One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the education crisis is that all public school teachers are unintelligent and lazy, among other amazing characteristics. This naïveté is best summed up by the quote, “those who can do, those who can’t teach.” Teachers are an easy target to pin America’s education crisis on. Maybe its because we all remember that teacher we could not stand to be with for fifty minutes a day – the one who took their life issues out on us when we were kids – or maybe its because the media only covers educators the likes of the tenured teacher who reads the paper, while his students play dice in the corner. Whatever the reasons for the emergence of the “lackluster public school teacher” stereotype are, we, as a nation, believe that public school teachers are the Brutus’s of the education crisis – a bunch of burnouts who jab the final dagger into the last bits of hope our nation’s most in-need students have at a life or prosperity. Et tu Ms. or Sir? But not all teachers are bad teachers.
Take Miss Fit for example. Everyday, Miss Fit arrives to school an hour early to prepare and stays at least an hour after the last bell for free of charge tutoring. In fact, as this post is being written, Miss Fit is holding Saturday school for a group of students who are struggling in her class. Miss Fit is intelligent, as well as driven, challenging the prevailing stereotype public school teachers now possess. She holds a masters degree in her subject area and came to the classroom from the business world. She embodies a wealth of academic and real world knowledge that she embroiders into her students’ minds on a daily basis. A seamstress of unbridled learning. Just being around her, one becomes smarter. It is like some weird type of osmosis. Literally, one time after talking to her I went home and watched Jeopardy (because my life is just that exciting these days) and could answer almost every question. Unfortunately, no one was around to see this feat of knowledge.
While the Jeopardy incident may have been a coincidence (or just an extension of my own dormant intelligence), Miss Fit’s positive results with her students are not. And her success as a teacher who serves in the heart of the education crisis can be summed up with one word: professionalism. Miss Fit runs her classroom like a business, acting as CEO of a board centered on knowledge and principled on high expectations. She is always well put together; wearing the type of professional clothing one would see at most profitable shops and companies. There is never doubt that she runs the classroom. Her pantsuits, blouses and high heels make her a square peg in the round hole of sweat pants and t-shirts regularly adorned by her colleagues. At faculty meetings, her business attire causes Miss Fit to stand out like Donald Trump at some type of Occupy Wall Street protest or collective chant or sit in or whatever they are doing now.
Even more so, Miss Fit lives up to her name in that she is healthy, preferring to showcase a bottle of water over the usual teacher preferred soda (Big Red to be exact) on her neatly organized desk. Her decision to give students vegetables and fruit over candy is a welcome reprise in a community plagued with diabetes and other aliments caused by a widespread lack of proper nutrition. She is a role model and a master educator. A professional in a sea of amateurs, who, despite any common upbringing or background with her students, is able to connect with them, teach them and make them better citizens. Even the boy who likes to stand on his chair and scream, performs well in Miss Fit’s class.
It goes without saying that our nation’s public schools need more Miss Fits and the fact she is an outcast among her colleagues begs a central question: why is the teaching profession allowed to be unprofessional? Why is an individual tasked with molding the future of our country’s children and, as a result, our nation’s ultimate destiny, permitted to dress like a mall walker, exude little to no intelligence or drive and run a classroom like a circus, as opposed to business? When did teaching stop being professional? I would bet my low salary that when teaching became unprofessional, the schools started to fail.
In order to be taken seriously by their students, teachers need to be clear professionals in the classroom. They need to be the adults in the room. Think about it this way, if any of the candidates running for president started giving policy speeches in sweat pants, acted like they did not care about their job and spoke of completely false information no one would consider voting for them (I’ll ask you give some leeway on the last example in order to thoughtfully consider the overall point). Let’s take it one step down: if you were looking to buy a car and the salesman looked like a he had just gotten out of bed, acted in a leisurely manner while speaking to you and did not understand the basics of the car in question, you would immediately leave and go to another lot. The problem is, many public school students, especially those in low-income districts, do not have he option of going to another lot. And if they do, that lot is full of the same type of lackluster salesmen. These students are stuck in a world of low expectations for teachers and, therefore, for them as well.
I will end on with this tidbit – if you will. This past summer, I had the honor of spending three hours with a Nashville principal who had turned around an extremely low performing, violence ridden school in one year. When I asked her how she did it, she explained that she got rid of those teachers who were unprofessional and unintelligent and hired individuals with masters, high performing teachers from other schools and people who were leaders in their respective fields. She told me the first thing she would do when interviewing a potential new teacher was give them a simple fraction equation. If they could not answer it, she would say, “thank you” and the interview would be over. Once hired, she meticulously watched her teachers. If she noticed they looked unprofessional or did not know what they were speaking of in the classroom, she would fire them on the spot. Within a few months, there was a waiting list to be interviewed for a position at her school, because word had spread about how competitive it was to get a job there. In one year’s time, this school everyone had written off was turned around.
In conclusion, the negative public school teacher stereotype did not just happen, nor is it some formulated conspiracy by those who dislike the teacher’s union. It happened because somewhere along the line we stopped demanding excellence from our teachers and, as a result, from our kids. It is no wonder that a school that hired professionals was able to succeed. We need more Miss Fits – educators who are professional, well put together and never give up on the task at hand – in our public school classrooms as an initial step in ending the education crisis.