Seattle Education

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Do We Respect Seattle Teachers?

Seattle’s public schools sure have been through a lot in the 2010-2011 school year. On top of the multimillion dollar scandals and the firing of superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, we saw funding cuts from the legislature that has decimated our classroom teachers and classroom supports and caused serious overcrowding at Garfield High School and other schools, which meant that some students had to go without teachers or classrooms for part of the year. At Lowell, overcrowding has brought a need for more classrooms, and I have heard that the district plans to take away space from developmental preschool and toileting facilities.

But something else is happening that many parents may not realize: above and beyond funding problems, teachers are being hit hard with a loss of respect. One culprit is the movie Waiting for Superman, which in highlighting “bad teachers” has brought widespread disrespect to all teachers, in every school, regardless of quality.

This hit home hard to me recently at a party. I was deep in conversation with a middle school teacher who has been working 60-80 hour work weeks all year. Somebody came into the room, heard the word “teaching,” and launched into a discussion about the movie Waiting for Superman and this problem of “bad teachers.” I stuck up for her and helped her try to refute some of the flawed arguments, but we didn’t get through. I could see the teacher’s blood boiling as she tried to maintain her composure, finally leaving the house in order to avoid spilling all her year’s frustrations all over this well-meaning but misinformed guest.

Guess what, everybody? If we focus on “bad teachers” we are going to get bad teachers. Because our good teachers are going to quit. They’re already overworked. They are facing layoffs even though the numbers of students in our district are going up. They are losing the ability to control what they teach. And on top of all that, they are losing respect.

Don’t take my word for it, ask a teacher. Seattle is full of teachers. Some of your best friends are teachers.

Paired with this loss of respect are efforts to de-professionalize teachers in Seattle, efforts that will do material harm to teachers and the teaching profession. And this is terrible for our children. Here are just a few things that happened this year:

  • Ex-superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson tried to ram through a proposal to tie teacher evaluations to the results of standardized tests – a measure that would increase “teaching to the test.”
  • The state legislature tried to pass law after law that would erode seniority, even though teachers improve greatly over the first five years of teaching, and most especially in their first year.
  • The district laid off teachers, even though we will see an increase in enrollment next year.
  • The district also signed a deal with Teach for America to bring in teachers with five weeks of training to address “shortages,” despite the fact that there were 18,668 applications for 766 positions last year.

This doesn’t just hurt teachers. This attacks teaching as a profession. Could we, instead of spending all our efforts blaming bad teachers, ask what quality teaching looks like, and see how we can support it? Looking broadly at “teaching” instead of narrowly at “teachers” gives us the big picture that we need in order to work for real reforms in education, like:

  • Quality teacher preparation. (By the way, the UW College of Education is ninth in the nation.)
  • National Board certification, which came about as a result of teachers wanting to set clear standards for quality.
  • Experience. Teachers improve over time for the first five years. The first year, especially, is a struggle.
  • A manageable workload.
  • Classroom supports like aides and tutors and counselors.
  • Relationships built in the school community and the classroom.
  • Excellent curriculum and the flexibility to adapt it to the needs of the students.
  • Clear standards that teachers, parents, and students can all understand.
  • Funding for school supplies such as markers and scissors. (Ask a parent who pays for these.)
  • Placement in the right classroom, because a poor fit makes for poor teaching even if the teacher is great!

These are all factors that directly impact teachers’ ability to do their jobs, but right now our education system is being privatized, and many of these factors are coming under attack.

Can teachers defend their profession? Yes, to an extent, but remember, they’re overworked already! We need to give them our support, and we need to keep a close and critical eye on what is happening district-wide, statewide, and nationally.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t take my word for this. Ask a teacher. Let them know beforehand that you won’t jump all over them but honestly want their opinion. Listen nicely and don’t argue! And above all, let them know you support them. Every little bit helps!


"Honor Teachers" bumper sticker

17 comments on “Do We Respect Seattle Teachers?

  1. Kristin
    June 28, 2011

    Also, thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments. I am closing comments to this post, because although everyone has been polite so far, there is a potential for flame wars and I would rather prevent that. Thanks again.

  2. Kristin
    June 28, 2011

    David wrote, “As far as making a comparison with the teaching profession I don’t see the relevancy.” Yes, I agree. The original post wasn’t about the relative worth to society of various occupations, but about a specific issue faced in the area of K-12 education. There is something important that has come up in these comments in the area of occupation vs. profession, though. I see a “profession” as something that requires specialized training, a formal qualification, and something that people are expected to stay in for the long term. Using that definition, is teaching a profession in the United States? Well . . . the highly orchestrated, concerted media attacks (which have intensified in the past year), are aimed at “proving” to the public that it isn’t — that fast-track, minimally trained teachers are just as good as credentialed teachers with years of education and experience. But this is only going to put lots of inexperienced teachers in front of classrooms they are not well equipped to handle, putting kids with special needs and kids living in poverty at risk. My point, as a mother of young children, is that society does need teachers to be respected and seen as professionals.

