiscent of NBC’s Education Nation – at the teacher Town Hall about 1/3 of the teachers who got to be heard were from charters, even though only about 5% of students in this country are taught by teachers in charter schools. Are there good charter schools? Yep. Are there horrid charter schools? Yep. But some people are so committed to charters they refuse to look at the entire picture, and only talk about the good things,

      If all you hear from Duncan is praising teachers, then obviously you were not listening when he agreed with firing all the teachers at Central Falls, to cite only one example.

      I have parents who are incredibly supportive. They are not the problem. The red-flag parents, like the one who confronted the teacher, take far more time. They can make life for a teacher hell on earth. And your being dismissive of that simply demonstrates how far removed from the current reality of the lives of teachers you apparently now are.

      I respect much of what you have done in education. We have had discussions online over almost two decades at this point. But this kind of remark bothers me, and I think my comment demonstrates my being bothered.

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    • In addressing your comment about reviewing teachers: I agree that I, as a teacher, should be thoroughly reviewed on a regular basis. I am getting paid to do a job, thus I should be evaluated as such. I am more concerned with HOW I am reviewed and by whom. By what standard are you going to judge my effectiveness? A set of bubbles that has been filled in by a kid who hasn’t cared about learning all year and parents were unreachable? By examining my lesson plans? By making frequent classroom observations? Do I need to build a portfolio each year of documentation stating my effectiveness? Is it my administrator who gets to evaluate me? Parents? Students? Outside 3rd party? All of the above?

      On the same token, the question I want answered is this: What protection do I have as a teacher against getting fired when my salary doubles that of a brand new teacher? In our current system, a 20 year teacher with a Masters is paid twice that of a brand new teacher. If I have earned my salary, be it by merit based pay and/or years experience, and am earning great reviews on my annual review… what will keep me from getting fired when it comes time for budget cuts? When there are 3 Billion Dollar shortfalls, like North Carolina is currently experiencing, education is a juicy place to start squeezing out dollars. If there is no tenure or protection for those of us who are doing what we are supposed to, who do you think will be targeted for financial reasons? It has happened before…

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  5. There is plenty to bash about – most of our schools aren’t working. But the “fault” lies neither with teachers or parents, although the parents in the blog example are clearly horrendous.
    Preparing today’s kids for today’s world is an extremely difficult job. Almost no teachers are prepared for this or supported in their schools. Thus most fail. They are the easiest target for blame and need protection from this blame.

    I can show you entire (non-charter) public schools with hundreds of students of color from high-need backgrounds, many with less-than-perfect parents, yet ALL students are quietly listening, talking and learning. They love school, almost all want to go to college and some take their lessons home to teach their poorly educated parents. Why? Because someone figured out how to teach 21st century kids and trained the teachers appropriately – a complete change for most of them.

    John, this brings up a central question that someone has to ask you: what are you looking for? You are an ex-teacher and highly informed – how should teachers/schools operate? What is the hot button? Where is the example of how to fix education? It’s a big country, it must be out there.

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  6. Why would the third divorce by the father of the “affluent boy” suddenly impact the boy’s custody arrangement? Obviously the father’s third wife isn’t the biological mother and would no have a say in any custody issues. Those examples seem a little too ‘perfect’ I’m afraid.

    Bashing bad teachers is not bashing teachers. We cannot ignore the fact that spending on public schools has gone up many times over in the last several decades while results have flat-lined.

    It may sound “simplistic,” but there is a solution: Pay the good teachers more, pay the mediocre teachers less, and tell the bad teachers to find a new line of work. (And yes, it is possible to determine all three groups. If ‘gaps’ can be adjusted for socio-economics, so can results.)

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  7. Unions are getting bashed because they indicated that some form of performance pay has some merit.they should have called it what it is a shame or a political trick. Has anyone described how it would actually work? If the object is to get a score the teacher in order to keep their job or get a raise would have look at the class as what helps her apparent performance. So if those students got attention who would help the score others would be neglected.a teacher should try her best to help the kids as needed not get a score for a politician

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    • We have performance pay – teachers who take additional classes, regardless of how valuable those classes are, receive extra pay. That’s for performance in a setting without students.
      We also have the National Board, which gives extra dollars for students who go through a process which explicitly (according to the Founding Exec Director of the National Board), does not care at all what students or families think of the teachers. I know of National Board certified teachers who have been long viewed by many parents as cruel to students (esp students of color) but the National Board does not care what the students or families think. That’s a form of performance pay – the National Board selects people who can perform well on video tape.
      I spent 15 years as an inner city public school teacher and administrator, my wife just retired after 33 years as an inner city teacher and administrator, and 2 of our children work in an urban school district. They talk about both outstanding and cruel, lazy teachers. They do the same about parents and students.
      But this discussion, promoted by John, who has a huge national audience, does not reflect complexity.

