The Emotional Appeal for Blaming the Teachers

Despite challenges facing public education today, teachers are not solely to blame.

From the Daily Kos:

 I was disheartened to hear Chris Hayes on C-SPAN say that the educational “reform” movement is “winning the argument.” That’s not to say they’re winning on any factual level, Hayes meant that in terms of public debate, anything short of blaming the teachers means supporting the status quo.

It’s worth noting that this scapegoat has resonance for a reason, there’s an emotional appeal for blaming the teachers.

The Poverty Problem

The US education system isn’t broken, it’s being disrupted by poverty. As the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test shows the United States ranked in the low 20s but at the same time it has some of the highest child poverty in the industrialized world.

When the effects of child poverty are factored in, the US actually outperforms every other country in the world. That is, all things being equal, we still have the best education in the world: an area with 10% child poverty in the US will, on average, do better than an area with 10% child poverty in Finland.

While the struggle with being poor has an obvious effect on learning, it also has effects for funding. Schools that have a higher poverty rate will have lower funding for the schools because of a lower tax base.

Indeed, these problems have been expanded by education policy and increases in poverty following the recession.

Bad Teachers

This leaves a problem, if it’s objectively shown to be poverty then why is there an effort at demonizing teachers, or rather, why assume people would believe its the teachers that are the problem? It’s the dominant position, everyone from Fox News to Jonathan Alter thinks its the teachers fault. So, agendas aside, why even push the story?

The answer lies in the anecdotal and emotional experience of people. Lets face it, you’ve had a bad teacher in your life. The problem is that one bad teacher is out of dozens of good (or at least adequate) teachers. Thus it’s wrong to assume that someones personal experience accounts for a national epidemic.

Unfortunate the media does just that, it takes a personal experiences and turns it into a national problem. . . .

This is an excerpt from an article published Sunday on the Daily Kos headlined, “The Emotional Appeal for Blaming the Teachers.”  Click here to read the entire article.

Can better marketing stop teacher bashing?

This week I came across an interesting article written by Cindi Rigsbee, a reading and literacy teacher at

Gravelly Hill Middle School in Durham, North Carolina.  Rigsbee is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, a frequent contributor to Teacher Magazine, and was named North Carolina’s 2008 Teacher of the Year.      




In a blog post headlined Marketing Ourselves as Teachers, Rigsbee explained that she recently attended a conference on education policy hosted by congressmen and professors from America’s most prestigious universities. 


A group of teachers were there, too, Rigsbee states on her blog, and I was honored to be among them, hopefully there to advocate for my profession and represent what’s going on at the school level in our country while at the same time learning some innovations that I could share with educators in my state.


We weren’t there long before we started feeling uncomfortable and fidgeting in our seats. Many speakers who stood before us repeatedly uttered phrases like “bad teachers” and “fix teaching.” Soon we felt defensive…and even angry…and wondered what all the “teacher bashing,” as one of my colleagues put it, was about . . . .


. . . A congressman who sat in a breakout session with me mentioned the inequities of technology. He said, “I saw a classroom that had only five laptop computers…not very effective, but more effective than a teacher in the room.”


One presenter said, “There are schools where the principal doesn’t do all the leading; the teachers actually work together, and that’s the nature of the work.” I thought DUH! Does the world outside of our school buildings not know that we’ve been collaborating like that for years?


So after I calmed myself from the range of emotions I felt at this conference I had to ask myself why these seemingly important people were so misinformed. I also wondered why all of the answers seemed to be relative to teachers instead of directed toward other stakeholders in education. Here’s what I came up with:


First, all of the research points to the teacher as being the most important factor in whether a child learns or not. It’s not the parent, or the school administration, or the football coach, it’s the teacher. So because so much is focused on there being a quality teacher in every classroom, that’s where the finger gets pointed when things go wrong.


And while I do agree that there should be a highly qualified teacher (as No Child Left Behind mandates) in every classroom, I can tell you that I can’t deliver quality instruction without the support of the parents, the instructional leadership of my school administration, and the collaboration I have with other important individuals in my students’ lives – like the football coach and the band director.


Another reason those who aren’t in the school buildings point to “bad teachers” is because we, as a profession, don’t market ourselves well . . .


. . . just today I read this “status update” on a Facebook page – “Another long day at the pool. Being a teacher in the summer is hard work.” Last week I read this one – “Summer – the reason I teach.”