    As far as sex work, while not a topic for this particular blog, it has its own challenges and millenia-long history of disrespect and so forth. Here is a good article about it:

  3. David Fisher
    June 27, 2011

    Kristin, this is my last post on this issue. I respect your research and obvious concern about the attack on teachers. However, I don’t like the word nitpick, but that is my personal bias. Your statement about sex workers being attacked wholesale in the media may be partially true, depending on which media you are referencing. Music videos and movies such as Disney’s Pretty Woman glorify prostitution.

    As far as making a comparison with the teaching profession I don’t see the relevancy. Business leaders are not attacking prostitutes, in fact if you watch the documentary “Inside Job” about the recent financial collapse it is evident that businessmen use sex workers to close their high finance deals. Politicians are also steady clients of sex workers. In addition, sex workers are still struggling to gain legal rights in most states, so it is not universally recognized as a legitimate profession, politically or legally. The professions I was referring to were the ones mentioned by lasciel which service a need not a desire like sexual gratification which is something else. It also perturbs me a bit to have my profession, which is providing a critical service to society, being compared to sex workers who satisfy desires that are not critical to society. In parting, Yes I believe sex workers have rights and should be recognized for their contributions to society but its not accurate to compare a part of the entertainment industry to the profession of teaching. Its apples and bananas.

    Respectfully, David Fisher

    • Lasciel
      June 27, 2011

      “Politicians are also steady clients of sex workers. ”

      Politicians also were all students at one time. That doesn’t mean they’re all supportive of the best laws and regulations for teachers.

      I find it both amusing and rather telling how you describe your own job as critical to society and fulfilling a “need, not a desire”. You single out sex work as fulfilling a desire, not a need, but you don’t bother singling out tech support as a non-essential.

      As for the critical service teachers provide to society, yes, society definitely needs teachers to pass on knowledge and skills. What it doesn’t necessarily need is a public education system with public school teachers (FYI, I do think we should have one) but even without one people will pass on knowledge somehow, even if reverts to solely private teaching, homeschooling, and community/religious teachers. The specific job position as a teacher at a public school is definitely not critical to society. (Hence your jobs being on the chopping block)

      • Tee Eff Tee
        June 27, 2011

        Sex is a need. We need sex workers.

  4. Lisa
    June 27, 2011

    My husband and I left education to start new careers. That’s how beat up and fed up we are with the whole business. You are right – this current movement is all about removing the “profession” from teaching so that teachers can be managed just like any other cog in the machine. I do not understand this atmosphere of union bashing, teacher bashing, and general hatered of anyone making more than $9 an hour. My heart goes out to everyone in the Teaching Profession. May this be a passing phase.

  5. Kristin
    June 26, 2011

    @Tori – nasty stuff! That’s the sort of thing they’re trying to pull all over the place. And the bit about not being able to collect dues through payroll deductions – that’s an attack on unions, along the same lines of what’s being pulled elsewhere as well.

    @David – one nitpick to your comment is that sex workers are indeed being attacked wholesale in the media. But what you say about it being an orchestrated attempt – yep. And part of it is this attack on unions.

  6. David Fisher
    June 26, 2011

    Kristin, I don’t know when it happened but check it out. In addition, the Gates Foundation is invested in the very corporations whose policies it is supposedly funding small non-profits to oppose. Upon closer examination, most of the non-profits are connected to Gates and his foundation, there are very few non-profits funded by Gates that are not linked in this manner. Its hypocritical to claim your vision is to support economic and environmentally sustainable goals when the revenue you are using to fund a small effort in support of those goals is generated from the very corporate players who are destroying the economy and the environment. This was brought to the attention of Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. and they refuse to alter their investment strategy to bring it into congruence with the so called vision of their foundation. The Gates Foundations’s new headquarters is designed with an environmental theme on property that it got from the taxpayers at a bargain price. If they really wanted to promote a sustainable environment they would clean up their stock portfolio.

    To Lasciel
    The occupations you mentioned are worthy and deserving of respect on their own merits, and many of them are underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated, and disrespected. However, those professions are not being attacked wholesale in the media by business leaders and powerful politicians. This is an orchestrated effort to discredit and disrespect teachers and their professional associations using lies and false claims of empirical data while hiding behind the protective mantle of free speech.