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    • Performance pay, while a great idea,won’t work.

      First, you’d have to pay an outside firm to administer all tests. It would be prohibitively expensive, and won’t happen. The temptation to help students raise scores would be as irresistible to teachers, as the temptation to cook scores in various ways has been irresistible to schools.

      Second, what will you have to pay good teachers to keep them in the classroom? We stay now because pension and health benefits, combined with tenure, give us enough security to make up for the poor pay and conditions. (No – a love of students, however strong, won’t keep most people in a job, any more than most will volunteer). What am I worth as a dedicated, experienced teacher who can get the most out of kids, puts in 10-12 hour days, and spends vacations reading books and articles I think will benefit my curriculum? How much will society pay for “the best and brightest” Duncan wants if they don’t have some security, some protection from administrative and political whims, know they will be dismissed by their school district as soon as they get too expensive or too old, no matter how good they are? Won’t happen.

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  8. Joe Nathan – on what planet are you living? John Merrow hasn’t even gotten into the expectations of social promotion and the amount of work K-12 students are doing when they should be studying. I’m a college administrator who hears the types of stories John, Murray, Kathie, and David echo, but from our college instructors who say they would be out of education if they had to teach another semester in public school.
    Most students who arrive at our door are seriously not ready to do college level work, especially because it requires more than the “memorize and regurgitate on exams” simple information that NCLB has wrought. They do not like to read and regularly refuse to read textbooks, they do not understand analysis or synthesis, and most don’t know why they can’t copy whole articles off Google and paste them into “research papers.”
    If employers were not happy with college graduates from the 80s and 90s, they are going to love the most recent crop of college (and K-12) graduates. Why are teacher reviews not happening more regularly? Who would fill their shoes if most current teachers quit or were let go?

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    • We have to move beyond ‘regurgitation education.’ Our kids don’t live in that world anywhere else. Two of the three justifications for school no longer apply in anything resembling the traditional sense (and the way it was when we were kids, unless you are under 27 or so).
      The three: 1) Schools (and libraries) were where the knowledge was stored–in books, in teachers’ head, and so on. Not true today. Today knowledge and information are all around us, 24/7, so schools have a new function: help kids ask questions, separate wheat from chaff (and choose wheat).
      2) Socialization–we went to school to learn to get along with other kids. Today, however, there’s an Ap for that, dozens of them. So schools have a new function there as well–‘socialization’ with people all around the world. Pen pals on steroids. The old way is dead.
      3) Custodial care. We still need and want that, but schools that do only that and provide merely marginal education are in fact dangerous places, because the energy of kids will come out somehow. Unfortunately, often in negative and nasty ways if it’s not channeled into meaningful learning experiences.
      That’s the ‘magic bullet’ if one exists: meaningful learning opportunities. Not small classes or charter schools or pay-for-performance, et cetera.
      (I still hope you all will take a look at my book, The Influence of Teachers, because I go into this in great detail.)

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      • John,
        I find your remarks measured and sensible in the midst of a climate of hysteria. I would love to read what you have been writing and perhaps write about it.
        Herb

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      • John

        I think you very much need to read the forthcoming book “Teaching 2030” –

        http://store.tcpress.com/0807751545.shtml

        which was put together by Barnett Berry and a batch of highly qualified teachers. Disclosure – while I am not an author, I am quoted several times, since I am a member of the Teacher Leaders Network

        http://www.teacherleaders.org

        as were most of Barnett’s co-authors. There is clear discussion of how the nature of learning is changing, and how therefore both the structure of schooling and the nature of teaching also need to change.

