As I sat for a morning recently in a meeting where a number of elementary and secondary school teachers described how our state legislature’s policies are affecting their schools, I found myself thinking not so much about the policies but instead about the teachers and their work. It struck me in a new way that teachers are among the hardest working people I know. They must work with large groups of young people all day every day, manage their classrooms to create order and a respectful climate, be fully present in their classrooms—paying attention to each student and finding ways to be understanding and supportive, prepare each day, and organize the curriculum to engage the students in learning and thinking critically. Then they must read and grade papers and exams. And they have to keep it all going in good spirit.
Our nation has been flooded by a great wave of blaming and trashing teachers. After all, as a human endeavor, teaching is old-fashioned. Teachers are human beings working in a personal way; the tech experts suggest machines would be a cheap replacement. And anyway, teachers have not succeeded in raising test scores across the board.
But perhaps there are signs that the wave of teacher-bashing is at least ebbing. Teach for America promised that college graduates without formal college training in teaching (except for a five week summer program) would be able to step right into classrooms and raise test scores. But TFA is struggling. Emma Brown of the Washington Post pointed out early this month that, “Teach for America has spent most of its 25 years working to expand, growing from a concept outlined in a Princeton student’s honors thesis to an education-reform juggernaut that places thousands of idealistic college graduates in some of the nation’s neediest classrooms. But that growth has stalled. Applications for TFA’s two-year teaching stints have plummeted 35 percent during the past three years, forcing the organization to reexamine and reinvent how it sells itself to prospective corps members.” Brown explains that Teach for America, “faces singular challenges, having been buffeted by critics who say that the organization does not address educational inequity but instead amplifies it, institutionalizing teacher turnover and saddling disadvantaged kids with novice instructors who won’t stay around long enough to really make a difference.” The quick, alternative certification programs like TFA are not as popular as they once were.