My third grade teacher was terrible. I mean, she was really, really rotten. She once — and this is true — gave a class of bewildered 8-year-olds a lecture on why cling wrap couldn’t be used as a contraceptive. She also used to announce to the class that I wasn’t nearly as clever as my classmate, Jan.
But you know what? I didn’t just write off the entire profession of educators based on that one experience. Not even when I had her again for 5th grade. Lately it feels like lawmakers and other critics are holding a few bad apples accountable for the whole bunch.
New Yorker writer David Denby agrees. He believes the problem is a culture of over-testing, alongside a system that is inherently unfair for low-income students and students of color. Teachers are fighting a losing battle, he says, and economic disparities are only making things worse.
“We …have to face the real problem, which, again, is persistent poverty. If we really want to improve scores and high-school-graduation rates and college readiness and the rest, we have to commit resources to helping poor parents raise their children by providing nutrition and health services, parenting support, a supply of books, and so on. We have to commit to universal pre-K and much more. And we have to stop blaming teachers for all of the ills and injustices of American society.”
That was a long quote, but I didn’t want to leave out a bit of it. Denby hits the nail on the head here. And although he isn’t writing specifically about North Carolina, he spotlights exactly what’s going wrong with the educational system in our state.
Recently the NAACP said it will appeal the dismissal of a recent lawsuit in which it charged that Halifax County students are not being given access to a fair education. The state’s constitution requires every single student to have the same opportunity to an education. But in Halifax, by creating three separate school systems, the county is providing unequal opportunities.
The lack of universal pre-k in our state also creates an imbalanced system. Children who are given the opportunity to read and socialize before kindergarten have better outcomes. But empirically the only students who get to do so are wealthy. Poor kids in our state suffer.
But lawmakers blame the teachers. They paint them as lazy babysitters, suckling at the government teat and taking leisurely summer vacations. Then they pass laws that create even more inequality in our state, which punishes more children and causes more work for teachers in the most difficult districts.
There are bad teachers, to be sure. And make no mistake, if we continue to mistreat our educators, the bad ones will be all that’s left. All the smart, quality, teachers will move on to greener pastures leaving our children — particularly those in need — with an educational system that doesn’t even come close to meeting their needs.