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      • I agree. Education stays 10-15 years behind the rapidly progressing front lines of society. The Tsunami of the Information Revolution is starting to crash down on education and is in the process of changing everything. As you said, you no longer need to go to school to get the knowledge, it is now available anywhere at any time. Here is an interesting TED video on the topic: http://tumblr.com/xpw1aw97ox

        In the same vein as the meaningful learning experiences, we need to decide what skills and experiences kids should have. Also, we need to reevaluate the ultimate goal of education. Is it to have a balanced liberal arts education where kids can speak intelligently on chemistry, physics, world history, trigonometry, and British Literature? Or should there be a focus on core skills that are needed for daily survival, while preparing kids for the 21st century work force? Another interesting TED video on the subject: http://tumblr.com/xpw1aw97ox

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    • Michael Osterbuhr asks what planet I live on. Thanks. The kind of blanket assertions Merrow is making help lead to this kind of rhetoric.
      As some of you know, I’ve spent about half of my 40 year career in K-12 urban public schools and about half in colleges and universities.
      If many students are not seriously ready to do college work, how much blame does teacher preparation deserve? Some.
      How about a culture that promotes movies like “Ferris Buhler’s Day Off” (teachers are dumb, administrators are really dumb and kids who like to study are nerds). That helps create a culture that is difficult for many families, students and educators.
      How about the constant whining about teacher bashing – some. it’s an attempt in part, to stifle questions or concerns about teachers.
      By the way, some of the finest district and charter public schools do achieve NCLB expectations. There’s a lot to learn from them, and we’ve been convening district and charter folks for 10 years. But news media are not much interest…neither are many of the people who constant complain about teacher bashing.
      Again – please read the article in Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper today – and tell me how you feel about educators who are paid leave while students are told they may not graduate because they took the classes from the teachers they were told to take – only to find out the district messed up.
      That’s BIG time student bashing.
      http://www.startribune.com/local/114181519.html?elr=KArks:DCiUnP::DE8c7PiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr

      How about school systems that don’t honor or provide incentives for progress? That helps create the situation too.

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      • Cool it with the ad hominem attacks, gang, whether on me or on Joe or anyone else. that gets us nowhere.
        Read the Tribune piece Joe cites please, because that’s an outrage, another example of the system putting adult interests ahead of those of kids.

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    • If I was to choose one place to invest time, money, effort and energy… it would be in the elementary school system. I get to see the kids as they walk fresh and new into middle school, and it is shocking what they do not know. No one should be allowed out of elementary school until they have MASTERED the alphabet, how to arrange those letters into basic and semi-complex words and sentences, while also demonstrating the ability to read/decipher those sentences at a pre-determined level (with some room being made for lessons on periods and commas). In addition, students should have mastered their numbers, demonstrating the ability to make numbers grow by addition and multiplication, and shrink by subtraction and division. Fractions, decimals, and measurements could make an appearance as well.

      That may sound ridiculous to some, but if we were to spend from K-5 ensuring that EVERY child who was physically/mentally capable of doing so had those skills mastered, our schools would be in a MUCH better place. There are too many kids coming into 6th grade who are lacking in those very skills that I am referencing. How can you be successful in middle/high school/college if you do not have this basic foundation? Until that bleeding has been stopped, most every other reform is pointless.

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  9. Well – so much for a civilized discussion about teacher bashing. From what I can gather here, teachers deserve to be bashed!

    I’d say it’s the “in” thing — encouraged and made into a fine art by Michelle Rhee – the media darling of school reform.

    As far as I’m concerned, you encouraged it, John, by the attention you gave her in your series, as if she were really doing something positive for the children of DC by denigrating their teachers.

    Well, it made a good story, didn’t it? Maybe with a little luck, you can make a good story someday about the heartbreak of teacher bashing.

    But going by the response here, the time has not yet come.

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  10. I want to be careful how I say this. There is no evidence that ties the hostile level of political rhetoric to the violence of Tucson almost two weeks ago. But there have been cases for which there are direct ties between the rhetoric and the action.

    Hearing people constantly bash public schools, bash teachers unions, bash a lot of teachers, creates an environment in which some students act totally with total disrespect, in which parents demean teachers.

    It is not, and never has been, all parents. But it only takes a few such parents to make the situation for a teacher close to hell.

    I am not speaking about what has happened to me. I get my share of parents who are out of control. I have enough of a track record, and so many supportive parents and students, that the out of control parent does not affect what other parents and students and teachers and administrators think of me.

