I am heartily sick of…..

When I read some of the posts on teacher listservs, I am struck by the sense they carry that the teacher must be The Great Corrector. Foreign language teachers esp share this trait. The teacher’s job, it seems, is to correct mere mortals’ mistakes and the mistakes are constant and unavoidable for normal people.

A few “good kids” do not make mistakes but most of us went through school with a sense that the best thing was to avoid contact with a teacher b/c instead of being listened to, you were going to be corrected: for your English, for your French, for your dress, for your attitude, or any of a large number of faults.

Some teachers seem to feel they are not doing their job if they are not correcting. And they are enabled by parents and others who speak of the trepidation they feel going into a teacher’s presence for they, too, stand to be corrected. Oh yes, it’s all jocular and in fun, but it’s always there: “You’d better straighten up your act, Jack. Ms. Hamilton will have you at the board right next to your kid writing a hundred times, ‘I will not……..’” We all titter, yet the child is looking on with big eyes, seeing not a friend who facilitates learning but an enemy who makes you feel like crap and is to be avoided. Hey, if my mom is telling my dad he needs to avoid censure and correction, then how come I have to deal with it everyday?

The school marm, whose characteristic is a strict adherence to arbitrary rules, rules with an iron fist. The idea seems to be to get enough power to get out from under her rule but to make sure others have to endure it. Deeply disturbing to a school teacher like me is the way the typical adult has no idea why the school marm’s arbitrary rules exist or even what’s arbitrary about them. Grammar rules, for example, are not observed in serious settings; in the old days, secretaries “cleaned up” letters, now spell check does it. Such matters were not for serious people, they were for the school marm and for the helpless children under her tutelage.

And scores will tell you how valuable her corrections and admonitions were without being able to tell you how. Underneath it all, I suspect, is a reverence for blind obedience to deaf, dumb, and blind authority. But it is a part of our culture as it is part of many other cultures. The school marms are caught up in it, too. Look at what happens to teachers who speak of “facilitating learning” instead of “inculcating knowledge”; we get pilloried for using “ed-speak” instead of just making kids buckle down and learn. If we take into account a student’s mental and physical state, we are accused of using “psychobabble” and considered bleeding-hearts who do children no good in a world of tough love.

Frankly, I am sick of all these people. I began teaching over 20 years ago and have been appalled at the low level of knowledge on the part of my colleagues. They don’t take courses, they don’t read books, they sleep through in-service training and, in the end, ridicule it all. What do they base their teaching on? Folklore and the mythology of populist conservative politics, not to mention religion. Fear is the great motivator, shame corrects behavior, competitiveness sharpens thinking, drive and ambition are all that matter, and whoever reaches the top must not be questioned as to just how they got there. No sense asking how the sausage got made.

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