Guest posting at Eduwonk, Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project purports to “unmask the blame-the-teacher crowd.”
“Strangely, nobody can credibly identify any members of this nefarious crowd. We know who’s not in the group. Not Barack Obama, who has made clear that he is “110 percent behind our teachers,” and made good on it by supporting tens of billions of dollars to save teacher jobs. Not Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who recently paid tribute to teachers and said that his “job is to fight for them, empower them and support them.” Not even Bill Gates, who earned multiple standing ovations during his speech to the AFT convention. In fact, the only people talking about blaming teachers are the ones supposedly defending them from this threat.
Fair enough. Point taken. No one “blames the teacher.” To the contrary, we “support our teachers” just like we “support our troops” regardless of our feelings about the wars they wage. The question to be asked is whether “we support teachers” is a meaningful statement or an empty platitude.
The typical teacher in a low-performing school was poorly trained, has no say over curriculum (and as often as not, no curriculum whatsoever), little leverage on disciplinary issues, and often has to prepare and deliver lessons in a manner explicitly prescribed by administrators, consultants or others. Professional development typically adds nothing of value, and administrative feedback when given too often tends toward management by checklist, principally concerned with ostensible “visible evidence of learning,” such as kids working in cooperative groups, up-to-date student work on classroom bulletin boards, and lesson aims and standards written on the board in child-friendly language.
When teachers succeed under these conditions, we support them. When they fail, we may not “blame” them, but neither do we ask why they fail. And there’s the rub. Remaining incurious about why well-intentioned, hard-working people fail despite their best efforts and doing what they’ve been asked how they’ve been directed may not be “blaming them,” per se.
But it’s close.