I wanted to write something that had to do with teachers in relationship to Martin Luther King Day and this is what I came up with.
Teachers are genuinely nice people. If you work with children you teach them to be nice and respectful to others. Most people go into teaching because they are happy about life and love a particular subject or an area of education they find fascinating. They aren’t fighters. They are usually kind loving people.
So how do teachers get mad? How do they push back the insidious reforms that are, in part, designed to destroy their profession? Is their niceness what will do teachers in when all is said and done?
And if you aren’t nice…if you sound out and blow up about your profession, do you risk losing that nice teacher image? Is that not what the anti-union individuals love to see? I don’t know about the rest of the education bloggers out there, but I do not like to write contrarily about anyone. It isn’t a side of me that I like, and it is usually a struggle.
But the alternative is to be a follower, accepting what is passed down to you, just so you are still seen as nice. That isn’t teaching your students much either. In fact, this passivity is exactly what most educators worry about with the KIPP-like charter schools.
So how do we do it? Along with being nice, teachers are also protective of their turf. We worked hard to be professionals and resent those who don’t have the experience or know-how acting like they do.
Even more importantly, we are protective of our students. We didn’t go into teaching so we could watch those with more money and influence do to our students what we know isn’t helpful. We don’t want to see our kids hurt by bad reforms.
Yet, for 20-30 years teachers have had little voice.
The other day I was once again reading about the Sandia Report. The report was published in a psychology journal and, unlike the hyped A Nation at Risk, never saw the light of day in America. It involved scientists at Sandia Laboratories and was commissioned in 1990 under the first Bush presidency.
Few discuss the report any longer. Gerald Bracey used to, as I believe he had a role in it. It is mentioned in The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle (one of the best books about what happened to public schools). But the findings of the Sandia Report were and still are relevant to our time.
We know that the report challenged the negative international test comparisons and the idea that our public schools were failing so badly. But one of the other concerns with the Sandia Report had to do with teacher morale. A big recommendation was to help teachers rise to a professional status. Teachers at the time, the report noted, had very low self-esteem.
What if the report had been taken seriously and the teaching profession had been lifted instead of all but stamped out? Again, it is easy to do bad things to nice people.
So, today we consider Martin Luther King, Jr. He certainly was nice. We regard him as striving for peace, in a not at all nice world.
Quite honestly, as a writer, I think more can be done now, in our time, through social media. Teachers can speak out and connect in better ways than ever before. We can lift our voices high and loud while still maintaining niceness and responsibility. We can gather in our communities and share what we know.
You can be nice and you can be strong. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr. live on.