How Do You Spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

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respect 300x199 How Do You Spell R E S P E C T?I cannot remember a time when the teaching profession has been subjected to such a withering attack. It is hard to open to the editorial section of the newspaper without seeing some sort of commentary on the need for immediate and far reaching reform in the public school education system. Opinions abound regarding new state regulations, common standards and outside assessment of anything and everything happening in our schools. As I wrote in last week’s blog; the eyes of the nation are upon us, and they are not happy with what they see.

 It seems to me that the core of the problem is a fundamental lack of respect for the teaching profession. They say that in every joke is a thread of truth and we all have heard the line; “Those who can do, those who can’t teach (and those who can’t teach, administrate)”. After spending over 30 years in the classroom, and the last 17 as a school principal, believe me when I say many (dare I say most) of our students parents do not think it is simply a joke.

The fact that so many of the teaching profession’s critics have never actually taught a class is one issue. Another is that many reformers in decision making roles have very little exposure to the very institutions they are trying to reform. In a January article in the New York Times, Michael Winerip writes:

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them?

I am afraid the answer to the above question is yes and yes. Distance from the public school system does provide fresh perspective, while that very same distance also renders them incapable of truly understanding the unique challenges of urban realities. Usually, we bring such people on as consultants, not decision makers.

That said, teachers and administrators alike must be cognizant of the fact that they have brought much of this upon themselves. Schools have been notorious for employing a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality whenever criticism was expressed. Harvard Professor Richard Elmore in an article entitled Building a New Structure for School Leadership, talks of the ‘buffering’ that schools employ to ‘protect’ teachers.

Buffering consists of creating structures and procedures around the technical core of teaching that, at the same time, protect teachers from outside intrusions in their highly uncertain and murky work, and create the appearance of rational management of the technical core, so as to allay the uncertainties of the public about the actual quality or legitimacy of what is happening in the technical core.

Such defensive methods have not contributed to building feelings of trust and mutual respect between schools and those they serve. And, even though I can understand why schools act in this manner, it has come back to bite them. The tone of the rhetoric of reform often speaks volumes as to the rather low esteem in which teachers are held.

A middle road will be found. Schools will most certainly be held to transparent standards and teachers will find ways to continue to educate, sometimes because of the added scrutiny and sometimes despite it. We hope that in the end our children will be the true beneficiaries of this ongoing debate and that the teaching profession will once again receive the admiration it deserves.

7 Responses to How Do You Spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

  1. Linda Lando says:

    Interesting perspective with even more complex circumstances. I have taught at several private schools, and find that those institutions are held to the same pressure groups as the public ones–maybe even more so. Some private school parents overstep their boundaries with great hubris and entitlement, and the administrations allows it to happen. My mother had a great admiration for teachers and cultivated respectful relationships with all of them. As for me, I had to find another venue for teaching, and find the abuses suffered by both private and public school teachers to be reprehensible.
    twitter: @LindaLando

    • Karmi Gross says:

      I too spent most of my career in the private school system. Once parents are actually paying for their child’s education their feelings of entitlement go through the roof. Thank you for reminding us all that teaching is a challenging profession, whether in the public or private sector. At times, the lack of respect teachers suffer is simply appalling. However, the joy of teaching drives us to find the venues that allow us to thrive, as you have done, and to continue building a better world on student at a time.

  2. Abe Feinbweg says:

    In response to Saul Wagner’s article on respect (10-18-2012), I would offer a comment on one facet on why schools have descended to the predicament they now face —and with good reason.
    These comments are extracted from an article on evaluation I researched and wrote recently.

    Schools have earned the brickbats they are subjected to these days. It is a rare sight to see a principal leave his custodial and caretaker duties, and to work with and coach his/her teachers to raise the level of competency within the classroom.

    It is common knowledge that most principals in most school districts have observed classrooms infrequently, if at all, and have written inaccurate and misleading evaluations designed to obscure their vigorous inertia.