    But i serve as – ohmygod he’s one of those – union rep for my building, and I hear the worst of the worst situations. And we are a school in which teachers are – rightly in our case – strongly backed by the administration. Even so, it only takes a couple of “red-flag” parents to make the life of a teacher hell.

    The more we see bashing – including by the President and the Secretary of Education when they supported firing all the teachers at Central Falls – the more difficult it makes doing the job of being a teacher that much more difficult.

    We are pounded – for example in Waiting for Superman – with tales of rubber rooms, of teachers who do not do their jobs. We constantly here that unions – the one set of organizations that present teachers with a way of speaking collectively – are “protecting bad teachdrs” even though what they are doing is guaranteeing due process. We now have Gates and Duncan seemingly opposing the idea of teachers getting masters degrees, further deskilling and demeaning the craft of teaching.

    John, you have been around education a very long time. You yourself have taught. Your wife is an educator.

    Tell me I’m wrong about how the teaching profession is being demeaned and devalued.

    I am in my 16th year. Because i will turn 65 in May I can leave at any time. Even in an economy as bad as this I have enough skills and contacts to do other things. The only reason I don’t walk is because I am committed to my students, even those who do not appreciate what the teachers of our school are doing for them. But each year it gets harder and harder. It is not easy to open a publication or turn on a television and find your profession, your union, being attacked.

    Like

  11. Hello … Whether it’s only one student / family a teacher can point to as motivated to learn or only one student / family is the type the teacher in John’s piece was talking about, the approach needs to be the same: take your strength / motivation from the good one(s) and do your best to reach all of them. It’s quite likely that many teachers that think of quitting are too dedicated to follow through OR have financial or other circumstances that don’t allow them to follow through.

    Bottom line: Again, take strength from the successes and I’m sure they exist. AND bond with the many others in the same situation – NOT to complain or point fingers but to share, seek, and adapt/adopt new approaches. And by the way, work with community / family members who feel the same to begin to expand the support the learning goals.

    Finally, there are bad teachers folks; everyone needs to find an acceptable way to identify them, get them support, and only dismiss them if they won’t or can’t look to improve.

    Like

  12. Nice to see John suggest that people read the Minneapolis article.
    I’m Jewish too, Ken, have been at this for 40 years, and am helping bring literally millions of dollars to district & charter public schools. Since 1989 a week column I’ve done for various newspapers has honored and celebrated outstanding work by teachers and some public schools.

    This same kind of whining was going on 40 years ago when I was a first year teacher. A great inner city teacher gave me advice – ignore the teachers who whine, and learn from the positive, successful ones.

    Like

  13. Unfortunately, teachers are being bashed. In discussions and media pieces (including the pieces done on the Washington, D.C. system “reforms”) do blame “bad” teachers for the failures of American schools. This is dishonest at best.

    There are, as others have mentioned, some bad teachers, but there are weaker workers in all professions – there will always be a minority of humans – students, parents, employees – who seem to be lazy, obstreperous, or otherwise unhelpful to the progress of others. So why blame it all on teachers who don’t do their work? Most teachers I know run tutoring sessions for free, call parents after school on their own time, go to workshops and do research so they can do their jobs better, try to implement all the directives for next new silver bullet passed down from on high, even when they suspect the results will be nill or negative.

    Jeffrey Canada has had success. Some charter schools have shown success. But look at what is involved! Canada’s program starts at birth, teaches parenting skills, helps poor parents give their kids the enriched intellectual environment that richer kids get, tracks kids’ grades, etc. In other words, makes sure kids are well parented. Charter schools that are successful demand parent involvement and students whose parents can’t or won’t make that commitment are not admitted or are removed.

    An article on Morning Edition the other day involved a researcher studying why, with all the best efforts and methods, she was unable to raise very young, poor children’s verbal levels to that of middle class children’s by the time they entered high school. She concluded that middle class children heard some huge number of words by the time they were three or four compared to poorer children. If researchers with the methods, money, and personnel to do intensive interventions with children one-on-one cannot alter early verbal patterns that lead to school success, how can teachers? We can and do improve students’ lives. We fight hard to do so every day. But can we put a student body which starts with deficits and continues to struggle through economic and emotional disruptions that accompany poverty in so many cases on an equal footing with students from middle or upper class families with education parents who provide enrichment and interventions for their kids to ensure their success? Rarely. (And PLEASE don’t tell me about Jaime Escalante. You cannot build a program on the model of exceptional heroes any more than all financial planners will be Warren Buffet, or all computer techs another Bill Gates.)

    So – ask yourself – what is the real goal behind blaming it on the teachers?

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  14. For the pros and cons of administration/teacher/student/parent performance, accountability cannot rest on the teachers’ shoulders alone. Where is the school board responsibility?

    Like

  15. Worth considering – an entire district serving low income students, most of whom do not speak English in the home

    http://www.jff.org/publications/education/college-success-all-how-hidalgo-independ/1144

    From Jobs for the Future:
    THE FIRST “EARLY COLLEGE DISTRICT”

    The Hidalgo Independent School District in Texas has raised the bar on what it means for a school system to focus on college readiness. College Success for All tells the story of how Hidalgo ISD, located in one of the most economically depressed metropolitan areas with one of the lowest number of college-educated adults, is preparing all of its students to earn college credits while in high school.

    Hidalgo ISD serves a student body that is 99.5 percent Hispanic, 90 percent economically disadvantaged, and 53 percent limited English proficient. Preliminary data shows enviable results: This past June, more than 95 percent of the Class of 2010 graduated with college credits. Two-thirds of the graduating seniors had earned at least a full semester of credit for a college degree.

    College Success for All describes how Hidalgo ISD took the early college concept and adopted it as a district-wide strategy: By embedding a college and career culture and focus in everyday activities, from elementary school through middle school and into high school, the school system now motivates and prepares all of its students for success in higher education.

    This strategy, combined with the establishment of strong postsecondary partnerships with South Texas College,Texas State Technical College, and University of Texas-Pan American, more rigorous course sequencing, and high-quality career pathways has been a recipe for success.

    In Hidalgo, Texas, the first early college district can boast of operating one of the nation’s most successful school systems. The early college design is a vehicle for providing traditionally underserved students with opportunities to earn substantial college credits along with high school diplomas. Hidalgo has extended this cutting-edge idea, embedding a college and career culture in everyday activities, from elementary school through high school.

    The practices and policies implemented in Hidalgo can help other districts and states expand opportunities for their young people, no matter what obstacles they face.

    * “Why Not Do It for All the Kids?”—This JFF Commentary in EdWeek says it’s time for the nation to pay attention when any community boasts results like those in Hidalgo.
    * Hidalgo in the News—The New York Times, The Texas Tribune, and The Washington Post all recently lauded the Hidalgo Independent School District.

    Like

  16. Wow what a hornet’s nest! Several comments hit the nerve of how accusations are not getting us anywhere except deeper in the hole. We have a complex problem here! Let’s treat it as such. The teacher whose blog John quotes is highlighting ONE of the issues that teachers deal with: teaching involves more than the material in the curriculum, but there is little or no support or guidance given teachers in this arena. It has always been a poorly addressed area. If one is lucky, there are supportive colleagues or administrators with whom one can process (I had some!). Often there are not. Our society is in the grips of major upheavals which mean more ‘beyond the curriculum” encounters. Her blog is not the whole story of teaching. Here it is extricated from the whole for our contemplation.

    It sure would help if the people whose voices are heard the most (sadly I’d agree John is right in conflating Gates and Duncan) helped cut through the rhetoric instead of heating it up.

    In AUGUST TO JUNE one sees a teacher who addresses the social-emotional, and works positively with parents; so people ask me where I received the background to include that in my teaching. I reply that much of it came from working along side others whose values I admired, and part came from a very reflective teacher education program, where we were challenged to look beyond curriculum to the importance of human interactions. I wish we were spending more time identifying mentors and building support for teachers, children, and parents!

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  17. A couple of thoughts about bashing, prompted by an email from a colleague asking whether it’s teacher bashing or teacher union bashing. His question made me realize that ‘bashing’ is often not verbal. My thoughts, prefaced by a couple of quotes:

    “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
    My tables,—meet it is I set it down,
    That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain:
    At least I ’m sure it may be so in Denmark.”

    “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

    The first is from Hamlet, of course, and the second from Nixon’s Attorney Genera, John Mitchell.

    Unions are the easy whipping boy but a flawed target because, after all, some school board somewhere signed every one of those ‘terrible’ contracts that let teachers arrive 2 minutes before the bell and leave 3 minutes after the final bell, keep administrators from observing, limit faculty meetings, et cetera. Attack unions for their trade union mentality for sure, but take the same number of swings at school boards, please.

