Oh No They Di-in’t!!

(Um, Yeah, They Did and It Blows)

I feel duped. Last week, I received a phone call from a legit Newsweek reporter and almost hyperventilated. I mean, what is a Newsweek reporter doing calling little old me? Right? I know I love to toot my own horn, but really, I know I’m pretty small fries. (Small fries in fabulous shoes, which helps, but small fries all the same.) The reporter was super friendly and seemed very interested in my experiences during my first year of teaching. Like every other teacher EVER, my first year of teaching was rough and plagued by behavioral problems. Now, teacher preparation programs and the horror that is the first year of teaching could be a week’s worth of blog posts and someday, we will go there, but not today.

Because today, I’m still heated about this Newsweek business.

The article which includes quotes from yours truly is not so terrible on it’s own. (Why Teachers Can’t Control Their Classrooms) Although, I never EVER said that “very practical things weren’t taught” in my preparation program because that is simply not true. I had a fabulous experience in my teacher preparation program, so that is the first point with which I take issue (and cried out, “Are you freaking kidding me?” when I saw it.)

But the cover story?!?! Holy crap, THE COVER STORY! (I mean the title alone is horrifying and against everything I stand for and think – Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers– and have been ranting and raving about for the past two weeks!!! *pulls hair out*) If I had known, had been informed, had been made privy to the angle that they were going to pursue in this issue, I would have said, “HELL TO THE NO!” (Okay, I probably would have said something more polite but equally discouraging as I was raised much better than that.)

I have learned my lesson, friends. And I’m sorry if you thought for one second that I had switched to the other team. I will always be Team Teacher and may, in fact, make up T-shirts in the near future.

Now, let’s tear this article to shreds, shall we? (Or I can just grab my bat and we can go all Office Space style on this…your choice.)

So at the start of the piece, they do admit that the quality of a teacher is one of the most important aspects of a child’s successful education, which is DUH true. But I RESENT the implication that therefore it is OUR FAULT ALONE that American Public Education has gone down the crapper (in their opinion). I mean, in terms of decision making power, TEACHERS ARE THE RESIDUE LEFT ON THE BOTTOM OF THE SYSTEM’S SHOE AFTER IT IS HAS WALKED THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS OF BULLSHIT OF IT’S OWN MAKING. I’m not saying that’s where we belong, but let’s face it…that’s where we are in the whole scheme of things. When was the last time anyone with any sort of power or control over anything asked a teacher A REGULAR OLD CLASSROOM TEACHER what they thought of any of the latest trends in education and THEN LISTENED AND CONSIDERED THIS INFORMATION?!?!

Now, do I happen to agree with the article that there are weak teachers out there? Yes, actually I do. And I have said that before. We are all plagued by those weak links, forced to pick up the pieces they leave in their trail of uselessness and then are subsequently judged by THEIR performance because we all know that the media loves to highlight the crappy ones. (Well, the crappy ones and the superhero ones dressed exclusively in leather who star in movies.) You know, since teacher bashing seems to have become our national past time along with finger pointing, scape goating and baseball.

And while the article admits that there is a procedure for dismissing less than successful teachers and that many principals are failing to follow through on these procedures (instead passing these teachers like the proverbial buck on to some other school), somehow SOMEHOW failing schools remain all our fault. Um, hello, hole in your argument to go along with your coffee???!

Also, I resent the broad generalization that most inner-city schools resort to a defeatist mindset. I know that that may be true for some schools, but I think a lot of schools have stood up and said, “WE ARE GOING TO DO SOMETHING!” I know I have ka-vetched about some of the realities in my former workplace, but we never EVER just rolled over and took it. We may not have been perfect, but we busted our butts (or most of us did) to avoid the very same attitude that this article thinks we all have in the inner-city. And the beauty of that paragraph is that it is the very same paragraph in which the authors let parents and poverty off the hook. Somewhere, parents and poverty are reading this, breathing a sigh of relief and thinking, “Sweet, we dodged that bullet.”

I’m glad that at least parents and poverty are being treated with such respect.

And before a whole bunch of people jump down my throat about parents, I am well aware that many parents are doing a wonderful job. However, those that aren’t, REALLY AREN’T and believe me, teachers can tell in an instant in the classroom. But I would never EVER say that “all parents are bad and should be fired” because 1) you can’t fire parents and 2) that would be almost as ridiculous as standing up and shouting that all teachers are bad and should be fired a la Central Falls without considering anything such as leadership, context or individual performance.

