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Can Anyone Teach? This Teacher Says No

July 3, 2012

Can Anyone Teach? This Teacher Says No

I really wanted to pass along this blog post by Diane Ravitch.  In the post Diane shares information from a reader who disagrees with the reform mantra of “anyone can teach.”

As all my readers know, I am a teacher.  I have taught both special education (which I am currently teaching) and general education in two Southern California school districts.  I want to say, unequivocally, that not everyone is cut out for teaching…it simply is what it is.  Before I started teaching I felt that I didn’t have a lot of patience for things, I always moved quickly through what I did and didn’t have time to wait.  Then, I took my first job teaching special education in a middle school in a very tough neighborhood.  I learned the art of having patience with my kids very quickly.

I have had many people, when I tell them that I am a special education teacher, say: “Wow, you must have a ton of patience.”  I always respond the same way, because it is my true and honest sentiment: “I never used to have patience, but working with my kids taught me how to be accepting of their needs and differences.”  Seriously, that is what I do!  I recognize what my kids need and I do my best to provide it to them…because…that is what a teacher should do!

Not everyone can do what we do, all teachers who are in the field now understand that.  We meet the parents, we know how happy some of them are to ship their kids off to us for 6-8 hours a day.  We couldn’t imagine some of these parents teaching a classroom of 30-40 students…it would be a disaster.  But, apparently, members of the political right want to remove certification standards for those entering the teaching profession.  This would be an unmitigated disaster for our children.  Onerous certification standards weed out many who would never have to heart or the stamina to stand before our kids all day and teach them…it is effective in letting the most driven become teachers while others will slip out, as they should if they lack the dedication needed.

My teacher readers will enjoy this post I think!

In Louisiana, as I wrote in a recent blog, the Jindal legislation does not require that teachers in charter schools have certification. Certification is not a high bar in Louisiana, but it does represent a standard: a minimum grade point average in college, a college degree, a passing score on a state or national examination. At a recent meeting, a Harvard-educated member of the state board of education suggested that teachers don’t even need to have a college degree. In some other states like Indiana and Texas, standards to teach are also dropping or have already fallen. Some “reformers” think that any requirement is a hoop or hurdle or obstacle created to keep people out of teaching. Some economists dismiss the value of any credentials or education or experience for teachers.

This reader disagrees with the politicians and economists who think that anyone can teach:

I am getting more than a little tired of the “little return” attitude that puts the problems that students have learning on the teachers. The fact is that teachers have very little if any control over the schools, including curriculum, pace of lessons, materials, and how and when they teach. Then, in order to satisfy testing requirements, they are forced to waste more time teaching test taking skills in isolation from subject matter. Today they even have this crap called “scripted lessons” which the teacher is supposed to read and follow instead of make professional judgments about how to teach the students. One scripted reading program called “Direct Instruction” was used in New Orleans. When I saw it I was shocked. It was an almost identical repackaged version of “Distar” a program that failed in the early 1970s.There are many factors in students’ lives that cause them to do poorly and disadvantaged students are the most likely ones not to do well, not because they are not as smart as advantaged students, but because they do not start at the same place.

There are also factors that conservatives do not want to address that cause students to lag behind, such as malnutrition, parent absence because they work two minimum wage jobs, hygiene issues, inability to pay the utility bills because the rent is too high, needing glasses or hearing aids, forcing students to wear uniforms, sibling care starting as early as 3rd grade, abuse and neglect, foster care, homelessness, moving frequently, poor access to medical care, and lack of experiences outside their immediate community. We had kids in Atlanta who had never been to a grocery store and many when I taught in rural Alabama who started school never having seen a flush toilet. (Only one child in that last group had running water.) Teachers have no control over these although in special ed we always kept towels, washcloths, deodorant, sanitary pads, and soap available, made sure kids got their free lunches and kept extra food from home for them in our desks. We do the best we can to provide the best environment for learning as we can for our students. But it takes a teacher to know what the children need and to have A VISION OF WHERE SHE WANTS THEM TO GO. A real teacher is not discouraged by the problems her kids have. She knows they can get up those steps eventually even if she has to get behind and push them.

Yes, some people are successful without a college education. Most of them are either extremely brilliant, savants or very hard workers. Some, like Bill Gates is rumored to, have Aspergers, or act like they do and do a better job working with things and ideas than they do with people. But these are not the norm. Most uneducated people get stuck doing physical labor, food service, or maid work. Education enhances natural gifts and helps those who don’t have them learn the skills and perhaps acquire the professionalism and even the gift that teachers need to stay in the field more than 5 years, or even the 3 it takes to become a teacher following the education.

One last thought, teaching is a calling. It is not easy. It is very difficult. Why would someone want to become a teacher after they retire from another profession,especially if they were never trained to teach unless someone pushed them away from the field because it was not prestigious and they would never make gobs of money,but that was what they always wanted to do and selling computers and making good money at it was never anything but a job? Teaching is not an afterthought or a hobby.

And would a 65 year old who had never taught really want to spend 180 days per year with 35 nine-year olds? They are not strong enough to pick up the severe special ed kids so they would have to go to regular education with its huge classes and no paraprofessional or else do mild disabilities, which, in my opinion, is the hardest type of special education. And then there is learning all the technology, which is different in each system, and the paperwork. I can just see a retired person who is not the parent of a special needs child writing an IEP, running the meeting and making sure that everything is covered so the school can’t ban the child from assemblies or suspend him. I can’t see a not-teacher explain to the principal that this schizophrenic kid who is always in the office complaining that people are talking about him is highly intelligent and that is why he scored ADVANCED on the LEAP, not because the teacher cheated. (This happened to our intermediate EBD teacher in New Orleans.) Then we have to get the parents’ cooperation and also tell the principal that one thing he does not want to hear, “It’s in his IEP” That takes a real professional Certified! A teacher!

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