The start of a new school year is normally an exciting time. Teachers are busy decorating their classrooms, preparing their lessons, reconnecting with colleagues, imagining what they are going to say that first day when they meet their students.
But this year, teachers will have many other things on their minds. We live in a society where every important group- politicians, business leaders, media pundits, even Hollywood film personalities- are quick to blame teachers, not only for the alleged failures of our schools, but the failure of our society to reduce poverty and Inequality. But if that public demonization isn’t enough, almost every public school system in the nation is engaging in experiments in behavior modification using teachers as guinea pigs, rating teachers on the basis of students test scores, deluging their classrooms with consultants, promising to reward them for improved student performance, or fire them if they fail to produce it. Not only do these strategies turn the classroom into a zone of continuous stress, they create an adversarial relationship between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and between teachers in the same school, and sometimes in the same grade whose performance is rated against one another.
As the child of two public school teachers and the husband of a public school principal and as a scholar who has spent a great deal of time in Bronx schools working with teachers on community history projects, I am enraged by these policies. And I am here to tell you this:
The very fact that you continue to work and serve your students under these conditions makes you our nation’s unsung heroes! Because you understand something that the billionaires and econometricians shaping education policy won’t recognize-that the magic in the classroom, whether it comes in the form of teaching someone to read, nurturing a musical or artistic skill, inspiring someone to do research on their family or community- comes from connecting with individual children, not by sticking to a prepackaged formula. And connecting with those children means appreciating everything they bring to the classroom, some of which might make learning harder, some of which might be the key to inspiring them. It is making this connection, sometimes in the face of what seems like insuperable odds, that keeps teachers up and night, and wakes them up in the morning fired up with enthusiasm and determination.
Those who rate you and measure you, those who hold you up to ridicule, those who seek to turn parents and the general public against you, have no conception of the emotions that teaching involves or the pride you feel when you get through to young people and give them the confidence to do things they thought were beyond them.
I would say “forgive them, for they no not what they do” but that isn’t entirely true. All to many of the people attacking you and telling you how to do your jobs are doing so for narrow personal gain, either because they think it will help them get elected, or they hope to profit from privatizing what was once a public trust. But in spite of the forces arrayed against you, do not give up or give in, because you are all that stands inbetween our children and dehumanization. There is no metric that can measure love, there is no metric that can measure compassion, there is no metric that can measure imagination, there is no metric that can measure humor.
You are our hope. You are our future.
Stay true, stay strong. Someday the nation will recognize that your vision, and your best practices, are the only sure path to improving our schools.