Cull the Riffraff
Today was the retirement party for John and Will (The names have been changed to protect us all from repercussions.) I "roasted" one of the fellows, and laughed at the memories described by the other speakers. Then I cried through the video collage — memories suspended in time against a backdrop of music from the 70's. The photos were wonderful — visible proof of the thirty years these two fine teachers have taught at our school. For the two men, for their families, and for the very few remaining teachers who "knew them when…" the pictures brought the past to life. For those of us who were unable to spend three full decades with these individuals, the pictures introduced our co-workers at each stage of their lives — single fellows; young married men; fathers; now as grandfathers.
Yes, two more teachers who had not planned to retire in their Fifties — (one younger than I am) — decided to leave teaching. The loss to the school; to the students of the present, as well as to those of the future; and to the staff left behind, is without measure. Personally, I believe that these gentlemen have chosen not to witness the final destruction of the school where they, along with so many other good teachers, once happily and effectively educated children. But what can one expect of "riffraff"? (That is what we are considered, you know.)
Last year a younger teacher respectfully approached an administrator to discuss the direction in which he was taking the school. Meaning to be helpful, she sincerely warned, "You are going to cause us to lose some really good, strong teachers." The administrator responded, "I'm not worried about it. It will clear out the riffraff!"
It is difficult to imagine any sensible administrator using such terminology to describe teachers who simply worry about the present undermining of educational standards; attempt to maintain order amongst the chaos; and believe in a knowledge-based curriculum.
More and more, it appears, though, that we do not live in sensible times, guided by sensible leadership. We do not have sensible curriculum, sensible testing, or sensible plans for accountability. Without sensible foundations and insights, irrational and foolhardy stances can be taken by such administrators in public schools. Government education lacks the common sense, and the courage, to look into a mirror. It will never willingly appraise its image — noticing the glaring flaws, warts, wounds, as well as the look of cruel, conniving intent upon its face.
What are we to make of a system that refers to strong teachers as "riffraff," then insults and torments them until they are successfully driven from the schools? Although such a system may be ineffective at educating children; it is obviously effective at ridding schools of unwanted staff, for few of us remain. Most days we meet as "strangers in a strange land," hiding in corners to say hello and give each other encouragement.
From administration we receive dictates to: not sit together at meetings; not gather and "form cells." New teachers are warned to avoid us. One untenured staff member found an addendum attached to her evaluation — a reminder to choose more "positive" teachers with whom to communicate and associate. (Hmm, come to think about it, she hasn't joined my group at our table in several weeks…) At each meeting or gathering, representatives of the hand-chosen "school improvement team" fan out to sit among the remaining riffraff — to monitor our conversations; to gather ammunition for the supervisors; to encourage us to "be more positive." They believe that truthfulness=negativity. Alternatively, an administrator blatantly lying to teachers would be defined thus: deceptiveness=positivity.
Although many administrators would love to see the remaining riffraff leave now, we who remain still hope to start backfires capable of developing into conflagration powerful enough to roast the evil forces that entered the educational scene by stealth, but now stride openly: another round of consolidations; 8th grade vocational "choices," four-year "academic" plans; School-to-Work, etc.
It is unlikely that our backfires will stop, or even slow, the "progress" (talk about Newspeak!) of the Morlock culture. However, a few of the fires might burn hot enough to sound an alarm — an alarm so frightening that it will send parents running to a wiser CHOICE.
May 26, 2003
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.
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