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A Teacher Never Stops Being a Teacher #CTUstrike

September 15, 2012

Michael Denman, a public school teacher engages in dialogue with a former student who questions the motives of Chicago teachers on strike…his response is breathtaking in its clarity, caring, and understanding:

Names have been changed to protect identity of students and schools.

The Chicago Teachers Strike–I posted this on the page of a former student whom I love and adore but with whom I disagree on the issue of teacher evaluations and merit pay. Since I ignored finishing my grades to write it, I thought I’d post it here too…

I understand what you are saying, but I have to disagree with you. While I am certainly no expert on the finer details of the Chicago teachers’ strike, I do feel that if classroom educators there are willing to forego a pay increase to show their dissatisfaction with a new teacher evaluation process, I think it behooves all of us to listen to their concerns. After all, who knows education better than those engaged in it on a daily basis?

To address your points more directly, I strongly doubt that anyone in the teacher’s union is saying that “low income minority student will not succeed in the classroom and it has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the teacher but merely where they come from.”
In fact, teachers are often the one group who fight so strongly and so passionately for the success of their students, despite the obstacles our modern society often puts in their way.Still, it would fly in the face of evidence to deny the link between family income and academic achievement. The evidence is clear-the more money a family makes the more likely a child from that family will perform better on standardized tests such as the SAT. Do better on the SAT and your path to college is also that much easier.In short, the real enemy is poverty.Please understand- the fact one is from a poor family or a minority does not preclude future success. You are evidence of that. The relationship between poverty and academic achievement is one of correlation, not direct causation.

Yet, I suspect you had a home life that enabled you to achieve success in spite of the circumstances of being “a low-income minority student”. Usually, it is a stable family life with a loving mom or dad. Sometimes, it may be a grandparent, teacher or even foster parent. Sadly, not all children are quite so lucky. They come from broken homes where doing well on the ten- week progress report just isn’t anyone’s top priority.

You rightfully acknowledged how great some of your teachers were for you. Knowing many of them, I agree. You did have some amazing ones. I would remind you, however, that they were amazing in the absence of anything as dubious as “merit pay”. Good teachers work hard because they care about what they do.

Chicago wishes to implement a teacher evaluation system in which students’ standardized test scores as 40 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation. I ask: do you feel such standardized tests accurately measure true academic success? Do they truly measure the impact of a quality teacher?

If so, it is an extraordinarily narrow measure.

Think of the projects you did in high school—History Day, interdisciplinary projects, mock trial, The Crucible performance, etc. These projects required you to think critically, analyze data, and synthesize information. Yet, none of them would have helped you much on a multiple choice exam.

Further, I would argue that our fixation on testing will be the death knell for creativity in education. In a world where my job security is based significantly on standardized testing, why would I take the time to create and implement such interesting projects? The intelligent approach would dictate more time spent strictly on test preparation. Forget passion, forget experiential learning. Sit down and tell me why “B” is the best answer for number twelve.

If you want my honest opinion, teachers and teacher unions are being scapegoated for the larger problems of society. Politicians regularly speak out of both sides of their mouths, praising educators while cutting the foundations which support them.
When I was at our school, I would enormously hard to make my class interesting and challenging. I didn’t worry about my test scores because the students were so strong they took care of themselves.

Now, I am at a school where a large chunk of my own students scored ‘far below basic’ on their CST history exam last year. Did I suddenly go from being a great teacher to a poor one? Perhaps instead other factors are now in play?

One clear example—the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to implement a new teacher evaluation system. To fund it, they recently cut from my school 50% of an account used to fund an 8 period schedule (which allows kids to take more classes and catch up on missed credits). Without the funds, we had to adopt a new schedule. Each teacher’s classroom preparation time is now cut in half, in a year when classes are bulging at the seams. Does this matter to anyone? Not much. Just get those test scores up before some private charter organization comes in and takes us over. I would laugh if it wasn’t so damn depressing.

It is a poor way to run a school district, and I for one am glad the teachers in Chicago had the courage to stand up and say “no more” to this testing madness. I only wish every teachers’ union did the same.

Michael Denman

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah K-G permalink
    September 15, 2012 7:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Well put, Michael!

    • Michael Denman permalink
      April 18, 2014 9:23 pm

      Thank you Sarah. I apologize for not responding sooner. I knew this post might be shared but I did not know it actually had been. I appreciate your kind words.

  2. Lisa Alva Wood permalink
    September 17, 2012 8:22 pm

    This is a perfect argument for getting involved in UTLA. On September 21, the window opens for self-nominating for UTLA’s House of Representatives. This is the body equivalent to CTU’s House of Delegates – what they say, goes. A rep is asked to attend 7 meetings a year. If we can’t give up 7 nights a year to reform, professionalize and take action… we get the union we deserve. Personally, I am willing to inform any LAUSD teacher who wants to see a new and different union, starting now.

  3. September 17, 2012 8:29 pm

    Lisa, can you elaborate how this relates to those who “want to see a new and different union?” From what I can tell, both UTLA and CTU are on the same page in regards to teacher evaluation, work conditions, and class size.

  4. November 22, 2016 1:05 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, we always play the scapegoat. Teachers deserve much more credit, and let the politicians take responsibility as they should. Maybe if they listened to us more.

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