Sunday, January 13, 2013

Teacher, Teacher

So, I read an article today in the Washington Post about Michelle Rhee and her ideas about education and kids.  This comes on the heels of watching a Frontline special about her last week.  I remember Michelle from a few years back, and all the uproar with her treatment of ineffectual teachers.  I remember liking the heck out of her then.

I still do.  She's not perfect, but she's smart and she's insightful and she's trying.

Living where I do, the idea that Ms. Rhee's policies have "sucked the joy out of the classroom" or somehow "unfairly burdened" teachers with the responsibility of learning strikes me as ludicrous butt-covering.  Many of the schools in the DC area have long been nothing more than holding pens, where some teachers have been observed sleeping through class, handing out printed out worksheets with no instruction or explanation, etc.  Many of these schools are violent, they're dirty, they're underfunded and under-supervised, and they're definitely NOT hotbeds of learning.  I've heard the "holding a teacher responsible for academic achievement is like holding a dentist responsible for cavities" argument, but that's a lousy analogy that only holds if the dentist has the kid in his office FIVE DAYS A WEEK, NINE MONTHS A YEAR, walking him through dental hygiene each day.  No, I'm not laying it all on teachers (they're a big part, but certainly not the ONLY part), but teachers need to be FIREABLE.  Teachers who are observed being slackers or otherwise ineffectual need to be counseled on how to improve their performance, and if they fail to make those changes, they need to find another line of work.  I feel strongly about this because I believe strongly in the power teachers wield.  We cannot have unassailable teachers--that serves children in NO way.  How could it?  How are students served by being "taught" by teachers who don't care?  Who make substandard effort?  Who don't put forth their best effort because they know they can't be fired?

In some cases, who are barely literate themselves?

I don't hate teachers.  In fact, I think teachers can be THE deciding factor in a child's success and achievement.  And, while I have known some crappy, cliquish, disdainful teachers who reject students based upon their popularity or faith (hello, Utah!), and I have had the occasional teacher who didn't really seem to know much about his subject (hey, Coach C.!), I have never had a teacher who was so lazy and so uninspired and unskilled that they couldn't do their job in most cases.  Plus, I've had a few real stand-outs, too.  That said, I wouldn't say I received an inspired or above-and-beyond education from most of my teachers.  I would, however, say that Utah did okay.  These days, Utah could do a lot better.

But DC?  Wow, what a cesspool.  What happened to classroom integration?  Have you SEEN Anacostia?  From where I'm sitting, it looks ALL black, ALL poor, and TOTALLY underfunded.  It is, to be blunt, a disaster, where kids can't possibly hope to learn.  Now, call me a socialist (go ahead, everyone else does), but I think that the schools in poorer areas need MORE funding than the schools in wealthier areas.  Why?  Because the kids in the "nice" neighborhoods already hit first grade knowing how to read.  They have homes full of attention and books and opportunities to explore and grow.  So they don't need all the bells and whistles at school because they've already got them at home.  No, I'm not saying they need crappy schools to "level the field," but rather that they don't need three or four times (or more) the per-student spending.  In fact, it should be flipped so it's the poorer neighborhoods who get that sort of funding.  After all, there are a lot more obstacles to be overcome living in Anacostia than in Spring Valley.

And we do want kids to overcome those obstacles.  Don't we?  Don't we want those poorer schools to turn out kids who can succeed?  Kids who can rise up and out of poverty and become healthy, happy, contributing members of society?  Don't we want that?

Because it sure as heck doesn't seem like it sometimes.  Especially when we're saying things like "You can't hold a teacher accountable for the education of his or her students."

What?  We can't?  Then what CAN we hold teachers accountable for?

Watch The Education of Michelle Rhee on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

And enough of that.

I'm sick.  Been that way for a few days.  Voice mostly gone, I sound like an adolescent boy being strangled. A LOT of snot, of the bloody, gluey variety.  Contrary to popular belief, snot isn't color coded for our convenience, so who knows what my deal is?  But it came on gradual, like your average head virus, and I'm not too concerned.  It didn't hit like the flu, so that's something.  Yes, I've been vaccinated, but this year they didn't match so well, so that may not be any guarantee.

When I started writing this, the boy had lost my Galaxy Tab, but hubby has since found it.  We really need to work with our boy on effectively searching for things.  At fourteen, he's still terrible for looking straight at things and not seeing them.  No, nothing wrong with his vision, it's perfect.  He's just inattentive.  Maybe we need to do more puzzles and optical illusion-type things.

And finally, because I know you've waited so long, here is that masterpiece of bad paneling, that Tenacious D of DISASTROUS DECORATING, the Big D (kindly provided by Leif over at Ugly House Photos:

Bonus points to anyone who can 1) explain the WHY of the shape here, and 2) tell me what the awful, squidgy-looking brown spots are supposed to represent?  Tuscan-style sponging?  

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