September 25th, 2010
There’s a lot of hullabaloo out there right now about bad teachers and failing schools. As those of you anywhere near Los Angeles know, the LA Times has begun the controversial undertaking of publishing teacher performance scores. So far this practice has only extended to LAUSD elementary teachers, but I have no doubt that it will soon enough expand to middle and high schools. On the surface, it looks like a little bit of rough justice. Those bad teachers will be rooted out, the good ones will shine and all will be right in the world, the children will learn, the birds will sing and we will once again rule the known world.
I can’t help but think back to my own education when I wade through this crap. What if the LA Times or the Colorado Springs Gazette in my case, had decided to out the bad teachers? How many of my elementary, middle and high school educators would be on the bad list? I’m guessing a few, more than a few, yet here I am. I graduated college twice, I’m in law school, I function in society decently well – sometimes better than others… So did it matter that I spent the first three years of elementary school in special ed because of undiagnosed dyslexia? Did it matter that I didn’t know what a protagonist was until I was a college freshman in my first literature course?
I have a hypothesis that it has relatively little to do with what our teachers teach us in school and more to do with whether or not the people in our lives inspire intellectual curiosity, which sadly for the LA Times, cannot be judged by a test score. I went to school in the wild west days of education. There were no high school exit exams or state tests that influenced funding. Was that a good thing? Maybe not….I am the girl who left high school completely algebra illiterate, who still thinks trigonometry sounds more like a medical procedure, and an unpleasant one at that.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m defending crap teachers, I’m not, and believe you me; there are some crap teachers out there. You’ve either had one or you know one, hopefully you aren’t one, but they’re out there. I just don’t think crap teachers are a new phenomenon. I think that before we blame our failing education system on crap teachers, we have to consider that they have been around since there were schools. Crap teachers are as much a fabric of a school as is the fluorescent classroom lighting and breaded chicken sandwiches in the cafeteria.
I think in an Artaudian way, it’s a test of character to have a crap teacher. It’s like Survivor: Education Island. You learn to separate all the bullshit from the good and sink or swim. Crap teachers give us a little bit of Darwinesque survival of the fittest in an otherwise cushy education system.
I think it built character for my 6th grade social studies teacher to tell us that the ruskies were building atomic bombs and had them aimed at American churches and schools, hands on the trigger, ready to launch at any minute…the paranoia growing by the second….
I also think I benefited from my 9th grade Health teacher writing ‘What’s wrong with you? How can you think this?’ on my essay about suicide and why I thought it was an inherently selfish act. I still do think that for your information Gerry Cantrell….Heath teacher extraordinaire.
And I appreciate the reality shock I had when I entered college and realized that those C’s that my math teachers had been giving me all the way through high school, even though I never scored above a D on a single math test -meant that I didn’t know an integer from a lug nut. I think that reality shock was good for my system – like an extremely cold and unpleasant shower, in the arctic, in winter…..
Or how about my Geography teacher who referred to all of South and Central America as ‘Mexico’? At least he was consistent, all Asian countries were renamed ‘China’. The only thing I remember about that class outside of that was making an arbitrary wall mural of the world under the sea….. I’m sure that built something in me, is character supposed to feel like a migraine?
My crappy teachers inspired my well-rounded sense of rebellion and outrage. I went out of my way to research topics so I’d have a smart-ass answer for the sole purpose of ticking off my teacher. That kind of inspiration can’t be measured. Instead of the CST and it’s various incarnates, we should have the Smartass Meter, if we measured our kids by their willingness and ability to be a pain in the ass, we’d look like the most successful country in the world. Fortunately, in order to be a Smartass, the student has to do some research, even if it is for the sole purpose of trying to make your teacher look like an idiot.
So you see people, crappy teachers are not a new idea, they’re old school – and we all know that old school is the best school, right?