School reform needs reform

Memo to education reformers: Teachers are not lazy, incompetent union thugs.

It's time to put the narrative to rest: teachers are not lazy, incompetent, uncaring union thugs who need to be monitored by lengthy student testing and supplanted by devices. This tired, poorly drawn image brought to you by the so-called education reformers is falling to the truth, and public demand, resulting in the recently shortened PARCC testing in Maryland, beginning next year.

The myth of bad public school teachers is unfortunate — and so untrue. Sure, in every profession there are some bad actors. Doctors performing unneeded surgery, lawyers working the loopholes, business people cheating customers or their employees. But one bad apple (we are, after all, talking about teachers) is hardly representative of a whole bunch — or for that matter, the entire orchard.

I'm leaving teaching at the end of this school year, as one of the over 200 teachers taking Howard County's early incentive package, which was instituted to save the system money by replacing experienced teachers with cheaper, less experienced ones. It's my time to go; my body can no longer sit on the tiny chairs of an Early-Childhood Special Education classroom and not suffer for it. But as I leave I cannot stop thinking about the many teachers I leave behind. My colleagues, nation-wide, have been taking the blame for the impact of broader issues — poverty, culture and social strains on families — for too long. Public school educators are in a constant battle for fair pay while ever-increasing sums are spent on programs from Gallup consultants to testing companies and classroom technology. This trend has the worst possible effect — it discourages our best and brightest to join the teaching profession.

Good communities like the school I'll leave behind help to ameliorate the effects of poor treatment with great administrators, supportive parents (and flourishing students) telling us we are doing good work, and it makes a difference. But that won't be enough to attract the best teachers and hold onto them. If the anti-teacher (and really anti-student) reformers have their way, we'll turn our students over to technicians who will merely help the students to stay on the right computer program. Are we having fun yet?

It would be helpful if we all stepped back and examined what we want for our nation, communities, families and children. Albert Einstein wisely stated, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." If that is our mission, then our schools must be designed accordingly. We need to foster humanity in our schools, especially in a device-driven culture. We need to value each life that comes before us, regardless of economic background, disability or giftedness, ethnic, gender, or racial definitions. If we can do that, we'll impress upon our children that fairness and dignity are due to each one of us. If we are to do that, we must bring the value of the well-rounded teacher front and center.

We have a tendency in education to allow ourselves to be swayed by every new program, device or reform that comes along. Integrated classroom projectors are fun, but they will never outweigh the value of my ability to relate to my students and plan their learning step-by-step. If you remember the teacher that made the biggest impression on you, you'll recognize that it was the basic humanity of the teacher that pulled you in: the passion for their subject; the kindness in spending extra time to teach you; the ability to analyze your errors, and try to teach the subject so that you could understand.

When honored and exalted, professionals strive to outdo each other and themselves; when belittled and beaten, they skulk to easier quarters. Taxpayers, school boards, superintendents and public officials must pull away from the current trends and commit to the truth: we are only human, and we build better schools by recognizing the humanity in our students and the staff they interact with every day.

Last week, for the very last time, I wrapped my 60-year old self in our classroom parachute to simulate the Very Hungry Caterpillar's journey from caterpillar to butterfly. As my two- and three-year old students (with and without disabilities) followed my example, I could not help but wonder at the metamorphosis each has had this year. It's time our schools followed suit; and the time to begin is now.

Bonnie Bricker is a soon-to-be retired teacher from Columbia. She is the author of "Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children" as well as numerous articles on social and public policy. Her email is bonbricker@gmail.com.

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