  7. rmurphy
    June 26, 2011

    I’ve had to talk a bunch of very liberal people off the Super Ledge of Lies – the onslaught was really going well over a year ago when The Atlantic, Newsweek? and the New Yorker ? all had big pieces blaming teachers within weeks of each other.

    I’ve just finished my 6th year, and there is sooooooooooooo much which is unjustifiable and inexcusable and indefensible – and the Arne / Gates / Broad / Kipp / Kopp Crew offer up lots and lots of well titled, well degreed, well credentialed, well paid pigs at the trough, with a few crumbs for the peons. Period.

    My heart goes out to those who are legitimately fed up with the current system AND who are dupes of the well paid pigs.

    Arne and company should just join their natural, REAL home – the Wisconsin Republican Party.

    R. Murphy

  8. Tori
    June 26, 2011

    Thanks for this. I’m a teacher but in Arizona, where the profession is under specific attack from the state legislature (districts can now effectively change contract terms at will, teachers’ unions can’t collect dues via payroll deduction, districts are prohibited from using seniority when facing layoffs, etc.) in addition to other education cuts and unsupportive education.

  9. jana
    June 26, 2011

    Whew, just finished reading Stan Karp’s thoughts on teacher-bashing: so now I’m all jazzed up again! And I am 384th in line for SPL’s copy of Waiting for Superman. (It’s a dirty job, but I’ve gotta do the research.)

  10. Kristin
    June 26, 2011

    @traceydouglas – yes, the most amazing teacher my kids have had is now in her twenty-fifth year of teaching. She’s always growing and learning and trying new things.

    @David – not required to take ethics? When did this change happen? Also, I keep hearing about the Gates Foundation / Monsanto but I’m not really up on that.

    @lasciel – 1) I’m not cool with anybody being underpaid, overworked, and disrespected. 2) Disrespect and poor working conditions for teachers translates to a poor education for children, which means it’s not a problem for teachers alone but a problem for which society as a whole will be paying the price for decades to come.

  11. traceydouglas
    June 26, 2011

    And might I add that, as an educator beginning her 15th year, I can attest to the fact that teachers keep improving after the first five years. Every year brings greater wisdom, understanding, and innovation to our practice.

  12. David Fisher
    June 26, 2011

    Thank you Kristin, your analysis is very much appreciated by all who have devoted their lives to the profession of education. I am a retired teacher who can vouch for what you say. The corporate reform movement is interested in developing capital markets for their growth as charted on balance sheets, not for the growth of the young minds that teachers are charged with developing to their fullest potential as individuals and citizens. When the graduates of business schools, which no longer require ethics courses to graduate, have more power than graduates from education schools to determine educational policies than you can expect an educational meltdown in this country similar to the recent financial collapse which is still falling under its own weight.

    The real education reform movement has been in motion for years led by teachers, parents, and their professional associations who have been fighting all along for better conditions in the classrooms for their students, and for those that work in public education. Its easy for Bill Gates, with no college diploma, to declare damaging dogmatic policies and then buy political hacks to carry out the dirty work of undermining teachers and the dissembling our public educational system.

    In case it escaped notice, Mr. Gates’ Microsoft is one of the most ruthless corporations in the world and his alleged philanthropy, driven with tax free money from the profits of his foundation/sheltered investments, is not only being used to privatize public education but it is also being used to further stimulate markets he’s invested in, and drive small African farmers off their land through the use of chemicals and GMO crops which favor large corporate agribusiness. Is this the type of leadership we want directing the course of public education? Money buys political power but it doesn’t buy common sense.

    David Fisher

  13. Lasciel
    June 26, 2011

    You haven’t really said why anyone should respect teachers. Respect for their profession isn’t something most people get. Why should a teacher’s job be respected when plumbers, factory workers, sex workers, customer service, salespeople, etc don’t get any special regard for their occupation?

    Lots of people are overworked, underpaid, and not receiving respect.

    • Tee Eff Tee
      June 27, 2011

      All those other professions deserve respect too. That you don’t respect them is a shame.

      • Lasciel
        June 27, 2011

        I haven’t made any statements about which career fields I respect. Society holds some careers in high regard, and as such they are high-prestige jobs. Such jobs are usually either well-paying or require higher levels of education. I’m honestly not surprised the regard for teachers is slipping, as our society has more and more placed wealth in higher regard than knowledge. Almost any other job requiring a college degree has a better salary than that given to teachers.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on June 26, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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