Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Heroes? Maybe. Super? Let's Talk.

      Last week, in response to a post by the Columbia Association about Teacher Appreciation Week, my friend Nina Basu wrote:

      Now I am going to be a curmudgeon about Teacher Appreciation Week. I love my kids' teachers, but I only grudgingly do the usual appreciation stuff. A muffin tray is nice, but how about better pay, more respect, and treating them like the professionals they truly are?

      I am a teacher. I'm married to a teacher. And I am a PTA volunteer who participates in Teacher Appreciation activities. What Nina says may be unpopular, but it strikes at the heart of what is wrong with education today.

      As I travel from school to school, I have the opportunity to observe how different school communities celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. And just like children's birthday parties, there are a variety of commercially available themes that one can purchase. One that I saw disturbed me: the Superhero theme.

      "Our teachers are Superheroes!" the posters proclaim.

      Really? Or as Cecil the Sea Serpent would have said, "Just a darn minute!"

      • Superheroes have extra-human powers.
      • Superheroes don't need to make a living. They're just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
      • We have no responsibility to Superheroes. It isn't necessary to have a good working relationship with them or treat them in a respectful manner.
      • We don't have to communicate with Superheroes. They just know how to miraculously show up in times of crisis.
      • Superheroes are all give and no take. Short of Kryptonite, their energies are boundless.
      How is it fair in any way to look at teachers in this light?
      • Teachers are highly trained and must continue their education and earn specific qualifications, but are 100 % human.
      • Teachers need to earn a fair salary and need livable working hours and conditions.
      • It is essential to develop and maintain good working relationships with teachers and treat them with respect. Who should be doing this? Parents, administrators, central office staff, Board of Ed members, superintendents.
      • You want teachers to show up in times of crisis? Make sure you're showing up with them every day of the week: listening, collaborating, supporting.
      • Teachers have many good qualities but they can't possibly give and give without reserve. They will need rest, resources, and respect. Just like all of us.
      None of this is a criticism of parents who give of their time, resources, and talents to celebrate teachers. They are awesome!

      But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable. The powers that be know this. That is why we read so many statements that attempt to chip away the faith of parents in their children's teachers, and in the teaching profession.

      And that is why the schools approve of appreciating teachers one week a year and having the parents do it. Truly, it makes both groups into servant classes and those who are in charge continue to be in charge. It is an intricate dance which maintains the status quo. And somewhere an admin is checking off a box which reads, " teachers will feel appreciated" without having done anything to support that.

      Back to my friend Nina. She concluded her post by reiterating:

      I am a curmudgeon. But I'd rather pay teachers professional wages and have a system that trusts their judgment as professionals than a thousand gifts. And I get why the fete-ing matters in this screwed up world, and I'll buy the basket and make the card and organize the other parents - but I also recognize it's a cheap cover-up for the fact our society does not value teachers.

      Thanks, Nina. That's the best teacher gift I've gotten all year.


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