    As for teacher-bashing, follow John Mitchell’s advice. Have university presidents stood up and objected to the lousy training, or have they willingly accepted the ‘cash cow’ status of their schools of education?
    Some states still allow administrators to assign teachers to teach subjects they themselves haven’t mastered, as long as they don’t spend the majority of their time doing that. Isn’t that disrespectful treatment a form of bashing?
    This is a ‘profession’ that loses at least 40% of its members in their first five years. What other field would tolerate that? Is the turnover that high at WalMart? The information as to why teachers leave is readily available and repeated every year in surveys, yet the powers-that-could do little. It’s a lousy job. Next time you are in a group, ask all the former teachers in the audience to stand. I think you will be surprised. (That group includes me and two of my three children, by the way)
    So, in my lexicon, ‘bashing’ has to be redefined to include inaction. Indifference and inaction are forms of teacher bashing.
    As for the Hamlet quote, start with ‘Waiting for Superman’ and its content. Did you see the Oprah hour about that? She said she was not talking about the ‘good’ teachers, but the message of the hour was clear. Bad teachers (and evil unions) are public education’s big problem. It was left to Bill Gates to defend teachers (because Randi Weingarten was relegated to tape, played before commercial and never referred to again).
    NBC’s ‘Education Nation’ is another example, a failure to dig deeply into the issue. Instead, they accepted the premise (‘bad teachers….’), featured mostly charter school teachers (who teach maybe 5% of our kids), and never asked any tough questions about conditions, respect, et cetera.
    What we have here is a failure to properly define the problem, to paraphrase Cool Hand Luke.

    Like

  18. No one has commented on the JFF report re a small Texas district doing important things. I think that place including its teachers, administrators, students and families, is worthy of more attention.

    Here are some Minnesota public schools and communities worthy of more attention. This is the generic column I wrote (I individualize it for 15 papers for which I write each week)

    Reversing the growing trend of high school graduates Taking remedial college courses

    It’s pretty simple. Minnesota parents, families and students can save themselves thousands of dollars by paying attention to Getting Prepared, a recently-released report by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System

    Almost 13,000, forty percent, of Minnesota public high school graduates who entered a Minnesota public college or university between 2005 and 2009 took at least one remedial course in reading, math or writing. That’s an all-time high percentage. The problem is greatest in math.

    Fifty-four percent of Minnesota public high school graduates entered a Minnesota public college or University between 2005 and 2009.

    The growing percentage of students entering our public higher education system has risen steadily since 1999, when the Legislature began requiring reports on this. The percentage of students taking remedial courses also has risen. A link to the report is at http://www.mnscu.edu/media/newsreleases/current/article.php5?id=192

    Getting Prepared says that the growing percentages of graduates entering and taking remedial courses could be because

    a. Students who previously did not plan to attend college are doing so after not being able to find a job

    b. Colleges and universities are becoming more rigorous about testing students’ skills before they enter.

    Both explanations make sense. But the increased number of students entering Minnesota public colleges and universities also could be in part because that some students who had considered going out of state have stayed in Minnesota to save money. Minnesota students also can graduate without passing a statewide math test, something that the legislature should fix this year.

    Regardless of the reasons, Minnesota youngsters and their families are paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars for college courses that don’t count toward graduation. These courses cover reading, writing and math skills that they could/should master in high school.

    Several years ago our Center studied some of the fifty Minnesota high schools producing the highest percentage of graduates entering Minnesota public colleges and universities, and lowest percentages of graduates taking remedial courses.

    Most were small high schools in greater Minnesota. They had high community and school expectations for virtually every student. Many did not have a “college prep” track for a few, and an easier classes for other students. They strongly encouraged students to take college level classes, whether via Post Secondary Enrollment Options, College in the Schools, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. Examples are:

    · Chokio-Alberta, where 67% of the graduates entered Minnesota public higher education system, and only 16% of those entering public higher education took remedial courses

    · Healey High School In Pierz, where 60% entered public colleges/universities; 21% of those students took remedial courses

    · Clinton-Graceville, with 51% entering Minnesota public higher education and just 19% of graduates in Minnesota public higher education took remedial courses.

