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Florida has a dumb way of treating teachers

We don't trust you, you've been sponging off the system, we're cutting your already exceptionally low pay and a lot of you need to be fired.

Now, go out and care for our most precious commodity — and be happy about it.

In a nutshell, that's what teachers have heard over the last year from a variety of politicians and education reformers. It's a degrading bombardment, and what should worry parents the most is that it's a bad way to bring about necessary changes in the school system.

How can we insult the very people we trust with our children and expect a positive outcome?

Yet elected officials and so-called education leaders continually engage in tough talk to impress voters and boost to their own egos, even though it does little to build morale and provide the kind of inspiration teachers need in order to accept and implement new accountability standards.

If you don't think the political swagger of "let's stop those teachers coasting on tenure" isn't having an impact, consider what the Times' Thomas Marshall reported Wednesday: Nearly 370 Hillsborough teachers have filed papers to leave the classroom, 76 more than the number for all of last school year.

And that number may rise.

More unintended consequences may follow — think teachers leaving the state for better pay.

It's largely because teachers weren't given a true seat at the table when the state Legislature tossed tenure and forced teachers — not to mention all other state employees — to pay 3 percent into their pension plans, essentially a 3 percent pay cut in a bad economy.

The upheaval likely will be greater around the state than in Hillsborough, but only because we have greater collaboration between the school district and the teachers union in phasing in increased evaluation standards.

The Legislature would have done well to mirror that approach both in substance and tone. Consider the words of Bill Gates, whose foundation's $100 million grant helps fund the district's new program.

"We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training," Gates wrote in a recent op-ed piece.

"To flip the curve, we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement."

To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, our attitude should be "help us help you." Our high expectations should be coupled with an equally high interest in lending a hand.

Keep in mind, we ask more of teachers and the school system today than we ever have in history. Not only do we pay them at a rate that ranks 48th out of 50 states, but we expect them to educate while being vanguards against drug addiction, homelessness, eating disorders, nutrition deficiencies and child abuse, just to name a few.

There seems to be no shortage of vagaries we ask them to police between taking attendance and developing a lesson plan.

Just last month, the school sent home a body mass index report on my 9-year-old daughter and every other third-grader at her school.

Really.

We seek solutions from the school system for all the societal ills resulting from the decline of the nuclear family and the increase in single-parent homes.

Who else can we turn to?

But when teachers wanted to release students early twice a month so they could work on education plans, collaborate with colleagues and maybe catch up on voluminous paperwork, a lot of folks insisted that they just wanted the time to show movies during a shortened school day and scurry off to happy hour.

If you really thought teachers put a higher premium on drink specials than doing their jobs, why would you leave your kids with them every day? The all important parent-teacher relationship must begin with a degree of trust or it will never work.

If we don't usher in these reforms together, side by side, they will fail under the weighty criticisms of blustery politicians and overzealous policymakers who've spent too much time studying poll numbers and test scores and not enough time asking what it takes to be a great teacher in the 21st century.

I'm not opposed to greater accountability. I'm not naive enough to think every teacher is perfect or even capable. Improving the system and its weakest aspects, like the achievement gap, remains tantamount.

In the end, however, we need to be advocates, not adversaries.

Teacher appreciation has never been more important.

That's all I'm saying.

Florida has a dumb way of treating teachers 05/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 5:30am]

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