Hearts and souls of American teachers

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By Pat Deutschman


After the horrific events in Newtown, Conn., parents across America are thanking God their 6-year-olds will be safely asleep in their beds tonight.

The rest of us are reeling from the reality that small innocent school children are not immune from senseless violence which has no reason or forgiveness.

It is the schoolteachers who are emerging as the heroes of the day. The principal and school psychologist lunged at the shooter and were killed, as were four teachers who shielded their students from harm with their own bodies. 

Teachers. Everyday heroes. People who dedicate their lives to the well-being of your children, their children, any children. These are the people who go to work every day and spend eight hours with 5- and 6-year-olds, pre-teens, a troubled teenager, aspiring doctors and writers, car mechanics and researchers, singers and artists, mathematicians and soldiers, future teachers and the next generation of parents themselves.

OK, so what can we possible say to people who run toward a man carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle who is threatening their school? Thank you? It is hardly sufficient, but it is also not unexpected of them putting the safety of children above their own.

In a smaller measure, it is the same thanks we say to those who day after day go to battle with literacy, numeracy, FCAT’ism, end-of-course exams, performance pay, anti–teacher unions campaigns, anti-teacher-effectiveness measures and perpetually increasing expectations — some beyond their ability to impact.

Regardless of the socioeconomic status of any child in their care, regardless of the difficulties any student brings with them impeding their learning, regardless of their lack of English language skills, their innate intelligence, their homelessness or wealth, or the amount of involvement parents offer, teachers still put the same effort into their teaching for every student.  They are the true heroes; because regardless of the challenges they face, they come to work everyday determined to overcome them only for the benefit of their students’ futures. 

Yet it is those same people who would put their lives on the line for our children that politicians have targeted. Pure political rhetoric would have you believe many of our teachers are ineffective and dragging down the educational system in America. The truth is less than 3 percent of teachers need improvement, and our students are as competitive on tests as any students in the world given the same socioeconomic status and opportunity. Most recently, U.S. fourth-graders rose to the top of international test scores. And who exactly cares about test scores right now? Not me, for one.

Instead, I care about the safety and well-being of our children. I also care every one of our teachers is well-trained and well-prepared to teach more rigorous curriculum, and every one of our schools is ramping up to meet the next generation of higher standards. I care that our school board and district administrators are committed to being held accountable for student performance — because we will be.

What I don’t care about is teacher evaluations based on some flawed FCAT score, or testing data culled from someone else’s class for students assigned to another teacher. That is neither valid nor honest. I care instead about the efforts and outcomes for every classroom as measured by the individual — and responsible — teacher evaluation of progress. Teachers don’t lie to protect their students. Teachers care deeply about each student’s progress and ability to move forward. They treat each student as they would their own child, even willing to lay down their life before allowing their students to be harmed. 

If you don’t believe me, I suggest you revisit the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School before making judgment. The extraordinary thing about that staff is they represent all teachers I know — brave, caring and dutiful. They loved their students regardless of their test scores. This is the heart of a teacher.

Shame on “education reformers” who believe less of our classroom teachers. Accusing them of somehow not teaching to their full capacity, holding them accountable for the shortcomings of society ranging from poverty and immigration to learning disabilities from birth.

Basing teacher pay and employment security to the scrutiny of biased tests purposely created to fail 40 percent and 50 percent of every test-taker; tests that fail a significantly larger percentage of disadvantaged students than those of wealth; failing more minority students than passing them; failing more immigrant students than who get by. Testing causes the majority of students with a learning disability to be stopped in their tracks despite their best efforts because of even one standardized test. 

Teachers. Both heroes and villains of today? You need to decide which because our politicians cannot. They demoralize teachers and at the same time rely on teachers to create a brighter future, a safer environment and a better-educated student who will ensure the economic well-being of our country. 

With whom do you entrust the care and welfare of our children and the future of our country? Let’s renew our faith and belief in all teachers and stop making them the scapegoats for all of society’s failures. Thank a teacher for your child’s education. To those who have also saved a child’s life, we are all eternally grateful.  This is what America is all about. We are all in this together. 

Pat Deutschman is a member of the Citrus County School Board.