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Randy Turner

Randy Turner

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When It Comes to Teaching, Who Needs Experience?

Posted: 04/ 4/11 05:06 PM ET

As I think back over a dozen years in the classroom, I cannot recall the exact moment that I changed from an idealistic beginning teacher at the peak of my game to the space-wasting NEA member who is keeping some good young teacher on the unemployment line.

When did experience turn from an asset to the biggest roadblock to saving American public schools?

In Missouri, a bill has been proposed by Republican Rep. Scott Dieckhaus which would eliminate tenure and the due process it guarantees and allow administrators and school boards to fire teachers with or without reason.

Dieckhaus' bill also calls for a four-tier merit pay system, based almost entirely on the scores on standardized tests. The bill specifically forbids basing teacher pay on years of experience or advanced schooling.

Surprisingly, Dieckhaus, before entering the world of politics, taught history in a public school. Fortunately, he left education after four years, or right about the point where these experts would have us believe his teaching skills would have begun to disintegrate.

When is some politician going to have the courage to tell the truth -- there is no crisis in public education?

And when will the media stop perverting the word "reform" when it comes to education? The only people who earn the designation of reformer are those who are firing teachers, closing schools, or operating charters.

I am not going to pretend that public education has no problems. We have serious problems. We have failing inner city schools, high dropout rates in some areas, and a standardized testing culture that is simply preparing our children to fill in bubbles and not to master critical thinking skills.

The culture of accountability, as it is defined by those who seek to privatize one of America's greatest successes -- an educational system that opens its doors to everyone -- has perverted America's public schools from an incubator of hopes, dreams, and ideas, to a fertile feeding ground for those who plan to make their careers out of taking standardized tests.

I am still waiting for the reformers to explain how using the same privatization plans and business principles that put this country into a deep recession are going to suddenly work miracles with inner-city schools located directly in the center of crime, desperation, and hopelessness.

This country took seriously the idea of educating every child long before it became the political catchphrase that signaled the beginning of one of the most nightmarish times in the history of public education.

We have always believed that all children, whether they were born in the lap of luxury or in the crevices of a crack house, are entitled to a quality education.

The conceit of No Child Left Behind is the idea that prior to its enactment, public school teachers and administrators were doing their best to deprive children of the American dream.

I can tell you categorically that the teachers I have worked with these past 12 years have not been sitting around, waiting to get tenure so they can take a long nap until retirement. We agonize over children who do appear to be slipping through the cracks, ones who move from school to school, never staying long enough to get an education.

We agonize over how to help children who suffer from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that is almost impossible to comprehend. We deal with children who have parents in prison, who are exposed to drug and alcohol use every day, and who sometimes do not receive any kind of nourishment from the time they leave school until they arrive for breakfast the next morning.

The most remarkable story, and one that has remained untold, is the incredible number of successes we have with these children. While Waiting for Superman took cheap shots at public schools, emphasizing children with parents who care and failing to interview any teachers, veteran teachers have been in the trenches, doing what we have been doing all along, educating the vast majority of American children, and doing our best to succeed with the rest.

For this, we have become the nation's villains, labeled as selfish and self-involved.

Day after day, teachers in public schools across the United States, people who entered education with a desire to help children learn, listen as we are demonized by politicians who have made us a symbol of everything that is wrong in America.

When I hear the complaints about rules that say the last hired are the first fired are crippling education, I think about an incident that I first wrote about a few months ago.

I was in my seventh year of teaching when one of my most gifted eighth graders came into my classroom after school, clearly upset. We talked for an hour, but the things we talked about were average, everyday, mundane topics. I could sense she had something she wanted to talk to me about.

Finally, I said, "You haven't seemed like yourself lately. Are you all right?" She looked at me for a moment, smiled, and nodded. A few moments later, she left. A few months ago, I had another conversation with this young woman, who is now attending college. She reminded me of that day and thanked me.

"I was thinking about killing myself."

That information shocked me. This was a talented young woman whose intelligence and abilities were far beyond those of most of her classmates.

"You took the time to talk to me," she said. "I thought if someone like you cared about what happened to me, maybe things weren't as bad as I thought."

It was just a simple thing, something thousands of classroom teachers across the United States have done day after day, year after year.

I don't know if I would have handled that situation right in my first year or two. No matter what the prophets of reform are saying, experience is an asset for a classroom teacher.

The problem with our country's educational system is not with those who teach, but with those who would sacrifice all that is good in education in their continued pursuit of the almighty dollar.

This country is not suffering because of a crisis in education. Our problem is a crisis in leadership.

 
 
 

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