The teacher says…
Once upon a time, the phrase “The teacher says” carried weight as authoritative, respected, and worthy of attention and repetition.
Classic movie buffs will remember it from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when ZuZu Bailey said to George, “Look Dad, the teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Teachers are in the headlines, and not just because it’s back to school. Resignations have spiked in recent years, creating teacher shortages in thousands of schools across the country.
And even if they love their job and their children too much to quit, large percentages of teachers still in the job feel disrespected, disillusioned and just plain burnt out.
A study of teacher departures from eight Midwestern states found that more than half (52%) said the No. 1 reason they left the classroom was bad student behavior.
When insufficient pay was included as an ancillary factor, classroom behavior became the primary reason three-quarters of teachers left.
In other words, well-paid teachers may have a higher tolerance for incivility and disrespect in the classroom, but for all teachers it’s a toxic ingredient, and for low-paid teachers it’s a toxic ingredient. is usually a coffin nail in their career.
A New York City teacher put it this way, and probably many Arkansas peers can relate to it: “Remember when insulting a teacher was very important? Well, we’re no longer than Tuesday.”
It is also toxic to the learning of other students. In fact, disruptive behavior in the classroom does the same thing as in the office, factory, store or elsewhere: it hinders collective performance.
This truth is not revealing. Bad apples have been spoiling the band since long before the days of fairy tales, and the solution is as tried and true as it always has been. Teachers have handled it regularly for centuries. Only recently has “new age” thinking shifted, so the most important part of the equation is not student learning but social parameters.
If a statistical disparity emerges (and a skilled analyst can still skew the numbers), the issue instantly escalates from one student’s misbehavior in a particular class to the overall district ratio against some intangible denominator, such as race. .
Today, public education is dominated by bureaucracies that are unable to address and correct the #1 problem of student behavior in the classroom.
In reality, well-meaning bureaucrats only make this problem worse.
It’s no surprise that wacky, wacky notions of policies such as “restorative justice” and “cleaning the halls” never arise in the ranks of teachers in the trenches. Instead, they’re usually thrown from high perches by people who have no idea (and no experience) when it comes to dealing with unruly students in a classroom.
Teachers know their students. And they know their students aren’t stupid. Children, in fact, are some of the most manipulative creatures on Earth, as any parent who has more than one can attest.
Successfully guiding herds of youngsters towards learning goals is not a natural talent. It is a skill, a practice, a profession; it is a study in perseverance and patience and incredibly purposeful thought and performance.
But effective classroom management requires teacher authority and autonomy. A learning environment requires discipline and civility. Today, in far too many American classrooms, both are lacking.
Expecting test scores and skill ratings to improve under such conditions is nothing short of madness. As trends now indicate, expecting quality teachers to hang around in such conditions is also insane. Expecting solutions from the two agenda-driven education bureaucracies as things stand is another exercise in madness.
Teacher unions take broad views on things like increasing pay scales and hours for all teachers – good and bad. It’s an archaic approach that no one in real-world economies understands or supports.
And State Department guidelines are so system- and process-oriented that individual students — where all learning really happens — dissolve into spreadsheets and white papers. As a result, bureaucrats are constantly micromanaging, managing and directing the activities of teachers in the classrooms.
By all means, most teachers in Arkansas deserve a raise; others might deserve the opportunity to excel elsewhere.
But what they all deserve even more is greater decision-making authority in their classrooms and greater input into school policies. One thing that regularly resonates in responses to teacher surveys is that schools are very different, but educational policy always strives for uniformity.
This is where it is important to remember that there were teachers in classrooms long before there were education systems and bureaucracies to oversee them.
The heart of education is teaching and learning. The transactional aspect of teaching, the transfer of knowledge, is personal and relational.
That it happens in the classroom, if it is going to happen, should be the fundamental focal point of public schools. And rather than asking a department bureaucrat, a consulting firm, or a president’s administration how to improve classroom structure, behavior, and learning for various schools and students, why not ask teachers what they say? An annual “Teacher Says” symposium inviting constructive ideas based on proven classroom tactics could do wonders.
One thing is certain: no one knows true education better than a seasoned and successful teacher.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.