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Give public school teachers a break

June 10, 2022

It’s far past time that we treat public school teachers as adults, not children of the state.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Last week’s column was about how to protect students and teachers from being murdered in our public schools — the only nation in the world where this is a recurring problem.

Today I address another problem: How to reform the “education” system that subjects our country’s 3.6 million public school teachers to idiotic demands that they take summer school classes in “education” to hold onto their teacher license, rather than doing something useful with their summers.

Such as traveling, learning a language, practicing art or music, dance, poetry or history, or just reading books in a shady hammock in their back yards, away from school administrators, school boards, school politics and powerful political morons who use our public schools, and their 49.5 million students, as whipping boys for their own personal advancement.

Virtually all 50 states require some sort of hand-me-down summer classes for teachers to keep their licenses. Taking a class at a profit-seeking “private college” is generally the easiest way to do this. I shall not name any of these shoddy chain schools, though you might want to look up “Corinthian Colleges” and $5.8 billion in student loan relief, or as I call it, scams.

I taught high school English, music and journalism for nine years, seven of them in Arizona. There, I had to take a summer school class in “education” every other year to keep my teacher’s license. All those classes were idiotic: eighth grade level.

Listen: After a college graduate survives three years of teaching in a public school, there is very little you can teach them about “classroom management,” “lesson plans” or how to run their show. Every good teacher develops his or her own style. Forcing them to go to six weeks of summer school at a profit-making private college does nothing but sour them on the profession — making them stay home in summer instead of having a life.

Teaching, at its base, is about communication: how to transfer facts — gleaned from human life and study — to youngsters. The joys and beauties and values and sadnesses of life: how to learn that at first hand — or, for a lot of it, at second hand—and learn how to deal with it.

I learned more about this in Mexican bars and in my own classrooms than I ever did in college.

Most good high school teachers got into teaching through love of their subject; they stay with it through love of the kids. That’s how I got into it.

(Elementary schoolteachers may be different. Maybe they fell in love with kids from day one; I don’t know; I never hung out with elementary schoolteachers.)

But I will tell you this: Mandatory “education” classes for accredited high school teachers are worse than useless. Look: I got a master’s degree in teaching (not education: teaching) from Northwestern University, not because I wanted to, but because Northwestern had booted up an innovative program through which I taught school for a year on the South Side of Chicago for half pay, and took classes at night in Evanston.

Chicago Public Schools loved it because me and my pals taught three classes a day — 60% of a full load — and the schools paid each of us half a salary. So the Chicago School District got a free class a year from each Northwestern student. 

It was well worth it, to me. A professor would come and watch us teach about three times a year — if that — and offered us Helpful Hints about our style.

Public schools and teaching colleges should offer that to all first-year teachers, if they want to sign up for it. With the proviso that neither the teacher’s principals, superintendents or the school board would have access to the experts’ suggestions. 


Because superintendents and school boards would be inclined — trust me on this — to use an expert’s “suggestions” as “evidence,” against teachers who dare to raise their heads. And eliminate them. Us.

I’ve been trying to count the number of principals, vice principals and superintendents I’ve had to grapple with over the years, but every time I get to six, my blood boils so hot — sizzling in my brain — that I have to get up and go to the back yard and kick a soccer ball around, hard, for a half hour.

Here are the only things I learned to get master’s degree in teaching, all of them from my “methods” professor. Now, Methods is surely the most boring, useless class they make you take in teacher school. But this professor was great. Here is what she taught us.

In the first minute of the first class, she had drawn on the board a rectangle with 40 weeks on it.

She erased the first and last squares. “Nothing will happen in the first or last week,” she said. “So now you’ve got 38 weeks.” (Correct.)

She told us that every sophomore girl will go crazy for a couple of weeks.

I can attest to this. I shall not horrify you with the details, but all you young moms and dads out there might bear it in mind. (It’s not your fault; it’s how it is.)

Finally, this excellent professor told us that if you could draw a graph of a young teacher’s self-image, for the first two years in the classroom, it would look like a chart of the employment rate beginning in October 1929: straight down on a steep slope.

But there’s a bright side! The reason for this is that you are learning so much every day that by the end of most days, if you will become a good teacher, you’ll go home feeling incompetent. (“I should have said … that would have been the moment to … but what if I’d …”)

After about two years, your ship will right itself, if you’re a good teacher. But not because of summer school classes. It’s because you either find your sea legs in Year One, or you don’t. If you haven’t learned how to handle a class in two years, all the Corinthian Colleges in the world ain’t gonna help you.

Now here is my point: 

Public schoolteachers could benefit by occasional pointers from old-timers in Year One. Three times a year would be plenty. The teachers’ teachers should not have to report to school principals, superintendents or school boards. The teachers’ teachers are there to help teachers, and students: not the Powers That Be.

In short: The first priority of school boards, and the superintendents they hire, and the principals and teachers they hire, should be the welfare of the children they teach.

That will cost money: tax dollars.

If parents want their kids to be taught by the best teachers, you might think about that.

And if politicians want to improve public schools, they should shut their damn mouths and pony up.

As for school boards: Why do you pay your superintendents, principals and vice principals so much more money than you pay your best teachers?

(Study question for extra credit: What if Socrates had a school principal and superintendent overseeing him? Would we ever have heard of Socrates?

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