In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Beacon Broadside is running a series of posts on educators and education.
Today's post is by William Ayers and Rick Ayers. William Ayers is is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (retired). He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society. Rick Ayers is a Professor in Teacher Education at the University of San Francisco. He has worked as a Master Teacher for KQED Education Department, on the Teacher Advisory Board for Youth Speaks, and as a core team member of the Berkeley High School Diversity Project.
Teaching involves engaging real students every day, nurturing and challenging the vast range of people who actually appear before us, solving problems, making connections, putting in 70 hour weeks and spending our own money on supplies; and it means listening to every two-bit politician, the bought media, and big money misrepresent what we do and attack us shamelessly every day.
Want to appreciate teachers?
Don't allow education to be defined as an endless Social Darwinist competition: nation against nations, state against state, school against school, classroom against classroom, and child against child. Education, like love, is one of the fundamentals--give it away generously and lose nothing--and school is where we work out the meaning and the texture of democracy-coming together to explore the creation of community, pursuing the hard and challenging questions, and imagining new ways to be in balance with the earth and in harmony with one another. Good teaching deals with the real--honor teachers for that.
Reframe the debate: We are insistently encouraged to think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver-something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity. The controlling metaphor for the schoolhouse is a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads; it's rather easy to think within this model that "downsizing" the least productive units, "outsourcing" and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the "outcomes," is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled "standards" for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that "zero tolerance" for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that "accountability," that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools-but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials-is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of wealthy "reformers," noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call "school reform."
Oppose the "reform" policies that will add up to the end of education in and for democracy: resist replacing the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration, sorting the winners relentlessly from the losers-test, test, TEST! (and then punish), and destroying teachers' ability to speak with any sustained and unified voice. The operative image for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an individual consumer good, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss-the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn't leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.
Note that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions, and that teachers independent and collective voice is essential in determining these conditions.
Fight for smaller class size, limited standardized tests, enhanced arts programs at all levels and in every area, equitable financing, and a strong teachers contract that encourages collegiality and collaboration.
I teach a course on adolescence at a nearby university, exploring the various challenges and rewards that new teachers will encounter in the middle and high school classrooms. In addition to the university's computerized evaluations, I always hand out my own feedback and evaluation form near the end of the semester. Amidst the many positive comments and suggestions, one negative evaluation stood out. Of course I wondered who wrote this and I imagined it was the class grump. One tries to be professional, to reflect on what was learned from the overall feedback. But, of course, it is easy to obsess, to keep coming back to the negative one.
What the student had to say was interesting. "I was looking back at my expenses this semester and I calculated that I pay $150 for each class session I have. Sometimes I wonder... was it worth $150 for me to attend a movie (The Class) with you and chat about it afterwards? Did I get my $150 worth when we did that artifact share activity?"