Stop Blaming the Teachers! by Dr. Jim Taylor

When did teachers become the bêtes noir of public education? Why are they getting all the blame for America’s public education failings? Everywhere you look, people are piling on teachers as if they are at the root of all that is bad in our public education system. Even President Obama has gotten in the act, supporting the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island school that has been deemed “failing.”

I always thought teachers were the good guys (and girls). They were those incredibly committed, hugely overworked, and vastly underpaid people who chose a career that may be the most fundamentally vital to America’s economy and future, namely, the education of our next generation of citizens. They have the second most important job in the world, after parenting, and are only paid slightly more and, sadly, respected even less. My gosh, teachers who teach in poorly performing schools should get Congressional commendations just for showing up every day and trying to teach kids who are so unprepared to learn.

Yet, from all you read these days, teachers seem to be wholly responsible for our students’ poor test scores, lagging international education standing, and the achievement gap between the have and have-nots. You’d think that teachers are these slothlike creatures who are setting themselves up for some cushy job in which they can just kick back, live the easy life, pick up a fat paycheck, and cruise into a lavish retirement.

Come on, we’re not talking about a bunch of CEOs who are getting multimillion-dollar compensation packages that include apartments, jets, and limos. And that’s after they retire! We’re talking about teachers who, to our collective shame, rate pretty darned low on the career food chain. The irony is that teachers probably have far more influence over our economy than those overpaid and pampered CEOs. Unfortunately, this impact takes several decades to be realized, so teachers don’t get the recognition and aren’t compensated accordingly.

I’m all for teacher accountability, but judging teacher competence and basing their pay and promotion on student test scores just plain ludicrous. There are just too many factors that influence student achievement to place that level of responsibility on teachers’ shoulders, most notably, as I have argued in a previous post, how prepared (or unprepared) children are when they enter school.

Sure, there are some incompetent and unmotivated teachers out there who should step up or step out. But do you really believe that there are so many that they can be held so responsible for the massive and enduring failures of our public education system over the past decades? I just don’t buy it. I do believe that there are many overwhelmed teachers who have been given the impossible task of teaching students who are simply unprepared to learn.

Some believe it’s those nasty teachers’ unions that are the real culprits. Teachers’ unions are frequently called special-interest groups, often being lumped into the same category as lobbyists from Big Everything. How utterly unwarranted! Corporate lobbyists should be called special-interest groups because they represent the interests of a highly select group of people, namely, business executives and shareholders who are only interested in increasing their own profits. In contrast, there is nothing special about the interests represented by teachers’ unions; they are really ordinary-interest groups because they represent ordinary people who are trying to help ordinary children.

Okay, I admit that the teachers’ unions have negotiated some pretty favorable contracts for teachers that emphasize seniority and tenure over performance and accountability. But the unions are just doing their jobs and it does take two to tango in any negotiation. And, as the recent contract talks in the Washington, D.C. school district indicate, there is room for improvement in the way that teachers are compensated that is win-win for both teachers and our education system.

So what do you say? Can we once again see teachers as the heroes that they rightfully are rather than the villains for which they have been unfairly characterized? Can we get back to seeing teachers as being on the side of children (we do put our children in their hands!)? For all they do for such low pay and little recognition, teachers deserve our respect, appreciation, and support.

cross posted at

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. in psychology, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco. He blogs on education and technology for,,,, and other Web sites around the country, as well as on blog/archives/education.