Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University
Why is a teaching career growing less and less desirable? Largely because teachers are being disempowered and blamed for things they cannot control. Here is one particularly grotesque example. Some inner city public schools have a daily absentee rate of 20% our more. In other words, fully one fifth, or more, of the youngsters are absent on any given day. Moreover these same schools have lots of youngsters who do not actually attend classes until long after the school day starts.
Despite this ridiculous situation, however, teachers are held to account when these same missing kid score poorly on high stakes tests. It is plainly positively Kafkaesque, to hold teachers accountable for failing to teach children who aren’t there. Yet this is precisely what is happening regularly — especially in inner city schools.
Now let’s consider the tens of thousands of children who may be physically present, but emotionally and intellectually absent. Instead of focusing on learning, they are wondering where their next meal is coming from, if there family is being evicted, if Mom is going to go missing again, get falling down drunk, or end up beaten half to death by her abusive boyfriend. Still others worry about being bullied, shot by a neighborhood gang, sexually abused, assaulted or terroristically bullied.
The fact is some kids are too depressed, angry or emotionally abused to care about school. They are so beset by problems that learning the curriculum is nearly impossible. Then there are kids who make so much money selling drugs they think school is a joke.
Also consider the cowardly, self-promoting, principals who fail to back teachers even in matters related to order and safety. Their schools typically are mad houses. But these”instructional leaders” are often experts at playing the system. So they eventually rise to positions where their moral cowardice and failure to do their duty does even more damage. No one, no matter how skilled or determined, can teach in bedlams “led” by manipulative shirkers. Yet teachers in these hell holes are still held to account.
These impediments to learning could not be more obvious. Yet allowances are not made when it comes to teacher “accountability.” Plainly holding teacher’s feet to the fire while ignoring anything and everything that destroys instruction and makes teaching impossible is, at best, base foolishness. At worst it is dishonest politicians blaming the victim in order to evade responsibility for the socio-economic conditions that breed academic failure and school disorder.
Sometimes teacher blaming is also motivated by partisan politics. In this case the goal is to destroy anti-Republican political activity by undermining traditionally Democratic teacher unions.
If this unfair “accountability” nonsense continues, we will have ever fewer quality people entering teaching or staying in the business. We will get the very bottom of the college barrel and the least competent teachers instead. The kind of people who take abuse and unfair treatment without complaint because they are either to stupid to figure out that they are being used and/or lack the guts to stand up for themselves, their students and what is moral and ethical.