I battled teacher unions for years as they protected marginal teachers from my efforts to either correct their behavior or get them fired. Look, I am not just talking about instructors with low standardized test scores or ineffective instructional skills, I am talking about nutcases that should never be around any young mammal, much less a human child. Here are a few examples of what I had to deal with.
Teacher Pinhead A: A wig-wearing, middle-school introvert that lined up small pieces of chalk according to height. His crime: He refused to take his class out during a fire drill initiated by the city fire department. For the uninitiated reading this article, teachers have no way of knowing whether the fire alarm going off is the real thing or not. When I asked him why he failed to escort his basement class out of the building, this jerk told me his lesson was more important. He taught art.
Teacher Pinhead B: A goofy 4th grade teacher who could not control her class made home visits to parents every night including the weekend. Sounds noble doesn’t it? Especially when the teacher was white and the parents were black and lived in a poor neighborhood. I became alarmed when a couple of parents complained that the unscheduled, surprise visits would last until midnight before she would leave. Upon investigation I learned that the lady’s husband threw her out of their home, confiscated her paychecks, and she was living in her mini-van. This poor soul was using her students’ parents to get a cooked meal and a warm place to stay. I was particularly upset because she drove a mini-van.
Teacher Pinhead C: I walked into Ms Kong’s first-grade classroom to see a handsome little boy sitting, no not sitting, he was stuffed under a small table in a cramped fetal position reminiscent of the tiger cages used by our enemies in Vietnam. The boy’s misdemeanor: He’d left his crayons at home. This teacher became enraged when I sternly warned her to stop. She told me that she’d been teaching first grade for 27 years in the same school and in the very same classroom and she knew what she was doing. (She did. The cage was used exclusively for her black male students)
My point is this: There are a lot of teachers out there, three million in the United States, and some of them are idiots. Even if 99.9% are saints, that leaves three thousand that are not. The personnel calculus of bad teachers is that they concentrate themselves in poor and minority districts, frequently it seems where I work, and they are protected by a ridiculous tenure system, muscle-bound unions that scare the duck out of weak superintendents, and their colleagues that fear the successful elimination of a nutcase teacher will result in the next spotlight being shined on them.
I tell you all this to say that I am the last guy to defend teachers against valid efforts to improve their gene pool and provide the best possible adults for the classroom. I applaud President Barack Obama when he says bad teachers should be fired. But I fear neither our fearless leader nor his flunky SecEd, Arne Duncan, can tell a good teacher from a bad one. Neither man has been a principal or is trained to rate faculty.
I applaud the President when he voices his support for teacher merit pay, an idea I have long championed. But I am concerned about how he or Arne the Duncan would determine one teacher deserves a large paycheck and another one doesn’t. I can figure it out, but no one has asked me, and the cowardly professional administrators in place in this country aren’t volunteering the information. Thus Duncan will make the call, and he has never taught school or drawn a teacher’s paycheck.
I am using one hand to clap after hearing President Obama’s interview on NBC’s Today Show on Monday. He is pushing for a longer school year. True, U.S. schools average 180 instructional days a year, nearly a month less than most foreign school systems. ‘That month makes a difference,’ the President declared, ‘It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer. It’s especially severe for poorer kids who may not see as many books in the house during the summers.’
Now I am clapping with the other hand as I assimilate the whole of the President’s education message. On the one hand the Obama administration is telling me that American schools suck, and on the other hand he wants to extend our children’s exposure to them. Okay. And he is saying this after consulting with a Secretary of Education whose total experience in teaching was watching his mother run a daycare in her basement.
The fact is, a longer school year will not help the child unless the teachers in that school know what they are doing and the student benefits from that knowledge. You have to fix the schools before you extend them. If you have a doctor who is confused, it is best to have him in and out of your body cavity as quickly as possible.
If the President is as brilliant as we are told he is, he must know this. Though some of his statements of late infuse a modicum of doubt about this intellect, I presume he is at least smarter than the average Chicago politician. If so, why is he asking us to send our kids to dubious schools for longer periods of time. Remember, his flunkey Duncan is traveling the country telling school districts far and wide to blow up their low-performing schools, fire the entire staff and insert a charter school in its place.
One thing is certain. If you extend the school day, teachers and their unions will do what any worker would do. They will ask for more money. We all know that states, counties and school districts do not have spare change sitting idly in their coffers. Any money to extend the hours, days, and weeks teachers work has gotta come from Washington D.C.
If the money comes from the feds, the schools then surrender local control of their schools to the Obama Administration just as federal Special Education money forces school districts to submit to strict federal education guidelines for students with disabilities. If this seems a stretch too far, remember that General Motors is now called Government Motors.