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Frustrated Change-Agents

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Education Week offers a sequence of articles in today’s update that bemused me. First comes this:

Teacher Leaders Network

+ Preparing New Teachers in Frustrating Times

Middle school language arts teacher Sarah Henchey grapples with how to prepare her assigned student-teacher not just to get through her first year but ultimately to be an education leader and change agent.

A couple things worth noting: This is the Teacher Leaders Network. I’m not sure what that means because in this day and age all of us are at a disadvantage writing and reading titles since so few of them reflect the reality behind the words. However, on the assumption that this group of people has been recognized as fit to prepare leaders among teachers, I note the goal Ms. Henchey has set her student-teacher (who is, apparently, frustrated): “not just to get through her first year but ultimately to be an education leader and change-agent.”

I hope they realize the gravity of what they are suggesting. I would also hope they define these terms (leader and change-agent) with care.

A few following articles would indicate that the change-agency is occurring, or perhaps that other change-agents want to change things in ways different from what our friends above seek. For example, fewer students are learning cursive because of the computer, GOP lawmakers have put the teachers’ unions on the defensive, and a school in Detroit is implementing “differentiated instruction.”

But these two, toward the bottom of their list, really jumped out at me. One was titled, Teachers are not Social Workers, and the other was called Teacher Bashing Gone to Far. Let me be clear that I haven’t read these articles yet and I’m only responding to the titles, which means I’m attending more to the thoughts of the editors than I am to the contents of the articles.

But I must say that the idea that teachers are not to be regarded as social workers is a little surprising to me, since the thrust of the whole movement of 20th century progressivism in education has been to thrust teachers into the role of social workers. What, after all, did the first article have in mind when it spoke of turning a new teacher into a change-agent. I doubt she meant changing the student from one who can’t add to one who can.

Usually when an educator wants to be a change-agent it is to turn the student from one naturally devoted to family and home to a “citizen of the world” who will be able to save the planet by showing her parents how evil they are for wanting her to be straight and for not reducing their carbon footprint.

Teachers are not trained to be measured for the quality of their teaching. They are trained to reform society by saving the children from the restrictive obstacles their parents have put in their paths in the forms of traditions, values, and, God forbid, religious instruction.

I wish we could all come to an agreement that teachers are not social workers. They should not be meddling in the traditions and social structures of their communities or in the interior psychological worlds of the children to promote an ideology. They should be teaching as representatives of the community and its families. But that became de rigueur rather a long time ago.

Now the term social worker is as slippery as every other word in conventional education and politics, so the author probably means that teachers are not trained to deal with extremely troubled students. I honor that and agree.

Nevertheless, I think we the common herd could use some clarity from the powers that be on what they intend with their powers. After all, we are the ones who pay for it. Are they change-agents? What changes are they going to try to accomplish? Why? Are we allowed to question them without being slandered or mocked? Are we allowed to opt-out of the changes?

All of which seems to be behind the last petulant title, that teacher bashing has gone too far. In my experience, real, actual people are treated with great respect combined with pity in the general public (students have and will always bash teachers). I suppose therefore that it must be in the media that teachers are being bashed, or maybe in town hall meetings.

But when I hear teachers being bashed (a pretty harsh word when you think about it),it isn’t usually for being teachers but for being unions or radicals or ineffective. Most Americans are perfectly willing to give teachers the benefit of the doubt and to blame the authorities who don’t let teachers teach. Teachers really ought to assert themselves and throw off the shackles of the administration that prevents them from teaching. My guess is that parents would line up behind them with helicopters poised.

But that would probably mean a weakened union.

I recommend Faust.

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