    · Little Falls High School, with 62% of its graduates entering Minnesota’s public higher education system, and only 26% of those students taking remedial courses

    · Swanville: with 66% of graduates entering Minnesota’s public colleges and universities, but only 25% of those students taking remedial courses

    · St. Cloud Technical, where 70% of graduates entered Minnesota’s public higher education system, but only 27% of those students took remedial courses.

    Reducing the number of high school graduates taking remedial courses will save families and taxpayers millions of dollars. In the most successful, not necessarily the wealthiest places, families, educators and the broader community provide constant encouragement, challenging classes and high expectations. They get great results.

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  19. I’m glad you raise this issue John. That there are ineffective teachers among us, or those who should never have been allowed to work with children in the first place is true. How they got and stay in schools is more complex than what is usually discussed in media pieces I’ve seen. More important, teachers in many settings are being blamed for longstanding problems within schools and systems (not the external social issues) for which we had little or no control.

    I would be more inclined to believe those who claim they are only talking about the bad teachers, not the effective ones, if they would then give effective teachers ourselves more voice in the discussion. For example: Even your program has been unbalanced in the amount of airtime given to highlighting the work of the many great teachers in this country. Programs such as Education Nation had too few on stage participants from those who are actually doing what we claim we want done in classrooms, even though there are thousands of us out here. Oprah chose to interview Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee, which is good television, but where were the interviews and features with the real classroom experts; the teachers who routinely help students reach their potential in the classroom and beyond? Similarly, few in media are paying enough attention to those schools that have turned themselves around–without massive firings of teachers. I highly recommend the work of Public School Insights for examples of how we could move the edreform discussion into a more positive direction. We can all do better.

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  20. Perhaps “teacher Ken” (Bernstein, I believe) and his fellow union members are having more impact than they realize. Sec Duncan was in town and in a 20 minute speech that I heard, along with about 800 others, spoke eloquently about the importance of good teachers, and the great good that they do. He also talked about a variety of things that need to be done to improve education, such as more high quality early childhood education.

    One commentor suggested I was “losing it.” Perhaps. But one institution that is “losing it” is the traditional urban public school district. “It” in this case is the “exclusive franchise” to educate inner city youngsters at public expense. There are now thousands of charter public schools, and millions of kids attending them. As John Merrow notes, charters are not panaceas, and some are not operating very well. Some are operating wonderfully – and not just the groups that get a lot of media attention.

    Some of the finest charters are those operated by veteran teachers frustrated by the district/union bureaucracy. Johnathan Williams was a union shop steward in Los Angeles and became frustrated with that bureaucracy. He found a charter school that Time Magazine named the finest elementary school in the country a few years ago.

    The world and this country are changing. There is more openness to trying other approaches. I’ve saluted the Boston Teachers Union many times for developing the Pilot School idea. Teachers who are open, who are learners, who are non-defensive, are receiving lots of attention and opportunity.

    Like

    • since I was the one who suggested you might be losing it, Joe, let me respond.

      I greatly respect the work you have done over the years.

      I am not hostile to school choice, whether in public school choice such as that you have fought for in Minnesota, or the idea of charters in theory, particularly as originally expressed by the likes of Ray Budde and Al Shanker.

      Nevertheless I cannot help but agree with Renee Moore that it would be a lot easier to accept that people were not painting all teachers the same if the voices of teachers who are recognized as good and effective were more effectively included in discussions. Education Nation was one very strong illustration of the problem. Fully one third of those given access to the microphones were from charters, when only around 5% of our nations students are in charter schools. By itself that presents a distortion. And we regularly hear from Bill Gates opining on education – which given that he never even attended a public school would be annoying enough, but because he seems determined to fund all the organizations that agree with him and thereby exclude voices that offer a different perspective is worse than annoying.

      It is in part because of the frustration that teachers and parents and some others have decided to try to make a real difference. Might I suggest that people take a look at an important forthcoming event

      Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

      http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/

      and yes, I am a part of this effort.

      It is nice that Duncan offers words that say he supports good teachers. The problem is who he includes – and excludes – in that phrase. He has supported the dismissal of all the teachers at Central Falls. He has agreed with Gates that teachers don’t need more education such as a masters degree. He has seemed to be willing to bash the organizations that represent teachers – their unions. He was willing to support the common core standards when the drafting was being done by groups that until people complained included just about no teachers, but lots of people from think tanks and testing companies.

