Public Ignorant About Public Education: Teacher's Union

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Pervasive public discussions about failing schools have been at the core of education change since 1983. While the 1980’s discussions were precipitated by publication of A Nation at Risk, the current national education discussions are stimulated by the near collapse of America’s economic system.

During times of economic recession Americans tend to look for someone to blame. The public looks for something outside of themselves to hold accountable for the prevailing conditions. When all else fails they blame public school teachers, thus avoiding individual responsibility. George Bernard Shaw said, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

The public has assigned to public school teachers the moral obligation to successfully teach all students. Career professional teachers have always accepted this obligation. They will not shrink from it now.

The public has never understood professional teaching but thinks it does. To everyone who has attended school, teaching looks deceptively easy. Exploiting this perception of teachers gave No Child Left Behind its political traction.

The parent who feels good about teaching her infant may be perplexed when the child becomes a toddler and begins to speak. That same confident parent who becomes a public school teacher quickly learns how woefully inadequate his or her parenting skills are for teaching 20 first graders. Of course, anyone who has not studied education should not be expected to understand the complexities of teaching.

Teachers do not teach only those students they have known and watched develop from birth to their classroom. Public school students come from diverse backgrounds. It is the professional’s job to teach all of them. The contextual factors of socioeconomics, class size, interruptions, number of absentees, racial makeup of the class, and day of the week will all influence the teachers’ “instructional behaviors.”

The gap between the status and value of the teaching profession is born, in part, of the distorted image the public has of its complexity. The profession has not yet developed the rhetoric necessary to explain this complexity to the public and policy makers and to develop their trust. It must fight for a place in the education policy-making arena that allows its voice to be heard in decision making about the conditions and contextual influences under which professional teaching is practiced. This is the fight we are facing.

The use of student growth data, as measured by standardized tests, in teacher evaluation; incentive compensation schemes based on student growth data; calls for increases in the length of probationary periods; and the definition of effective teaching based on standardized test data are direct results of the public’s misperception of professional teaching.

The recent shift of power in the Tennessee General Assembly may generate new state education “reform” initiatives. Any probability that they will produce improvements in teaching and learning conditions for Tennessee’s teachers and students is exceedingly small. It is the job of professional teachers to give ideas a fair hearing and prevent destructive proposals from being adopted or implemented.

The Tennessee Education Association is the state’s largest professional organization representing over 52,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.
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March 07, 2011 at 7:09pm
The title of this article is demeaning, if you ask me. "Public ignorant of public education?" That's a pretty bold assertion and only inflames the debate.
March 07, 2011 at 7:53pm
Imagine that!!!-that ever pesky 'ignorant public' daring to have a say in the education of their chldren. People stand back and let the TEA/NEA work their professional magic. TnTnTn
March 07, 2011 at 9:48pm
This same mentality could be said about the military. Only the military knows how to fight and win wars because they have studied it and are more educated in battle tactics than the “ignorant public.” Therefore only the military should make decisions on when, where and with whom to go to war with. Fortunately this is NOT how it is done in our great nation. The highly educated, trained and skilled generals in charge of the military are all subordinate to the civilian president. The president is himself subject to a vote of the people and is checked and balanced by the Legislature and Judiciary.

Likewise the teachers are highly educated, trained and skilled state employees. However, they too are subject to the governor, who intern is subject to the people.

In a democratic republic, the people have the opportunity to voice their opinions and vote in who they feel will do the best job. At the present time the people have spoken and rightly or wrongly, our government in Tennessee as well as in many other states has moved more conservative.

There will be more elections and more chances for the government to shift, but calling the voters and the parents of the children that teachers are called to educate “ignorant” is not helpful and certainly does not help the cause of the TEA and the actions of the TEA certainly prove that they do engage in partisan. Why can’t we just teach our children?
March 07, 2011 at 10:18pm
If you don't like the job then quit or shut up. How about taxpayers be allowed to decide on how much public employees get paid considering it is their money.
March 08, 2011 at 7:12am
Who wrote the title of the story? I find it hard to believe that Mr. Mance would title it like that.
March 08, 2011 at 8:30am
I called Mr. Mance for a clarifaction--he was unavailable (on the Hill) but has an e-mail from me on his desk requesting that clarification.
March 08, 2011 at 8:45am
Clarification on what, dailyreader? Does the headline not reflect the content of the article? If so, how does it not do so?

