Lately, I have a hard time watching shows about teaching. It was painful enough watching Michael Rapaport on Boston Public run out at lunch to buy 30 hardback copies of a new book he suddenly wanted his class to read. 1. Public school teachers have about 20 minutes for lunch. 2. If you want to buy something for class, it takes literally weeks to get it approved by various committees. But whatevs. Whether a fictional portrayal like that one, or a news story / documentary, no one ever gets the teaching thing right. I’m sure cops and doctors feel the same way. But teachers are already disrespected, so the false ideas that get launched with these mythological tales can do a lot of harm.
I’m particularly afraid even to watch the new documentary Waiting for Superman. From what I have heard, it’s the usual propaganda: neither bad parenting, nor poverty, nor bureaucratic nonsense, nor students who just don’t care, are held accountable for students’ less than stellar performance. It’s all about the teaching. Think about that for a moment. Two analogies: 1. If a patient dies, is it the doctor’s fault? Sometimes, sure. But all the time, every time? Even if the patient refused to eat better, or take a prescribed medicine? Even if he has an incurable disease? Ridiculous. 2. If crime continues to happen in a city, is it because the police are lazy? Or are they busy catching as many criminals as they can? Exactly.
Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee and her ilk are zombie-like in their self-righteous implications that teachers are essentially lazy, stupid cattle. It sounds so good: All Children Can Learn. It’s All About the Kids. Students Come First. But what are they doing about it? Disrespecting, threatening, and humiliating teachers. If anyone really, truly cared about education, they would be lowering class sizes, giving teachers time to plan and assess, and, yes, raising the salaries of teachers to a professional level. Teachers are the hardest-working people I know, and I’ve been a factory worker, a waitress, and a retail clerk.
So, I programmed my DVR to record the new Tony Danza reality show about teaching with some trepidation. I watched it with my thumb on the stop button, in case my stomach started turning. But so far it’s not bad. Watching the first episode, I found it pretty realistic. Mr. Danza is humiliated by an office clerk because he doesn’t know, on his first day, the correct way to sign in. His principal chooses to greet him with threats instead of encouragement. The kids are well-behaved (of course, the cameras are rolling), but harsh and judgmental. (When Mr. Danza is sweating profusely from nervousness, a girls says, “I don’t want to embarrass you, Mr. Danza, but you should wear another t-shirt or something.” Really? What would you say if you did want to embarrass him?) The football coach (Danza, like many teachers, has an after-school assignment, in this case as assistant coach) asks him, without warning, to speak to the team, then mocks him for talking too much. And the parents. Oh yes. A supposedly caring parent stops him at a football game to interrogate him about his credentials, his lesson plans, his goals, and if he will be at school early “every day” just in case her son needs help.*
In between crying jags, Mr. Danza seems sincere and energetic, and he is no doubt learning from the dozens of mistakes he is making. So does every new teacher. I look forward to seeing if this show makes a difference in people’s attitudes. Especially because, guess what? Mr. Danza teaches only one class. About 25 students. Most public school teachers have 100-160 students at a time, and they teach all day long.
*Apparently Tony Danza majored in English, and has been certified to teach since he graduated; he just never got a job as a teacher before.
For some more realistic scenarios about teaching, see the blog “True Tales from Public School.” The link is in the blogroll to your right.