Several years ago, I met Ken Futernick, then a professor of education at Cal State University in Sacramento, where he was director for the Center for Teacher Quality. He shared with me a report he had written in defense of teachers. This was 2010, as the wave of teacher-bashing was beginning to reach new heights. I was immediately impressed that he looked at the obstacles thrown in the path of teachers that demoralized them. His report was called “Incompetent Teachers or Dysfunctional Systems?”  It was published in the Kappan, and this was the summary:

Rather than blame teachers, we must ensure that teachers work within a highly functional system that provides meaningful evaluations, high-quality professional development, reasonable class sizes, reliable and stable leadership, and time for planning and collaboration.

I was immediately impressed by his identification with teachers and his effort to see the world through their eyes.

Recently he has been collecting what he calls “teacher stories.” He thought readers of this blog would enjoy reading some of them. Feel free to share your own with him.

Elevating the Profession Through Teacher Stories 
By Ken Futernick,
Professor Emeritus, California State University, Sacramento
In recent years a good number of education reformers have promoted the false narrative that the decline of America’s once-envied system of public education is mainly a result of “bad teachers” and how difficult it is to get rid of them. I’ve argued that much of what looks like teacher incompetence is actually a consequence of dysfunctional school systems that prevent capable teachers from succeeding and repel many would-be teachers from the profession itself. The resulting teacher shortagescaused not just by high levels of attrition but by sharp declines in the number of new people entering the profession, have forced school districts across the country to use substitutes and underprepared teachers—a phenomenon that disproportionately harms the most vulnerable among us–poor students and students of color. 
One has to wonder why, in a wealthy, democratic society, founded on the principles of equity and social justice, teaching has become so unattractive. In part, it’s because we don’t pay teachers enough, but it’s also because teachers in America have lost respect, a disturbing trend that’s been bolstered by the “bad teacher” narrative. 
I recently launched Teacher Stories, a website and iTunes podcast, as a counter-narrative that celebrates the teachers who have elevated people’s lives, strengthened communities, inspired a passion for their subjects, and enabled students to attain what they thought was unattainable. Teachers deserve our respect and admiration because nearly every one of us has a story about a teacher who made a difference, often a profound one, in our lives. My hope is that these stories will draw more smart, committed, and caring people to the profession and remind those already in it (and the media, and the rest of us) that their work matters. 
Here are some notes about a few of the stories I’ve collected so far. Rachell Auld’s is about Dr. John Rosario, a community college anatomy professor who convinced her she could become not just an athletic trainer, but an orthopedic surgeon. And she does, but that’s not the end of the story. After practicing medicine, Rachell finds a higher calling—teaching biology to high school students. 

In a podcast episode, New York Times best-selling novelist John Lescroart says he might still be a typist in a law office, or possibly homeless, were it not for his high school English teacher, Father Stadler, who taught him what it really takes to be a good writer. Tavis Danz tells a story about teaching “mindfulness” to his 5th graders, but he worries that this diversion from the standard curriculum will lead to complaints from parents. In fact, it does the opposite.

I recently interviewed education Alfie Kohn, who has written extensively about teaching, parenting, education, and schooling. In this thought-provoking podcast, Alfie says we must be clear about our shared, long-term goals for children before we can describe what good teachers do in the classroom. If we want thoughtful, life-long learners, Kohn says, then we would want teachers who encourage their students to be questioners and challengers and in control of their learning—not passive receptacles of facts. 
I told Alfie that a common theme among the stories I was collecting was that the teachers truly cared about their students. But he pushed the point further: “Students have to experience that care as being unconditional, which means [it’s] something that they never have to earn. What I care about is how students will answer this question 10 years later, “When you were in so-and-so’s classroom, if you ever acted up or didn’t do the assignment or didn’t behave well or whatever, did you ever have the sense that your teacher cared about you less, was less excited about you?” 
I hope you will take a moment to enjoy these teacher stories and will share them with your friends and colleagues. Given the current threats to our democratic institutions, I cannot imagine a more important time for all of us to acknowledge the skill, commitment, and contributions of those who educate our youth.