COLUMN: Don't blame failures in education on our great teachers

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:39 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A teacher told me a while back that she hoped every school day that she would have an accident driving to work, just so she didn't have to show up for her class. I moved away from her neighborhood, so I never heard from her again. Last week on National Teacher's Day, I thought about her and all the other teachers who, for various reasons, are unhappy with their jobs.

If you haven't had an occasion to visit one of your local schools lately, you really should. Or if you are acquainted with an elementary or secondary teacher, you should listen to what they have to say. If the teachers in the schools in your community are happy campers, they have the kind of luck most teachers would envy.

I've given this issue a lot of thought, and as far as I can figure it out, something bad started happening in the 1970s. That's about the time that more babies began to have babies. The mothers dropped out of school, and they had no idea about how to be a parent. They were still children themselves, and too many of the little ones they brought into the world didn't have a chance. Many of these mothers grew up with their kids, and the relationship never changed. They did the same things together, and when it came time for them to go to school, they had no discipline to guide them. These children then began to have children, and some of them became members of a third generation of dropouts.

That's only my opinion, of course. But I believe education began losing the battle during that period. In the meantime, teachers were left almost single-handedly to try to change the equation. Without the help of parents or other responsible people on school boards, city councils or state legislators to deal with deteriorating attitudes and behavior, teachers suffered the brunt. Educators continue to have to be the fall guys for the escalating dropout rates and the students' poor achievement records. So, when the schools fail to make the grade and become so financially strapped they have to close, the teachers lose again.

It's really sad when you meet teachers who still love to teach but find themselves forced out of the classroom by administrators who fail to back them up when parents unload their frustrations on them for attempting to create a learning environment by enforcing rules of discipline. Teachers, who have given up on that effort for that reason, are trying to impart knowledge in an atmosphere of chaos and disorder where no one learns and some children are at the mercy of bullies, because bullies know they can get away with it.

Some people blame teachers for the dumbing down of America. And in some cases that may be true. But anyone who encounters children in grocery stores, shopping centers or places where the general public congregate has to notice the misbehavior of children. In fact, it has been my experience that children who are well-behaved in public are so uncommon that I invariably stop to congratulate parents when I see one.

Personally, I think Americans are truly fortunate that they have so many willing to teach in the public schools. I think legislators ought to act to make schools safer, not just for students but for teachers as well. If public schools continue to be battlegrounds, I can see a day coming when Jane and John Public are going to pull the plug and insist that Congress write and pass legislation that forces parents of children who disrupt classrooms into removing their children and enrolling them in private institutions at their own expense. Harsh? Yes, but until we get serious about education, our children are going to be so far behind children educated in other countries that our democratic republic will be endangered.

A parent once asked me how to make her son attend school. I told her that I had no experience with that problem since it had always been the rule in my family that getting an education was the business of children, just as working to earn a living was the business of adults. But, I explained to her, the process begins a long time before a child reaches school age.

On this year's National Teacher's Day, I hoped that the teacher who was willing herself an accident to avoid showing up for her class either found a better job or a place where she could serve her profession in peace and joy.

This world needs good teachers. Too bad they are so unappreciated.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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