Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Next time you feel like giving your opinion... don't

Being an agency fee payer and non-member of the CTA and NEA, I belong to the American Association of Educators (AAE) instead. The AAE sends out a monthly newsletter called Education Matters. I usually enjoy the articles they have to offer, but of course, I'm not always going to agree with everything, because that wouldn't be any fun now would it!

The November 2008 edition had an article entitled Teacher Buried at 70, Died at 25: Rediscovering Your Passion for Teaching, by one Calvin Mackie, Ph.D. Dr. Mackie is a former associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Now, I get what Dr. Mackie was trying to convey in his article, however, he did so in a very sanctimonious and uninformed manner. He began the article with his basic thesis:
Many teachers and other educators are neither motivated, inspired, nor prepared to accept and deal with the daunting challenges facing us today.
Undoubtedly true, says I. Of course, many are the exact opposite of that, but I digress. Moving further down the article, Dr. Mackie says:
Famous boxing promoter Don King (He's using Don King as a source?), when asked what is success, replied, 'Set yourself on fire and people will show up to watch you burn.'
It's funny that Dr. Mackie used that quote, because a long time ago, my mother, who is also a teacher, used that very same imagery when explaining how hard it is to gain her students' attention. She told me, "I swear, in order to compete with their television, video games, and iPods, about the only thing I could do to get my students' attention would be to set myself on fire in the front of the classroom...."

But Dr. Mackie has a different take: we teachers are the problem. He says,
Maybe our students are not on fire because we, the educators, are not on fire. Many of us have become fire fighters, pouring water on the fire of our children's hopes and dreams, rather than being the fire lighter, and igniting them every day to go beyond their limited view. Be honest, which are you: fire fighter, or fire lighter?
Excuse the hell out of me, but I do not go to work with the intention of drowning the hopes and dreams of anyone. I go to work every day, hoping this will be the day when I will be able to get through 30 seconds of my lesson without having to wait 10 seconds for the troublemakers to quiet down, then repeat that process over and over again every period, every day, all school year long. I go to work every day, hoping that this will be the day when I do get to teach, when I do get to light a fire in a student, instead of being a babysitter with a masters degree. Dr. Mackie seems to be putting the cart before the horse. He makes it sound like we teachers have some sort of bitter stick up our asses which then poisons the student body and makes them bitter as well, and uneducable to boot. Hardly. I go to work every day with a positive, I-love-to-teach attitude, and certain students do everything they can - intentional and unintentional - to beat it out of me by the end of the school day. Anything "fun", like a review game, that I have planned, the students quickly ruin it because they can't even stay quiet long enough to listen to the game's directions. About the only thing for which they will stay somewhat quiet is silent reading and note-taking; and note-taking is what we teachers are always told that students hate the most. I would quite often rather do something else as well, however, that is about all my students seem capable of handling.

Dr. Mackie then engages in a very inaccurate analogy:
Many educators, especially those occupying positions in institutions of higher education, are becoming like doctors in hospitals who do not want to treat sick patients. They only desire and admit the healthy, well-prepared and equipped students who they can nurture and graduate. Then, they spend a lifetime bragging about how their great, healthy, and well students never became ill.
Dr. Mackie, when you talk of healthy patients and sick ones, they both have one thing in common: they want to be in the hospital! They want to do what it takes to get better or stay healthy! To expound upon your analogy, I work in a hospital where too many of my sick patients refuse to read the literature I give them that tells them how to get healthy. I give them a prescription that requires they take the medicine home a few times a week and ingest it there, but they refuse to do so. Many times, a parent will want me to let the sick patient make up all those prescriptions that the patient refused to ingest over the last few months. The problem is that you can never swallow that many pills all at once. To make matters worse, the sick patients do everything they can to sabotage the healthy patients and make them sick as well. And when, after all this, the patient is still sick, the patient's parent calls me or emails me and demands to know why the patient is still sick. Sorry parent, but I'm not allowed to follow your little patient home and ensure that he takes his medicine, and I am severely limited in my ability to keep your sick patient out of my hospital so I can stop him from infecting the healthy patients. When doctors encounter patients like this, the patients are not allowed back in the hospital!

I only have the short bio to reference regarding Dr. Mackie's job history, so I don't know all of his teaching experience. However, I would like him to know that teaching a bunch of apathetic general-population students in a public middle school is quite a different experience than teaching highly motivated mechanical engineering students at a private college where the annual tuition is in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Stick to what you know, Dr. Mackie.

