Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teacher I Need You

"All students are rude disengaged lazy.” Natalie Munroe

This comment on her blog by a high school English language arts teacher created a virtual flurry. The water cooler wag went from executive boardrooms to teacher lounges. She was suspended from her job (with pay) while her school district investigated. A debate ensued centering on two themes: 1.) That her comments were unprofessional 2.) That her censure by the board violated her right to free speech

Natalie will have her provoked fifteen minutes of fame. The debate will quiet. To me though the essential issue will sit under a rock, still unexamined. The important question (a key concept in learning theory) has not been addressed.

Natalie Munroe asked no question. She stated an opinion, or rather assigned blame. She judged and chastised the individuals to whom she is obliged not only as an educator but as a citizen. Natalie by her action volunteered to be sacrificial lamb to a world that fears for its children and their futures.

(We are all so overwhelmed that we protect ourselves with ennui yet clearly from the hyperbole surrounding this event we all care, passionately about our children’s education.)

Natalie has right to voice but the student’s would have been better served had she not laid the blame on them. She may have served cause better had she posed the question, “Why am I not able to motivate, engage the student’s? What are the obstacles? How can I design my instructions to facilitate accountable?’’ Etc. So she set off smoke bombs when what are needed are fireworks and a whole parade.

In my years as a teacher I often felt shackled to a covert silence. If you say anything, look with too much scrutiny you may violate the sacrosanct system of school or union. We are a family. We do not take our business to the streets. Weird message when our purpose is to serve the intellectual, academic and citizenship needs of our student’s.

Natalie is bold in honesty but not in integrity. We teachers must be bolder, braver. We must begin to speak in volume, resolutely to the Dark Ages of education. Too often we have turned our vision askance and silenced our tongue to a system that does not always serve students. School organizations are often paternalistic and have a system of cronyism best reward those who do not dissent. We may not ask too much or illustrate too much.
The paradigm must change. We must scrutinize education and the systems charged with this great goal. We must stop assigning blame, on families, the unions, teacher, to the student’s. We must dig deep. We must seek outside the box. We must probe deeply the structure and organization. We must look to the system in the same probing way we do at the CEOs of failing companies. How does the organizational structure affect employees, influence students performance etc.

We must design for learning, equality. We must equate funding with civil liberties and assure that equal monies and time be spent with and for all student’s.

We must ask thousands of questions about structural inequities. Communication with families and communities must bridge the school experience to the greater world. We must tend to the disconnect. Learning is not something that begins when the bell rings, it begins at birth. Those we have rendered powerless must have voice to their vision and dream.

Teachers are called. We have a vocation. Our expertise and commitment must be solicited on behalf of the organization and those we serve. Our training in the essential skill set of technological literacy should be the cornerstone. We must stretch our thinking.

When Natalie bellowed her angst perhaps this was our call to action. This is not a time for polarized, politicized posturing. Now is the time to adapt and revision.

It is an emergency…we must react to this eminent disaster…

Let us all exercise our right to free speech. May we speak resolutely on behalf of children?

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