So then, in an effort to beat public education to a pulp, the article goes on and on about the wonder that is the charter school. Again, because I am not a raging idiot, I will not condemn all charter schools, because I know some of them are kicking butt and taking names (and are staffed with wonderful teachers). However, I will say that making the assertion that in general charter schools are outperforming public schools is RIDICULOUS. I mean, how much evidence to the contrary do you need to see what is right in front of your face?!?

And when WHEN WHEN are we going to stop pushing a business model of education? When are we going to realize that education is smart enough and important enough to deserve it’s own language and model? Wake me up when that happens, because lately, I’m considering going to bed and pulling the covers up over my head until that day.)

Oh Lordy, now they are talking about fast track certification programs. And I know that some fabulous teachers come out of these programs, but I also think that those who aren’t so fabulous are contributing to the high teacher turnover rates in inner-city schools. And do we really want to embrace the idea that six weeks of classes can get an individual ready for the complexity that is the classroom? I know they’re all “but there’s mentoring and additional course work and blah blah blah” but STILL. Six weeks does not a successful teacher make.

The article says, “It will take a quiet revolution to improve American schools.” Unfortunately, they don’t recognize that this revolution starts with listening to, respecting and acknowledging teachers.

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  • I think it is really wrong that the person who interviewed you didn't give you the big picture of the article being written! Twisting your words to make it seem as if you are aligned with particular political attitudes when you are not, is not okay!!
    But still…how cool is it that you were mentioned by Newsweek!

    March 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm
  • Wow, I'm glad you're on our side 🙂

    March 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm
  • Ms. Mimi- I saw your post yesteday and clicked right on the link to read. I was as shocked (i.e. pissed off) as you were with the article). I blogged about this "teacher residency" program Secy. Duncan wants to establish for $121 Million…I am with you, some of these atlternate routes to teacher certification produce good sometimes great teachers, but I think these people were motivated, and had the rightmentality for teachign in the first place..the program did not do that for them…they had that already going in. I think that 121 million could be spend better elsewhere in education. Keep fighting the good fight Ms. Mimi!!

    March 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm
  • don't you feel a bit like derek zoolander: a model idiot?

    Thanks for the clarification and the commentary.

    March 9, 2010 at 4:16 pm
  • Thanks Stu – I'm glad you're over here on our team too.

    Sneaker Teacher – they told me about the article itself, but not the bigger picture of the entire issue. So, yes, kind of cool to be in Newsweek, but not cool how it all ended up going down.

    Mrs. B. – keep blogging for all of us!

    tesstrue – calling me an idiot feels a bit harsh, but maybe I'm not getting your reference. (Although I do love Zoolander…) I think navigating the press and the new found audience for Mrs. Mimi has been exciting, but not without it's mistakes and challenges.

    March 9, 2010 at 4:19 pm
  • Funny thing…. I read this Newsweek article online this past weekend. The DH sent it to me. When I arrived at the "a Harlem teacher" quote, my first thought was "This has to be Mrs. Mimi!"

    I found the article interesting, but like any intelligent person, I read it with the, "ok, who is writing this and who is the real audience the author is trying to reach?"

    Being that I follow your blog and I am currently enjoying ( laughing my head off) your book, I know that our words are truly only our words when we write and speak them… not when others "quote" them.

    I am sorry you feel duped!

    March 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm
  • Reporters are often scum. Sorry! I've been interviewed a lot by small-time reporters, and they ALWAYS misquote me. It's like what I say has no relevance to them, because they're just going to make up whatever they want to support whatever half-assed (pardon the crudeness, but it's true) theme they're trying to convey. Even the nice ones are telling it slant.

    So, sorry Mrs Mimi, but just say no to all reporters from now on… unless it's Diane Sawyer, she's legit 😉

    March 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm
  • I followed the link to read "your" article and then, probably like you, clicked on the link to the lead article. And, like you, got spitting mad. I can only say I agree with you – we are NOT the cause of any problems with the educational system. I'm so tired of being scapegoat for all the other failings that play into the current state of the educational system. Grrrrr.

    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • You need to know your reporters. I've asked for writing samples. Really. Looking for their angle. And it's allowed me to talk to some decent people, and saved me from some others.


    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • Dang, Mrs. Mimi!
    It's so easy for reporters to shift meaning, reframe words…sorry that happened to you.
    You're for sure not an idiot.
    Your smart words here on the blog speak well for themselves – it sucks when people feel like it's their right to recontextualize to their hearts content.
    Worry not – we believe in you. Thanks always for writing down the real skinny!

