Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Unappreciated Metaphor for Education

I might fall from a tall building,
I might roll a brand new car.
'Cause I'm the unknown stuntman that made Redford such a star.

Steve Austin probably ended up a CEO.
That's how Lee Majors opened his show "The Fall Guy" in the early 1980s.    His role as the "unknown stuntman" was not as well known as when he played The Six Million Dollar Man, but the TU agreed at lunch the other day The Fall Guy was among his finest works. Majors played Colt Seavers on the show and the theme song has earned him a place as an honorary TU member.  Why you ask?  Because he seems to share the unappreciated feeling all too common among today's teachers.   You may have read Teacher Underground: A Metaphor for Education where we used H.R. PufnStuf to explain the players in the spectacle that is education.  Thinking a bit about The Fall Guy might also lend some clarity and insights to the current state of our profession. 

Colt Seavers, Can it get more American?
We all have a little Colt in us where we feel like we do all the work and and no one sees or appreciates those efforts.  Teachers seem to be an easy mark for reformers and politicians intent on the appearance of movement.  Teachers have become the fall guy for all the problems we face.  They seem intent on laying any blame for the shortfalls of education and students on the teachers.  If you spend time following national, state and even local policy you know that bashing teachers and their level of professionalism seems to be all the rage.  Removing bad teachers is a key element to many strategic plans to improve education. There doesn't seem to be much thought as to how that determination is made or what else affects outcomes.  Bottom line is that type of negative rhetoric is unwelcome to most educators and does little to help motivate or inspire.  A leader that can change that would go a long way.   

Some people and groups have always devalued the importance of teachers.  But those who do so today are all too common.  They criticize the teaching workforce by pointing out where we graduated, the rigor of the training prior to employment and also teachers themselves for gaining employment in a field deemed not that competitive.  By far the biggest target is tenure.  They say annual contracts are all that teachers deserve.   Need to tighten the budget, fire some teachers.  Basically those that want to help have decided saying teachers aren't good enough is the way to make things get better.  If that is their goal I don't think they are doing a very good job of making our field very attractive to the higher caliber individuals they seek to recruit.  Come work for low pay, little job security where efforts seem unrecognized.  Apply within.

Cousin Howie, Colt Seavers and Jodi
Meanwhile the teachers of America do what they do.  Like the character Seavers, we grind away at our jobs and stand by while others talk about it under the spotlight.  That doesn't bother us, we signed up for that.  We are fine with that and even take pride in it.  But having someone then stand up and say we are doing a crappy job hurts.  Much like the bumps and bruises common in stuntman work.  Colt no doubt had to swallow his pride and watch some major stars take all the credit, knowing that stuntmen were an afterthought and seen as expendable.    We know how Colt must feel when we hear a leader stand and spend more time trumpeting a program like TFA, where members are trained in weeks, often temporary, and enrolled for different reasons and less time on lifelong teachers.

What A-Team van?
Another parallel with The Fall Guy, he found himself in financial hard times(remember the early 1980s recession?) and had to supplement his income by becoming a bounty hunter.  He turned to riding around and jumping his GMC Sierra Grande over stuff to apprehend bail jumpers with his cousin(Douglas Barr) and fellow stunt person Jodi(Heather Thomas).  He found a way to make ends meet.  His job was perhaps more exciting but teaching is no less unpredictable.  Financial challenges are often not unfamiliar to teachers and many are forced to seek additional employment to make ends meet.  We didn't take the job for the money but it is a job and we expect to get paid.  Whether film-making or education, any system where people who work the hardest seem to get paid the least is pretty backward.  Oh well Colt never whined about it.    

Major's sang "I've died for a living in the movies and TV" and I think he's saying he has a passion for what he does.  The good teachers I know share that trait in working with their students.  We learned we need to have thick skin to endure.  For the stuntman this is true in a literal sense and for the teacher it means you have to be willing to give of yourself when at times no one, not even your students, seem to appreciate your efforts.   There will be some nights when you question whether you're going to make it.  But like Seavers, you'll show up the next day and give your all.  We love what we do.  When the credits roll at the end of a film or when the names are read at graduation, we take some pride in a job well done.   We are used to feeling unappreciated but let's not take that too far...OK?

Lee, next time you or some unappreciated teachers are in town, swing by and join us for lunch. 

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