Although most teachers spend their entire summers “off” at trainings and planning with other teachers (I’ve seen half the staff at my school this week), those bragging about their leisurely summers are not getting any points with the policymakers who work all year. No wonder they don’t want to raise teacher salaries.


In addition, the teacher “venting” that occurs in our communities most likely indicates to others that we are not committed to doing whatever it takes to teach our children. It probably sounds like we’re only committed to whining about how difficult our jobs are.


So teachers, it is up to us to change the thinking of legislators, higher ed representatives, and policymakers. It is up to us to market ourselves as professionals who can make a difference in the lives of children, instead of “bad teachers” who are uncomfortable with technology.


The last session I attended at the conference included presenters who were working on a report outlining the qualities of a teacher leader. At the beginning of the presentation, the participants were given a handout listing the members of the committee working on the report. I immediately scanned the list to see how many teachers had been included. I wasn’t surprised to see that there were none.


I guess they figured we were all at the pool. 


Financial guru Suze Orman joins teacher-bashing bandwagon

by Christopher Paslay


Insulting teachers is no way to empower them.  Educators need support and resources to succeed.    


Have you trashed a school teacher today?  Go ahead, you can admit it.  It’s one-hundred percent politically correct and always in fashion.  I’d hold my tongue when it comes to discussing race, gender and sexual preference (I’d even watch my step around folks with disabilities), but when teachers are the topic of conversation, feel free to point fingers and call for their heads on the chopping block.


The Philadelphia Inquirer pulls no punches: “Too many schools are straddled with bad teachers . . .” (Editorial: Obama’s Plan, 3/13/09).


Neither do writers for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook: “Many people argue that creating this new culture requires replacing either all or some of the teachers in the building with a fresh staff that is on board with the school’s mission. . . .” (Does reforming high schools require starting with a new staff, 3/30/09)


Or the LA Times:  “What can be done about bad teachers? . . . a bad teacher either continues to influence the lives of hundreds of students or draws a salary for manning a desk.”  (Getting rid of bad teachers, 5/5/09).


The latest person to drink the anti-teacher Kool-Aid is Suze Orman, a best-selling author and financial guru who was named by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Most Influential People.  Last month in a New York Times Magazine profile article, Orman ripped America’s school teachers a new one.


“When you are somebody scared to death of your own life, how can you teach kids to be powerful?” she said.  “It’s not something in a book—it ain’t going to happen that way.”     


The NY Times Magazine article went on to explain that Orman “has been reluctant to work on school curricula on personal finance, because she says students can’t learn empowerment from people who aren’t empowered, and teachers, she says, are too underpaid ever to have any real self-worth.”


Last week Anthony Cody, a writer for Teacher Magazine, published an article headlined, “Do Teachers Lack Power and Self-Worth?”  In it he calmly dissected Orman’s obnoxious statement. 


He wrote, “When I first read this I got ticked off. Orman has equated empowerment with personal wealth—perhaps not surprising, since she earns $80,000 every time she speaks publicly on that very subject. But then I started thinking a bit more about her proposition. Part of it makes sense. We can only teach what we actually embody.”


Cody went on to argue that teaching is really about setting an example in the classroom—that students learn more from the teacher’s presence, tone, attitude, etc., than they do from the lesson itself. 


I’ve always argued that education is first and foremost about teaching values.  In this respect I agree with Cody: Teachers are modeling respect, patience, confidence, and citizenship as they stand in front of the classroom.  There is a subtle transference of energy that happens when an educator effectively connects with his or her students.  


So in a way, Orman (who was accused by Forbes Magazine in 1998 of misrepresenting her Wall Street credentials, by the way), has a point: Teachers must feel empowered in order to empower their students.


The irony is that stereotyping and belittling America’s educators isn’t going to empower them.  Nor is making them the scapegoat for all of the problems of public education.


Teachers must be accorded a minimum level of professionalism and respect.  We must also be given the proper resources in order to succeed.  We can not do the job alone, contrary to public opinion.  Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time teaching in a classroom (especially one in an urban setting) understands that it takes a network of parental, political, economic, and community supports to make education work.


First we need the basics: Help from mom and dad; a new community attitude that values education; smaller class sizes; more practical educational policy; better teacher preparation at the university level; and a society that goes back to embracing traditional values.


Teachers are a very big part of their students’ lives.  We do have the power to empower, but insulting and belittling us is not going to help us achieve this goal.