Teacher-bashing gone viral

May 22, 2013

Houston teacher Laura Taylor considers what a viral video doesn't show.

"JUST GET up and teach them instead of handing them a freakin' packet...You want a kid to change and start doing better? You gotta touch his freakin' heart!...This is my country's future and my education."

With those words, high school student Jeff Bliss spoke for many who believe that public education in this country can do better. Bliss, a student at Duncanville High School in Texas, was speaking to his world history teacher as he was being kicked out of class. A classmate recorded the exchange on a cell phone, and the video has since gone viral. The 90-second video shows Bliss' frustration with his teacher, who he believed was not doing enough to help students in the class learn.

For many of those who shared the video on Facebook and other social networks, Bliss' words struck a chord with their own school experiences. They felt frustrated by those experiences, and like Bliss, they want schools to be better for students--more engaging, more stimulating, more caring.

At the same time, those who believe in public education and who want teachers to have the kind of support they need are right to question what else we should know that isn't in the video.

Jeff Bliss
Jeff Bliss

Viewers of the short video clip know very little about the classroom or the type of teaching that had been going on. The video starts after Bliss has been told to leave the class, so we don't know what he had done to get kicked out of class. The teacher is quiet for most of the video, but she does tell Bliss calmly to leave several times, at one point acknowledging his feelings, saying, "I respect that. Could you go outside please?"

Based on the concerns raised by Bliss, we can presume that the education he has been receiving in that classroom is less than inspiring, but at no point are we encouraged to consider why that might be the case. As graduate student Stephanie Schwartz noted:

Maybe this teacher is working under an emergency credential and has no training and no support. Maybe last year she tried to teach an engaging curriculum, and the administration told her she wasn't allowed to, and they gave her the packets in order to stay on script. Maybe she works a second job because starting teaching salaries in Texas are under $35,000 a year, and she doesn't have time to develop a more engaging curriculum.

None of these possibilities are raised in the video--nor have they been explored in the resulting media coverage. Instead, we get a well-known stereotype: the lazy, uncaring public school teacher.

FOR EVERY problem in our schools, teachers have become a convenient scapegoat. Test scores too low? Must be those ineffective teachers. Rates of suspension and expulsion rising? Must be those mean teachers. Budget shortfall? Must be those extravagant teacher salaries.

Teachers are an easy target, because they are the ones who have the most direct contact with students. But are teachers really to blame for the type of education that Bliss is complaining about?

Many teachers do spend weeks or months of the school year using packets in their classrooms, but it's not because they're lazy. Rather, they do so largely out of fear--fear that if they don't, their students will receive low scores on those standardized tests. Low scores mean their students can't be promoted to the next grade and that the teacher will lose her or his job.

So each spring, teachers across the country turn to packets, along with other test-prep materials, to prepare students for federal- and state-mandated tests they must pass to be promoted to the next grade and, in some states, to graduate.

And who has been pushing the use of standardized testing to rank and sort students and teachers? The very same neoliberal corporate "reformers" who blame teachers for all problems--real and manufactured--in our nation's school system.

The type of education that Bliss demands is one we should all demand--student-centered classrooms where teachers and students have the space to learn in engaging and creative ways. As we fight for this type of education, we must remember that neither teachers nor students demanded schools become the test-prep factories they are now. It is the corporate reformers who imposed this testing regimen, while attacking teachers' unions and slashing education budgets. These are the people to blame for the current system, not teachers.

Looking toward the heroic actions by teachers in Chicago, Seattle and across the country in fighting against the current system, it is teachers, fighting alongside parents and students, who will save our schools.

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