One of the great myths of the current corporate reform movement is that they want to elevate the teaching profession. They want to change it so that future teachers are drawn from the top third of their college graduating class. They advocate merit pay tied to test scores to create high-paying positions (always a small minority of all teachers). They push to fire teachers whose students get low scores or see small changes in their scores (even though researchers find that such teachers usually are teaching students with disabilities, or ELLs, or gifted students). They insist on eliminating all job protections for teachers, presumably to make it easier to fire those they consider laggards (and at the same time, removing any academic freedom from teachers). They demand longer working days and longer school years. Will their ideas make teaching more or less attractive to those they expect to attract into teaching? It seems impossible to imagine that they can elevate the teaching profession by their methods, their rhetoric, and their indifference to teachers’ voices.

A reader commented in response to an earlier post:

What the Public Needs to Know about Teaching

As a first-time commenter, I need to preface with how grateful I feel for Diane’s tireless advocacy (and blogging) and the spirited debate it inspires.

Now, what I think the public needs to know about teaching. I began my first full-time teaching job this fall. I soon realized that teachers work harder than anyone outside the profession, or without direct ties to someone in the profession, can appreciate. The majority of the teacher’s workday occurs before or after the students arrive in the classroom. For the first two months, I spent nearly every waking hour rearranging my classroom to be at least somewhat kid-friendly. Now, I plan constantly, muddling through and adapting cumbersome and, frankly, developmentally inappropriate canned curriculum. In addition to that, I try to keep parents in the loop, calling and writing notes and newsletters. Most days, I rack up between twelve and thirteen hours. I also work Sunday afternoons, planning for the week to come.

And let me be clear: I am not a great teacher. I am not remotely adequate. This is my first year, my first classroom, and I struggle almost daily. Furthermore, I receive very little support. The people tasked with providing support to teachers and students in the district constantly fall through on promises. I initially became frustrated with them before realizing that they faced the same professional challenges I do: everyone in the district is spread thin and overwhelmed.

To make a bad situation worse, the national dialogue dominated by the so-called “reformers” seems determined to remove the only mechanisms of support available while blaming me for not working hard enough. Let me tell you, me working hard enough is not the problem. Nor are my credentials. I went to a fancy school with name recognition that makes people do a double take after I tell them I teach kindergarten. But here is the truth. The students in my class do not care what school I went to. They need more, and I need more. We both need more support staff, smaller class sizes, developmentally appropriate curriculum, organized outreach to families, learning materials, playtime, recess longer than 10 minutes, snacks subsidized by someone other than the teacher, while I’m at it, let’s add preschool to my wish list…

…not to mention a well-rested teacher. I cannot wait for the day when someone with influence realizes that what is good for teachers is ALSO good for students and vice versa.

Teachers are not martyrs. The profession should not be one of continual sacrifice and exhaustion. I hope conditions improve, for our students’ sake.