Sep. 21, 2003: Quit Picking on Public School Teachers!

A recent newspaper column criticized Gov. Sonny Perdue for not doing enough to get rid of “incompetent teachers.” I assume the comment was intended as a political shot at the governor, but it splattered on schoolteachers and I didn’t like it. I have a son and son-in-law who are high school teachers. I know how hard their jobs are. I wouldn’t do it, and I doubt most of you would either, yet those of us who don’t have the foggiest idea of what goes in the classroom find it convenient to dismiss schoolteachers as incompetent and responsible for all that is wrong with public education.

It would be helpful if someone would define “incompetent teachers.” While doing that, would they also include definitions for incompetent administrators, incompetent school board members, incompetent bureaucrats and incompetent politicians? That only seems fair. For example, are teachers incompetent who find themselves stuck in the poorest school systems in Georgia, where there isn’t enough money for even the most basic teaching materials?

Do teachers become incompetent after getting snarled in miles of red tape from federal- and state-mandated accountability programs to which they have little input? Is it because politicians and bureaucrats think they have the answers on how to improve public education that teachers are given so little say about what they teach, how they teach and when they teach? Is it because we don’t trust their judgment, even though they are the ones on the firing line? Is there some logical reason that we can’t leave teachers the hell alone and just let them teach?

Do teachers become incompetent by coming to class two hours early each day with supplies they purchased out of their own pockets because the school system either can’t or won’t purchase them? Or is it from grading papers and working on lesson plans at night, while distracted by the student they know has unlimited potential but is not showing it in class? So, the worried teacher calls the parent to see what is going on and finds out that the parent doesn’t have a clue and doesn’t care. In this case, is the teacher incompetent, or could it be the parent? Any chance politicians will pass a law that will let the governor get rid of incompetent parents?

Perhaps teachers become incompetent from dealing not only with apathetic parents and their equally apathetic children, but with know-it-all education “experts” who couldn’t teach the 3 Rs for a living if you spotted them the first two Rs? Then throw in meddlesome school boards, budget cuts, more accountability and less responsibility, drugs, weapons, dress codes, discipline problems, social promotions, lawyers, publicity-seeking politicians, anonymous bureaucrats and second-guessing media.

Is it solely the teachers’ fault that Georgia finished 50th out of 50 states in SAT scores? Or does some of the responsibility rest with us? We chant the mantra of educational excellence, but not if it means paying more taxes or requiring some coddled athlete to crack the books if he wants to get the ball on Friday nights. Criticizing overworked and underpaid public school teachers as the problem is both easy and wrong. There is more than enough blame to go around.

Maybe we pay our incompetent teachers too much money. After all, Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux has to throw twelve pitches in one inning of one game in one season before he makes as much as these incompetent teachers make in a year. And we all know how much more of a contribution Maddux is making to the well-being of our society than our teachers.

I hope Gov. Perdue gets rid of all those incompetent teachers as the writer suggested. Maybe politicians and bureaucrats then will hold the remaining teachers to the same high standards they place on themselves. And don’t worry about replacements. I am sure plenty of people are willing to put up with the lack of support and constant sniping that public school teachers endure daily.

In the meantime, I suggest we quit picking on public school teachers. Let them do what they are perfectly capable of doing without our interference. Let them teach.