    If we accept that evaluation of students is an ongoing and yearlong process, it necessarily follows that coaching and evaluation of teachers must be a continuous process. We do not upgrade a teacher’s competency by observing a 15 minute teaching act, or two acts, but the principal must work with the teacher within the classroom throughout the year. If it is our objective to make better teachers, then let’s use evaluation to attain its intended purpose and not to just provide the principal with observational comments of dubious merit to be check-rated on a worthless form and filed in the front office closet.

    The principal should be one of the best teachers in school. And this eminently qualified principal should work closely and continuously with his teachers in their classrooms to find the best kind of instruction that will make each student want to learn.

    Failure to understand his educational role in the process has resulted in education stagnation and the loss of public confidence and support. Since principals have abdicated their real responsibility, is it any wonder that education has lost the respect of large segments of the public.

    The real question should be, why do we continue to settle for less?

    Abe Feinberg

  3. Teachers are blamed in a political climate that has two features. First, economically, leaders try to take away benefits teachers have won over several decades instead of trying to lift up those who lack such benefits. Second, schools are highly impacted by the quality of its students. Such quality is developed in the home pre-school and during the K-12 experience. Since the government cannot get into the home and mandate parents’ responsibility, they dump on teachers. Both issues can be rectified but it would take an approach surely to be deemed too radical for America. Sad, but true.

  4. John Tapscott says:

    Abe has hit the nail squarely on the head (no pun intended). “The principal should be one of the best teachers in school.” One of the reasons, in my observation, why principals remain aloof from classrooms is the simple fact that, in many cases, they are not the best teachers in the school, and indeed not even very good teachers. There was a stage in my career when I would not have thought this way about principals. However, things have changed from the days when I began teaching. In the first half of my teaching career, in NSW public schools, if a teacher wanted to be promoted he/she needed to submit to a process of on the job assessment. This was carried out by an inspector or a panel of inspectors. Those considered qualified for promotion were placed on an eligibility list and were duly promoted, on application, in turn, when their number came up. That is to say, if you were considered qualified, in terms of competency and experience, you could be confident that there would come a time when you were promoted.

    This all changed after 1988 after the election of a new state government. They introduced what they called “merit selection”, as if the tried and true promotees previously, had no merit. Now there was noi formal, objective, on the job assessment. If you you could write a good enough story about yourself (Curriculum Vitae) you would score an interview. If at the interview you could provide sufficiently glib responses to a set of questions, which varied in depth, and intelligence, sufficient to convince the interview panel, and if your referees concurred, you most likely would be appointed.

    This led, not to better leadership in schools, but to a political climate, that did not exist before. If you wish to be promoted now you must not necessarily be competent but you must become a political animal and know all the right political moves to get yourself noticed, and you must become skilled at self advertisement. Nobody cares much if you are a competent teacher or not.

    The result is that many principals have very little idea of educational theory, may not necessarily be a competent teacher, climbed the ladder by making the right political moves, and expect everyone else seeking promotion to be the same as they.

    After having said all that I must hasten to add that not all principals are incompetent teachers. I have met many respectable and competent principals who support and lead their staff in a most professional manner. My comments are intended for the system which allows incompetent, sleazy, political operators, to climb the ladder, and who then treat with contempt the many fine, competent teachers who choose to remain in the classroom providing solid service for their students and the public.

  5. Neil says:

    Interesting post…even though I probably hold to differing political philosophies than you, I agree with your statements on the lack of respect for teachers. Historically, teachers have been admired and respected by individuals more than by groups. Here’s what I’m getting at, for over 20 years ( my time in the profession) public schools gave shoved the T. E. A. M. mentality down the throats of both it’s “products” and it’s “producers” at the cost of individuality. Our nation has become great due to individuals, who could work as a team without losing their quirky qualities. Even in the 50s public schools sought to elevate the “norm” by controlling and appeasing the “gifted”.
    Oh, educrats love to toss platitudes like “think outside of the box” or “when the work gives you lemons make lemonaid”. In reality public education often punishes the creative students and teachers rather than celebrating their innovative ideas.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Having spent many years in the private school sector has exposed me to a culture that does champion creativity and “thinking outside the box.” As you correctly stated that is what produces the progress and innovation that has made America great. Public schools, while dealing with many issues that private schools do not have to face, must find ways to promote the creativity of the individual teacher even within the framework of suffocating standards.

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