The headline submitted with the article was "Commitment to Professional Teaching Requires Determination in Tough Times" but rarely, if ever, do I use headlines submitted with press releases.

Per Mr. Mance's own words: "The profession has not yet developed the rhetoric necessary to explain this complexity to the public and policy makers and to develop their trust." In other words, after all of these years, the union has not come up sufficient propaganda to spin their story in such a way a majority of people will buy.

Mr. Mance feels his money and his power is being threatened, so he is lashing out at the public.
March 08, 2011 at 9:18am
The reason the union has not come up with propoganda to convince the average taxpayer that collective bargining or tenure without consequence is a good thing is because

#1. No one is that stupid to believe it
#2. There are no words in the English language that could be said that can justify it

I wish my job had tenure and left the company no consequences to correct my behavior or performance if I simply decided I was going to sail through the system for years doing as I pleased.

March 08, 2011 at 11:48am
TEA - funnels tax dollars to the Democrat party and liberal causes.

TEA - protects poor teachers from dismissal and removes incentive for good teachers to excel.

TEA - arrogant, self-important and obsolete.
March 08, 2011 at 11:52am
So Mr. Halpern is the one saying the public is ignorant?
March 08, 2011 at 12:08pm
Mr. Halpern:
"The public has never understood professional teaching but thinks it does" equates to
"Public Ignorant About Public Education: Teacher's Union" ????

Suppose the author's title had been used, did you think the very first entry on this web site would have been: "The title of this article is demeaning, if you ask me. "Public ignorant of public education?" That's a pretty bold assertion and only inflames the debate"

My guess that comment and the ones following would have been much different.

If one assumes the reading public in Cannon County is too dense to grasp the subleties in Mr. Mance article (if there are any) then I suppose a new title would help all to understand that Mr. Mance thinks the general public is truly ignorant about the teaching profession.

March 08, 2011 at 12:16pm
All of the following statements, taken directly from Mance's article, are indicative of the fact he thinks the public is "ignorant" about the pubic education system:

"The public looks for something outside of themselves to hold accountable for the prevailing conditions."

"When all else fails they blame public school teachers, thus avoiding individual responsibility."

"The public has never understood professional teaching but thinks it does."

"Of course, anyone who has not studied education should not be expected to understand the complexities of teaching."

"The gap between the status and value of the teaching profession is born, in part, of the distorted image the public has of its complexity."

"Any probability that they will produce improvements in teaching and learning conditions for Tennessee’s teachers and students is exceedingly small."
March 08, 2011 at 2:17pm
I never knew that headlines for a guest editorial were not from the author or the service that provides the article. I did not realize it was possible for the change in title on this level. I also never realized the position the majority of readers have here who commented on this article.

I find it profoundly humbling.

Teachers and the associated unions are certainly looked at as the problem here...

I really have had my finger off the pulse.

I am ashamed to have been a teacher and feel blessed I no longer work in that profession. It's not a good choice as a long term career. Maybe if we deleted all public teachers? Made it all private? I am disgusted with this and very confused. I was proud to teach and I thought I was good at it. I made too much money you think?

I am at a sincere loss on a position.

March 08, 2011 at 3:15pm
Mr Halpern, when you change the title of an article to what you feel is more suitable than what the author selected, what assurance do we have that the article itself has not be altered or slanted to agree with your beliefs?
March 08, 2011 at 3:37pm
When someone submits an article, they are entitled to have the content of it published without alteration, should I decide to publish it. They are not entitled to select their own heading. That's a prerogative which I, as editor, reserve for myself. Most editors do.

However dailyreader, my beliefs are not expressed in the headline of this article. I read it, and wrote an accurate headline based upon the message put forth by the writer. The submitted headline ("Commitment to Professional Teaching Requires Determination in Tough Times") may play to Mance's base of supporters, but is not reflective of what he wrote.
March 08, 2011 at 5:07pm
Jeff I hold the teaching profession with great esteem. I do believe it should be one of the highest paid positions in the country along with Law Enforcement and Firefighters.

However, I do not hold unions or contracts for any profession in high esteem that allows the job holder to work at sub-standard levels without consequence based entirely on tenure or the contract.