    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • Yikes. Sorry you got duped. I think you should make SURE to send a retort to the magazine… will the print it? Of course not, but you might feel a tad better. If I ever get a book published and have national magazines calling, I'll be extra careful… wait, who am I kidding.

    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • Preach on sister. As I read the part that said, "it's the parents (or absence of parents); it's society with all its distractions and pathologies; it's the kids themselves," I was thinking, yes, yes, and yes!! Um, hello!? Since when did we become superheros and possess the powers to singlehandedly bring impoverished children up to snuff when many of their parents don't help or care and because their parents don't help or care, the children don't care or value the fact that they need an education. Monkey see, monkey do! (at home) I mean, I try my damndest to inspire my children to want to learn and teach them manners and good character, but I'm only one voice and sometimes, my voice doesn't matter to some children.

    I mean, I have some wonderful children, but I have one who is just a nightmare. He's been suspended for the past two days and was sent home today because he's just out of control. I couldn't even teach the rest of my class and finally admin stepped up and got my back. I don't even understand how some people are parents.

    This article makes me very sad. I agree that there are teachers out there who need to hit the road, but these people have no idea what real teaching is about and they wanna write an article criticizing us. I want to see them come in my classroom and survive for one freakin' day!

    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • Well said. Especially the stuff in all caps… which deserves to be in all caps.

    I had a feeling those quotes were made up or taken completely out of context.

    March 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
  • Everyone, read this Building a Better Teacher. (Mad props to my sisters — actual blood sisters — who shared this and are discussing it all over the blogosphere.) It describes the efforts of some educators to study and then replicate the methods of great teachers so that the rest of us mortal teachers and our students can benefit. If you fire all the teachers, you have no teachers left to teach anyone. If you improve teachers, you have better teachers everywhere!

    And write a letter to the editor! A reputable magazine will print it.

    March 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm
  • I just discovered your blog and I love it! Reading it at work makes my day a lot less painful. As someone who wants to be a teacher (soon, hopefully!), I hope I can face Adult Stupidity with as much humor and grace as you have.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm
  • Check out Teacher in a Strange Land's blog on this topic, also.

    March 10, 2010 at 9:19 pm
  • I've been thinking about this series of articles, and the nation's current general obsession with the "ills" of education, and several things bug me to no end.

    First, blanket firing is extremely anti-education in every sense of the term. Does it make it better? Who takes the place of these teachers? New teachers who have no experience or training either? Will you fire them after a year or so too after not providing them any development? What happens to the students when they have to spend the rest of the year with a sub, or series of subs, who often know very little about the subject at hand?

    Second, it propigates the philosophy of perfectionism. If something isn't perfect, get rid of it. The idea that we reject things, and people, who don't meet our standard is absurd, and no way to live life. What you would end up with is everyone living in bubbles, because none of us are perfect. I try to teach my students, and myself, to accept people for their imperfections and work with them from that point. Because we're human, and not accepting people who make mistakes leaves us alone. Not saying we should accept every imperfection, but we should help each other overcome our mistakes and better ourselves.

    Third, this whole model reeks of "business" model. Which clearly does NOT work in education. I mean, have these people never read the blueberry story. We do not get to choose the products we work with. Nor do I believe we should. We take every child, no matter how intelligent, how poor, how many family problems, how abused, how whatever. That's our job. I don't think a blanket assessment can account for that.

    Fourth, this whole idea is punitive, and it is my personal philosophy that eternal optimism is key in education.

    Fifth, can these people making the rules please walk in my shoes for a week. Or maybe a month. Or a day. Or an hour.

    Sixth, I'm really sorry this is so long. I'm just a little worked up.

    March 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm
  • You had a lot to say in this post, and I'm glad you said it. Three cheers for good teachers. And it sounds as though one of the best things we could do for them would be to give them more control in their classrooms.

    I hope I can entice you to bring some of that solid, clear thinking over to our site, Women's Memoirs.

    And if you have a recipe and a story, perhaps you'd like to enter our little writing contest: http://womensmemoirs.com/contests/

    Thanks again for speaking out. Keep it up. K

    March 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm
  • Mimi: Totally NOT calling YOU an idiot!!! I think you may not get the Zoolander reference… my apologies!!

    I'm glad you're getting out there… and I hate that Newsweek didn't let you know the nature of the article as you quoted for it.

    March 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm
  • This article is getting a lot of movement on the teacher blogs. I read about it on two other sites (Right on the Left Coast and Coach Brown's blog) and I even wrote about it and KIPP schools.


    March 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

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