Good Day to You, Sir


Don, American said...

This jerk must be related to Michelle Rhee. Did you see my criticism of her in my letter to the Bee (Monday I believe)?

Don, American said...

Actually, my blog was better, having been written before I had to edit my letter down to 200 words.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I, too, read this article. I read the magazine and enjoyed the refreshing change from the NEA rag. I recently denounced my union and joined AAE. However, I share your consternation with this article. Mostly, I just thought to myself as I read it, What the hell?

Anonymous said...

Congratulation Law and Order Teacher for leaving the "dark side" of the NEA and joining the "enlightened" ones. Several of my fellow teachers complain about the union, but won't leave it: terminal inertia! Chanman, perfect analogy with the school and the hospital. I actually do cartwheels in my classroom to get the students' attention. When did knowledge become so devalued that we have to beg kids to accept it?

The Vegas Art Guy said...

The dude is an unmitigated ass. When, exactly was the last time he set foot in a classroom and actually taught a lesson?

Polski3 said...

Good post ! Once again, someone who doesn't "walk in our shoes" is telling us our deficiencies. What I wonder, is, how AAE could ever publish such an article that is so insulting to their members and any other teacher that reads it? It makes me wonder about AAE....

Chanman said...

I don't think any organization that is made up of teachers is immune from the altruistic self-flagellation in which too many teachers engage.

Texas Truth said...

What a mook!!!!

Hube said...

Perfect dissection of that hospital analogy!

Anonymous said...

I think that maybe you missed the point. However, given that Dr. Mackie did not label all teachers but obviously he labeled a subset that you acknowledge initially. After go on the attack.

I'm not sure why you take offense versus just saying..."He isn't talking to or about me" or does the shoe fit?

As a teacher and a person who has experience working in a hospital, I am sure that you know more than say 'a handful' of teachers and hospital workers (including doctors) who could use the firm hand that Dr. Mackie chose to employ.

Teachers educate students and some students are out of control in a system that is operates in an open loop. Dr. Mackie points out that some of the teachers are out of touch and sometimes out of control.

Do you disagree? If not, maybe you should not take it personal, but on the other hand, I appreciate the passion you express for your craft.

He has been in the classroom. Have you read any of his other articles or done your homework on him before making this post? Maybe you have but I doubt it. If you did, then just maybe you might have a different perspective.

His message is needed and resonates with students, teachers, school systems, and or educational institutions.

Visit Read, listen, and then reconsider.

Yes. I do know Dr. Mackie personally and I take as much offense as you did...without the name calling of some of the commentators.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

So anon, how much time does he spend in the classrooms teaching every year?

Darren said...

I, too, thought that was a horrible article--not just the topic, but the manner of writing as well.

And I have a total professional crush on Michelle Rhee :-) She's awesome!

CMackie said...

My People ... The only point I want to get over to my colleagues in the teaching profession is "Don't allow any one to take your JOY"! Teaching is a tough profession and guess what it isn't the only tough profession. We, teachers, act as if NO ONE can challenge us. There are good and bad in every profession, including teaching and we do ourselves a disservice by protecting and advocating for those who are not up to par. I didn't call anyone's name, school or district. I was taught if you throw a shoe in a pack of dogs, only the one that was hit howls. Corporations pay millions for people to come in and re-ignite the passion in professionals making much more than teachers in better environments. Teachers deserve and need the same type of professional development. So, don't take it personal, I feel your pain, I am with you and not against you. However, I will not allow those not engaged to define the profession I love. All that I am and will become is because of the teachers in my life.I am an educator, taught for 12 years on the college level, also taught pre-algebra for 6 years and I am in middle and high schools across America every week.

I have no reason to hide and my credentials are located at for anyone to examine. I would love to know the background of many on this blog.

Chanman said...

Dr. Mackie,
Thank you for taking the time to comment on my critique of your article.

As you can see from some of the comments, you have struck a nerve, and just because we "howl" in protest does not mean we are the incompetents of which you speak in your article. The problem is that articles like yours are all too common in painting all or most teachers with the "uncaring" brush, even if you did not intend to do so.

With the current climate of NCLB and accountability, all we teachers tend to hear at the many inservices we are required to attend is how it is our fault that the students are failing. Your article appeared to say the same thing, and we are quite sick of hearing it; even we teachers who are passionate and capable.

Thank you again.


BTW, most of my regular commentors are educators who also have their own blogs. The fact that we edu-blog in the first place tends to show our passion toward the profession.