A couple of months ago this clip: was all over my friend’s Facebook pages-on Teacher Appreciation Day. To me, it falls under the sort of dramatic behavior you’d see from a smart kid who likes to pick and choose assignments that they find valuable and/or important while ignoring/making sarcastic comments about assignments they don’t find interesting. But what really interested me, then ticked me off, were the comments about the kid’s teacher, who the majority of people I knew deemed to be a “Bad Teacher” and hailed the kid as some sort of hero for sticking it to man(or let’s face it “woman” because teaching is already an undervalued feminized profession) because he refused to do a couple of worksheets. Now this post is not written in defense of worksheets-or as they were known in teaching school as “graphic organizers to scaffold instruction”, but rather to talk about the “Good”/”Bad” teacher dichotomy that permeates discussions of educational reform.
People who are not teachers love to talk about “Bad Teachers”- and then say something like “I know you’re not a bad teacher, I know you’re a great teacher!” or “You’re so smart!” like I’ve never resorted to assigning a worksheet or had a kid yell at me because they didn’t like an assignment or like I’ve never planned a lesson that went horribly awry, you know because I am just that awesome; everyday in my classroom is like an hour in dead poets society in which I impart wisdom to eager, enchanted learners. But that’s the problem of it, you can’t really explain to someone why you might assign a worksheet, how you have over thirty students in the classroom who not only learn in different ways, but read at different levels, process information at various speeds, might be learning English, may or may not know how to write well, or may or may not have some knowledge of whatever you’re trying to teach. Then you also have to worry about state testing, oh, and classroom management. My point is, while that kid clearly hates worksheets, some other kid in his class might find them helpful. Maybe something else will be assigned the next day that he’ll like more that some other kid will find a complete waste of time.The problem is, no one actually wants to hear about the complexity of teaching, and when you start explaining things, then people just think you’re making excuses and that you’re a Bad Teacher who can’t handle their shit.
In a nutshell, that is what is so useful at black and white dichotomies-they simplify things. Since I’ve become a teacher, education reform has centered on one thing, and one thing only: the teacher, specifically the Bad Teacher. Who wants to be a Bad Teacher? I know I don’t. As an educator, it is easy to get lulled into thinking that they are not talking about you, that they are talking about someone else, who is just AWFUL. Inevitably, this leads in a discussion about “How do we get rid of all of those Bad Teachers?” Which in itself is often an ageist discussion, because then people start talking about 21st Century job requirements and all of those old, experienced people, who, at over the age of 50 clearly do not understand today’s youth or how to run a powerpoint, and are so tired and embittered at their students that they should step aside for young, fresh teachers, preferably from Teach for America, who don’t really need the money, who aren’t looking for a career or a lifelong profession. Who, while they have no formal training, must be really smart, because they’re from ivy leagues and have visions for education, right before they go to an ivy league law school. Which then leads into, why is teaching even a real profession, when anyone with a college degree could do it? Which then leads into why should teachers have layoff hearings or due process or be represented by a Union, and what’s up with the fact that we still have a pension and healthcare?
You know, because that it what is really wrong with the education system today-Teachers. Teachers are the problem, not high stakes testing, not inequitable access to curriculum, not rising class sizes, not the pernicious socio-economic achievement gap, not the closure of tech classes, or the underemphasis on the arts, or the lack of school activities, not the glorification of violence and brutally stupid celebrity in our society, not the unrelenting poverty that 24 million American children deal with everyday,or the overall lowered expectations of adults to students-no obviously, it’s teachers.
What’s great about the Good/Bad Teacher dichotomy is that of course, all of the things I just brought up don’t matter, because it’s me, the teacher, just making excuses for being lazy, or for daring to work for a paycheck. Because obviously, I went into teaching not because I love working with youths, or want to give back to my community and country, but because I want summers off and to suck the teat of the state dry when I am in old age.
While it’s true that teachers impact their students, there are so many other factors that merit discussion, and ultimately reform. The conversation should not be whether or not someone is a Good/Bad Teacher, but about supporting student learning, not just in the classroom, but outside of school. Maybe his teacher does suck, I don’t know. Maybe the discussion at home should have been about how while you don’t personally like assignments, other students may find them helpful. Maybe the discussion should have been about how to engage respectfully with adults. But that woman in the video could just as easily be me, or really any of my colleagues, who had the temerity to assign a worksheet. But what I am really getting away from is the point of this video-which is a kid, who was in a classroom, who didn’t feel like working that day, who felt the assignment was boring, and then went off on his teacher.