Monday, May 9, 2011

What your teachers are doing

PZ Myers has a great post at Pharyngula about teachers not getting to be human, not getting to have private lives. It's in response to a Salon article that I can't seem to access right now.

At any rate, Myers has some great things to say, but I thought I'd excerpt this bit:
When I was in eighth grade, one of the best teachers I ever had taught me geometry. Mr Anderson was fat; he sweated excessively. He always wore baggy slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt, and he had a crew cut. And he was ferocious. He would yell at bad students and tell them to work harder, and if he caught you being inattentive in class he'd throw an eraser at you. Those students mocked him mercilessly, behind his back. He was also passionate about the subject — I can still see him in my mind's eye excitedly making that chalk fly across the board, talking excitedly about a proof, giggling at how cool a result was.

Every year he rewarded the best of his students with an invitation to his house for a formal party, with snacks and Nehi soda. He was single and weird, but there was no worry about impropriety — there'd be a score of us there, who would all be treated politely as adults, which was mind-blowing right there. He'd play music for us: opera and show tunes.

Show tunes. He adored Ethel Merman, and sometimes even in class he'd start humming something from his beloved musicals.

He made the adults uncomfortable, and you can guess what kinds of rumors the school jocks spread about him. The people who didn't care that he was a fantastic, enthusiastic math teacher who taught students self-respect and to love math only saw a strange man who didn't fit in, who was odd, who fit certain stereotypes, and who obviously could not be trusted.

So one year, poof, he was gone. Dismissed. The best damned math teacher they had, sent away on the heels of a sordid campaign of bigoted whispers.

Even now, it stirs a little outrage in me, that teachers get judged not by the quality of their work and their positive effects on their students, but how well they fit the conventions of the most closed-minded members of the community, by people, even, who despise good educations that raise kids to think independently.

You know, I can't imagine being a teacher, especially of older kids. Adolescents are idiots. I know I was. And parents are even worse. And their bosses are cowards, like all politicians. Dealing with the public isn't much fun in the best of circumstances, but this must be one of the worst.

When I grew up, I had good teachers and poor ones - quite a few poor ones, actually. We paid less than our neighbors next door, so when we got young teachers who were really good, we generally wouldn't keep them long.

But every single one of those teachers tried to do his/her best. I had no doubt of that, even at the time. In high school, most of the class couldn't be bothered to pay attention, and all of us, I think, made fun of the teachers. Well, as I say, we were idiots. But it was easy to tell that my teachers were doing their best in a difficult situation.

Plenty of my teachers should have been doing something else. They really weren't very good at it. But even back then, teaching wasn't a highly-respected position, not for a college graduate. And it certainly wasn't a way to get rich. In our district, as I say, we paid less than most. So we tended to get the teachers who couldn't get hired elsewhere.

Oh, not entirely. There are plenty of reasons for teachers to stay at a school. But in general, if you want really good teachers, you have to pay them well and give them the kind of support they need.

And if you want the best teachers, college students have to see the teaching profession as being highly respected in America - and financially lucrative, too. And they have to see that teachers can have a private life, without every repressed prude in the community being outraged.

Well, it's easy to see where our priorities are, and it's not in the education of our children. It's easy to see why we've lost our global lead in good schools, isn't it? Nothing matters these days but continual tax cuts, especially for the rich.

And half of America actually fears that their children will get a good education, because then they might start thinking for themselves. It's no wonder other nations are beating our pants off.

But who cares? Not enough of us, apparently.

No comments: