No teacher bashing

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(Host) Commentator Nick Boke wishes all teachers a happy and restful school vacation – he says they’ve earned it!

(Boke) Sure, schools have lots of problems. Standardized test scores show that too many of our kids can’t read, write, think or compute as well as we’d like. Surveys of high school seniors reveal that too many don’t know the basics, like who was president during the Civil War. But I want to assert, loud and clear, that the problem with our schools is not, repeat not, because our teachers don’t work hard enough.

I spent fourteen years as a classroom teacher myself. I taught in ghetto elementary schools and suburban prep schools. I taught reading to first graders, science to fifth graders, ancient history to eighth graders and US government to seniors. I never walked out the door without an armload of papers to grade, a series of lessons to prepare. Since leaving the classroom in 1984, I’ve worked with hundreds of teachers in scores of schools. The longer I do this, the more convinced I become that there’s almost no teacher anywhere who’s not working very, very hard.

Start with the classroom. Most of every teacher’s day is spent in direct contact with large groups of kids. Whether they’re telling a story or overseeing a lab experiment or conducting a quiz, teachers have to be on their toes at every moment. While they’re explaining the etymology of the word “community,” for example, they have to be making sure that Edie and Lyn in the back of the room are paying attention, while wondering why Joe hasn’t come back yet from the bathroom, while deciding just how many more word origins to discuss that day.

The kids leave. Another group of kids with another set of idiosyncracies comes in for a different lesson. Following that, there’s a meeting with the special educators, recess or lunch duty, work on the interdisciplinary unit with other teachers, another couple of classes, a faculty meeting after school.

Nowhere do I find teachers even verging on lollygagging. Nowhere do I find classrooms that don’t require the teacher’s full attention all the time. Nowhere do I find lessons that aren’t the result of careful preparation.

This is not to say that all teachers are excellent teachers, or even that they’re all good. It is to say, however, that it takes an extraordinary amount of effort just to keep a classroom afloat. Unfortunately, we’re more prone to criticize our teachers than we are to recognize the tremendous effort most of them put forth. If we want to improve our schools, we ought to start by acknowledging what’s right with them. Let’s begin by recognizing the hard work and dedication that the vast majority of our teachers exhibit, day after day, year after year.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield, Vermont.

Boke is a reading consultant, minister and freelance writer.

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