I read your December 2015 policy brief on the teacher shortage. The News Tribune, as well, has focused on the ongoing teacher shortage (TNT, 3-18). Your solution is to provide some more money to teachers, some more mentoring and some more growth plans.
Money aside, that sounds more like the Spanish Inquisition for new teachers. They already have to battle their way through the Professional Certification gantlet once they start teaching as well as trying to piece together the scattered jigsaw puzzle known as the Comprehensive Evaluation.
Governor, teachers do not teach for money. Teachers teach because they are passionate.
The passion that illuminated classrooms for decades is sadly down to a flicker because of legislators, policy warriors and district office hustlers. They believe in round-the-clock testing, scripted curriculum and flu-inducing training.
What does passion have to do with it? Governor, do you remember certain teachers when you were in school? I do.
Mr. Rainier (before I met the mountain) was my English teacher in Ohio. He unabashedly quoted Shakespeare and performed parts of the plays in class. It left him breathless. He would say, “Get on one knee, young men, and recite a sonnet to your girlfriend. It worked for Shakespeare.”
He recited “The Canterbury Tales,” much from memory. Like the maestro leading the New York Symphony, Mr. Rainier guided our classrooms discussions. We forged our “critical thinking skills” long before it was a trendy term.
My math teacher, Mr. Smith, was tough, fair and sported a butch haircut since leaving the Army years earlier. He was undeterred by my tales of a math allergy.
His new mission in civilian life was to make every student succeed. We put homework on the board and explained our answers. No one missed homework. Questions were targeted at us with sharpshooter precision. If you could not keep up, our drill sergeant scheduled a help session after school.
Mr. Eddins taught history. We were his audience. He regaled us with stories of the French Revolution. He described how violent mobs, like a rogue wave, engulfed neighborhoods dragging the guilty as well as the innocent to the guillotine. He concluded by saying, “Let me demonstrate.”
A small, functional guillotine sat ominously on his desk. He pulled the lever. “Ah, the last sound many a victim heard.”
Also, once a semester, each student had to answer a series of oral questions that I fondly remember as The Interrogation. No one actually knew when his or her turn was, so you always had to be prepared. It was like waiting for the roulette wheel to stop. Taxes, death, and The Interrogation were guaranteed.
Governor, these were passionate teachers.
Teachers of great passion are still with us. But the district office policy warriors are still wondering why they are leaving the profession like a receding tide.
Today, our teachers are condemned to attend training by instructors reading scripts that inflict narcolepsy on the audience. One inservice, spreading like swamp fever in the bayou, demands that teachers be positive at all times.
For example, if a student knocks another student unconscious, don’t say, “That is terrible, you’re expelled.” Well … maybe we should say, “Wow, you could be an Olympic boxer. Way to go.”
Devoted teachers have seen this mud ball hurled at them far too long: “If the student did not learn, the teacher did not teach.”
But what about the student who only comes to school twice a week? The one with no books in the home and a parent on drugs? The one who texts during class and spits at the teacher?
Finally, governor, teachers of passion see a snake in the grass as the new curriculum slithers towards them. School districts train their teachers like Pavlov’s dog.
They are programmed to salivate over curriculum that is so watered down that their students will be ill-prepared to challenge the rigors brought forth by Shakespeare, Plato and Wordsworth.
Good luck on that teacher recruitment, governor.
Mark Conley of Tacoma retired after 35 years as a teacher and administrator, including six years as principal of Mason Middle School.