Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Teachers are like Coal

The future and direction of our nation's environmental policy had been buried behind other conversations about more dynamic issues during the 2012 Presidential Campaign. The ongoing political and academic debate over whether climate change is really happening has ultimately paralyzed us from taking any effective action.  No matter where you fall on the issue you likely agree big issues often see this sort of entrenchment and it takes something equally big to move us forward.  Enter disaster politics. 

Hurricane Sandy may be that things as it blew the issue to the forefront.    No doubt the most awful thing to occur in a long time lives and livelihoods are ruined and disrupted.   The TU certainly sends it heartfelt best wishes to those affected by devastating storm.   In the aftermath Northeastern politicians like Governors Christie and Cuomo and others like Bloomberg and Schumer are being forced to address the issue as they move forward.  

Sometimes such events are seized upon by opportunistic individuals as a bellwether  for change.  This Superstorm and all the misery it brought may actually bring about some decisive action on our environment though I am not holding my breath such change will be all good.  Nor do I think speaking freely on the topic is simply an overt effort to access future federal funds for major Depression like reconstruction.    If  it seems possible the issue of the environment and our effect on it has become too political.   Some might say that money directs our path.  That is usually not a good thing.

As the coastal regions proceed with their efforts first recover, but later both better prepare and prevent such calamity it is incumbent upon us to use wisdom and sound evidence, not politics to guide out path.  It will require the best our leaders from both sides of the aisle have and even then the cooperation of other nations.  We must listen to informed and educated people who have the necessary understanding gained from years of experience.  Energy companies, environmental groups, big business, scientific organizations, international posturing and of course the two major parties all have formed their position and agenda before the conversation even begins preventing effective dialogue.  Common sense succumbs to the storm surge.  We cannot control nature but we do control how we choose to proceed.  One thing that is certain is that the issue is far too important for politics and money to affect the conversation.  It affects all of us.  If we do nothing, maybe nothing will happen.  But can we afford to just do nothing?

The same could be said of education.   It may seem a callous comparison at this sensitive time  but education  has problems and we are in a seemingly constant state of crisis since the 1980s.  This crisis breeds a degree of urgency which polarizes the issues.  Camps are quickly formed by anyone discussing education and reduced to an "us vs. them" where people are characterized and forced onto sides with clear positions, whether they hold them or not.  Lost is the "common ground" that is the foundation of all meaningful progress.   The gravity of what is at stake in both cases presented here should be a mandate for success, not just change.  Most heavy lifting falls to the classroom teacher and when added to their everyday duties the weight is more than many of them can stand to bare. 

Education is unlikely to have some momentous event that is a catalyst for movement and whether Sandy will materialize into that for the environment remains to be seen.  The exhaustion of natural resources would be a far greater cataclysmic event to even Sandy.  But it also will take much longer.  Few can argue with legitimacy that reliance of fossil fuels alone is preferable to a policy which shifts our reliance toward more renewable sources.  Whether it is one decade or one hundred the supply will eventually run out. The side effect of such intensive use are also problematic. 

Shifting back to education one resource it appears we are content as a nation to "burn through" is our teachers.  Unlike coal or oil one big difference is that no group seems to lobby as successfully for their value as teachers.  Lately as one I have confronted the reality that many view me and others like me in our profession  as a resource to be used and cast aside.  Evidence of this everywhere.  Teachers are at least as unhappy with how they are treated with how they are compensated.  Many are quitting.  The pedestrian nature of our national response to this trend should be alarming.  But it has caused no substantive progress to be made and instead has simply brought about rationalizations from many in a position to do something about it.  To think that we can "replace" the teachers that are retiring, leaving or burning out is ill informed and maybe even dooms the fate of of the entire system.  Schools are not places or things, they are the people within their walls.  What will be the effect of our delay and no action?  Will there  still be a sufficient pool of quality teachers to draw upon willing to teach our young people?If we wait until the void begins to have real results on our graduates  it will be too late.

Reasons why one areas teachers quit.
I take solace in the fact that the issues concerns raised by teachers seem to be finally gaining some attention.  We also have control over the reasons teachers say they are leaving the job.  People are starting to see that a decade or more of failed policy or self interested involvement from outside groups is not necessarily a  good thing for kids.  But the appearance of movement is more valuable and carries far less political liability than actual movement. So nothing gets done.

In the meantime we continue to bleed talent causing untold harm to our schools.   I feel obliged to note that every teacher thinks about quitting, some quite a lot.  Those who  stay do so because we love our students.   But each time we are told by the unknowing to do the impossible for the unwilling with next to nothing, more damage is done. Teachers are being exhausted and that is having a dire consequence on our the educational environment.  As a beginning, I strongly encourage those with influence to appreciate the value of the teaching force in this nation and yolk its strength in a less consumptive way. 

I think in both cases it will take a leader with enough courage and insight to finally bring about reform of consequence.  We must all come to the table and agree on decisions that affect and will hopefully better our shared future.  Failure to do so will have dire consequences indeed. 
Did Mr. Loweyt quit?

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