To me personally, the profession of teaching is not in question or one that I feel deserves a bad rap.

I will ask you: Do you feel teachers deserve a contract that allows them to perform poorly with no consequence? Do you really feel that tenure is something that should shield a person from being fired or demoted when the person either truly cannot do the job or refuses to?

I have very high seniority within the company I work for, but that does not protect me from not doing the job they pay me to do each day. Why should any job be any different?

Although it may be Kevin’s title to the article, I believe if the shoe fits it is probably your shoe. In other words, based on the writer’s comments he does view the public as being ignorant about the education system.
March 08, 2011 at 7:11pm
To Corey...

I am all for quality control and alterations with teacher tenure so as to eliminate abuse. I don't believe you should get something for nothing. I would consider this by definition - an unearned entitlement.

I also believe that a taxpayer that conformed to a long term contract mutually agreed upon by both parties (employee/employer) should not be summarily dismissed twenty or thirty years later as abusing the system because it's now unaffordable through no fault of the their own.

I am not debating the merits of the title/headline relevance or the editors choice for an alternate title. I was asking for clarification of a journalistic practice only. I will of course now be a better consumer of future articles and the legitimacy of the headline to the article I am reading. Both are not necessarily the same. Just one more thing I will have to observe in life.
March 08, 2011 at 7:50pm
Jeff, most articles I receive do not come with a ready-made headline.

Having read this article, what headline would you write?
March 09, 2011 at 10:20am
Jeff, I too agree that contracts mutually agreed upon should not be dismissed due to no fault of the employee, with one exception. And that would be cause.

No contract should allow a person to perform at substandard levels without a clause that allows the employer to dismiss the person from the job or reduce them monetarily or demote them to another position if they can’t or refuse to do the job they are being paid to do. Tenure prohibits that 99% of the time.

To me that is not logical in any way or one that encourages a person to work better or maintain a certain level of competence. I have all the respect in the world for teachers, but I do not and will not agree with that principal.

There is much ado about nothing in my opinion about the title. Editors change things all the time in paper and on the web. Does anyone actually believe that the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times doesn't edit their headlines in a way to attract readers?

T.V. commercials mislead the public and ads claiming something is FREE are everywhere. Titles like "You Can't Afford To Miss This Opportunity" are used to draw your attention to get you to read the promotion. "Dewey Defeats Truman" comes to mind when I think about titles that are meant to grab your attention that turned out to be totally wrong!

Had Kevin's title misrepresented the content of the writer’s statements then I would have had a problem with it. But, as can be plainly read by the statements the writer gave about the public's knowledge of the education system, Kevin’s title basically said what the writer wouldn’t say.
March 09, 2011 at 11:34am
Mr. Halpern: In response to your query... Why is it important to know what I would do with the headline of the article? The idea that most articles that come to your news service without a byline is new to me. I only worked for a small town paper. Submissions received at the time either came via teletype machine or were mailed in. All had their own byline.... The thought of altering a headline to a submission was not practiced. I will say that the option of changing an editorial submission to conform to the platform of a given newspaper or news service seems disingenuous.
March 09, 2011 at 11:37am
I would suggest the title "Commitment to Public Education Requires Dedication in Tough Times" since that's what came with it.
March 09, 2011 at 11:54am
Jeff, the only thing that is important is if the headline reflects the content and message of the article. The headline I placed on this article does.
March 09, 2011 at 12:34pm
Kevin. That is a subjective response. But I understand and respect your position as the editor. I am not attempting to debase the merit of the action.
March 16, 2011 at 10:56pm
The big problem with education today is not with the teachers, but with the unions that claim to represent them and instead hold them hostage for their own benifit. I taught school serveral years ago myself and I saw what they did with my dues money. Fortunately at that time I could refuse to belong to the union,(NEA), and I quit paying dues. Now, in a lot of places teachers don't have that option.Saying that you must join a union is just as wrong as saying that you can't join a union.People ordinarily, are not as ignorant as others would want.
Very seldom does the teavher have the final say in what is taught in the classroom. Some Phantom committee somewhere decides on a textbook and it is given to the teacher to use.Now there are very narrow and strict limits on what a teacher can do or say in the classroom.
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