      Yes, the department of education has a few teacher ambassadors, some full-time, some classroom based. That is not enough. Our immediate past National Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen, got totally fed up with the bashing of teachers he experienced, even when he was allowed to sit in on discussions of policy. He was the teacher selected through a competitive process to represent all of America’s teachers. And he could not get heard.

      When we push back at wrong-headed ideas, do not dismiss as as defensive, or imply that we are not open or are not learners. Many of us would advocate for really radical change in education, because we know what makes a difference for the students with whom we work every day.

      Instead we are handicapped because we still must prepare them for tests that are meaningless in terms of measuring real knowledge and understanding, but which are becoming the be all and end all of our educational policy.

      Meanwhile our colleges are having to make more and more students take remedial courses, because the education they have received K-12 has been so narrowed to what is tested that they are less and less prepared. Some want to blame the teachers. how about blaming the wrong-headed policy which is creating this situation.

      Last thing I will offer is a video that speaks to the relevant issues. It is from Rhode Island, but it is true for far more than that one small state:

      http://tinyurl.com/4gdacru

      Peace.

      Like

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  22. Teacher Advocate Defends School Teachers and offers tips to inspire today’s
    teachers!

    Handbook dedicated to helping teachers succeed and stick with it throughout the
    entire school year!

    Tom Staszewski
    tomstasz@neo.rr.com
    814-452-0020

    In this era of policy change and educational reform at the K-12 level, suddenly
    “everybody” has become an expert on our school systems. In my opinion, there is
    a great amount of unjustified criticism that is unfairly being leveled against
    our schools and our teachers. Most of the criticism is unfounded, baseless,
    undeserved and distorted. Many critics of our school systems have never set foot
    in a classroom to see what’s going on —other than their own experience as a
    former student—and their criticism is erroneous and counterproductive. If they
    (critics) would take the time to better understand just how hard the teaching
    profession really is, they would change their criticism to face the reality of
    today’s schools and society at large. I believe that most critics would find it
    difficult to even make it through even one day in the life of a typical teacher.
    The essence behind the book is that today’s teachers are under a lot of pressure
    and scrutiny and there is a need for more support, recognition and appreciation
    for the good that they are providing for society. So the point of my book is to
    inform the uninformed about how difficult it is to teach in many of today’s
    schools. And to provide recognition to educators and to thank teachers for the
    positive difference they are making in society. I’ve always said that our
    schools are a reflection of society and society at large has changed and
    undergone a dramatic shift from previous generations. The book also focuses on
    the success stories and “what’s right” with our schools rather than “what’s
    wrong” with our schools. Unlike previous generations…in many homes today,
    whether it be a single parent household or with both parents home…many parents
    send their kids to school unfed, unprepared and with little or no basic skills
    and often with no social skills, etc.

    In my previous work as a motivational speaker and professional development
    trainer, I have personally worked with thousands and thousands of teachers
    statewide and nationwide and I have found them to be hard-working, dedicated,
    industrious and committed to the success of their students. It’s about time that
    someone has taken a stand to recognize and acknowledge the value to society that
    teachers are providing and to thank them for their dedication.

    What is the theme of the book?

    In addition to thanking and recognizing the good that teachers provide to
    society, the book is also a handbook that can be used by the teacher as a means
    of providing coping skills and methods to succeed in the classroom with the
    trials and tribulations of teaching. It provides a means of offering tips,
    strategies and techniques to make it through the day and to have a successful
    school year. In many respects it is a personal growth and development type
    handbook.

    From the first-year teacher to the most experienced veteran, this book provides
    an inspiring message that yes, indeed…teaching is the most noble profession. It
    serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of teachers and recognizes that
    “teaching is the profession that has created all other professions.” This book
    provides real-life tools, tips and strategies to have a successful school year
    and to persevere beyond all of the challenges associated with the profession.
    Filled with insightful and meaningful stories and examples, it will provide a
    pep talk to help teachers stay focused. Readers are able to maintain the passion
    that brought them into the profession and to develop a plan to be the best that
    they can be.

    Author Tom Staszewski, Total Teaching: Your Passion Makes It Happen. Lanham,
    Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Copies are available through the publisher Rowman and Littlefield and also at
    amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com or from Rowman & Littlefield Education Phone:
    (301) 459-3366, http://www.rowmaneducation.com Customer Service, Toll free:
    (800) 462-6420, custserv@rowman

    Like

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