If you’ve seen the movie, A Christmas Story, you undoubtedly remember the scene where the boy is goaded into sticking his tongue to a frozen flagpole, and of course, his tongue sticks to it.

The scene is great because it captures how posturing and speech are involved in our interactions, and how we can paint one another, or sometimes ourselves, into a corner.

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!

Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!

Flick: You’re full of it!

Schwartz: Oh yeah?

Flick: Yeah!

Schwartz: Well I double DOG dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.

Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

 

If you’re in education, in any capacity, you’ll undoubtedly have heard the phrase, “ … what’s best for kids.”

If you’re not in education, you’ll likely be surprised to hear how vexing that phrase is to teachers!

The phrase is often used in the context of, “I want you to do this, after all, we have to do what’s best for kids, right?”  It’s coercive, manipulative, and rarely used to promote something that has any impact on what’s best for kids. It almost always has to do with what’s best for the person using the phrase.

And, it’s powerful.  I’ve used it myself, a few times.  Like the triple dog dare, it’s a trump card.  The first person to play it tactfully wins.

Let’s talk about what really is best for kids, in the context of education.

  1.  Stable Home Life

I never appreciated how important a stable home life was until I became a teacher.  I believed it was imperative, without consideration, and my wife and I worked very hard to provide a quality upbringing for our daughters.  But I never knew how bad things can turn for kids in the absence of a stable homelife. I’ll not chase this too far, though it deserves an incredible amount of attention, but is just far beyond the scope of what AZWP does.

The vast majority of incarcerated felons are high school dropouts.  The number one reason kids drop out, and this could be argued and dissected many ways, goes back to quality home life.

  1.  Teachers

Education is performed by teachers.  

In a way, I think that says it all.  The end, thanks for coming.

As a society we can provide the best books, facilities, the safest possible schools, the best support staff, counselors, administrators, school board members, the best buses and athletic programs, but the vast majority of kids will not receive a quality education without a quality teacher.

Yet, a quality education can be received by a student in a dangerous school, without textbooks, in a run down facility, without counselors or support staff, with bad administration, and corrupt politicians…if they have the right teachers.  That teacher that’s a source of light in a dark, dark world.

I’ve heard many, and want to tell, stories of those diamonds in the rough.  The story of a bad school in a bad neighborhood, and a kid with the cards stacked against him (or her).  Yet, in the most unlikely of places a teacher reached them, put them on a different path, one that led to prosperity and fulfillment.

If we, as a society, do not attract the right people into education, and then help develop those people into quality teachers (nobody is born a good teacher), and then encourage those people to stay IN THE CLASSROOM, it’s all for not.

Let me clear up a few points.  For a school to function well as a whole, all of the pieces need to be in place.  The top priority though, is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We need the right people in the classroom doing the dirty work.  All of the other components are important and need to be high quality as well, but the act of educating kids is done by teachers.

The value teachers provide and the baseline perceived quality of teachers have both been under attack for decades.  Teachers are vilified and distrusted, they’re pointed at as the problem in education by textbook and test publication companies, politicians, and sadly enough, many citizens.  I could easily write volumes about each of these sources, their motivations and their proposed solutions. But there’s no need because they all have a common tactic, attacking the value of the teacher.

Teachers will still be leaving, at a record pace, if they do not make a livable wage.  As many have noted, and I’ve explored at some length here on my blog, the state average teacher salary is around $48,000 annually, as reported by the state.  That amount is far from reality when you consider the phrase I used earlier, IN THE CLASSROOM.  For those that don’t understand the reference, there are a lot of people that do not teach students that are reported as teachers.  (I’m not suggesting the services they provide aren’t valuable, but they skew the averages drastically.)

I have been teaching longer than most in Arizona and I’d be dancing in the streets if I made $48,000.  I work my second job to get to $48,000.  I would need another 26% increase over the 10% I just received to get to $48,000. I’m a quality math teacher headed into my 12th year of teaching.

Our current situation is this: #REDforED is trying to get more money into schools, and in my opinion the bar is too low.  We are trying to return to our per-pupil funding levels of 2008, when we were considered “The Mississippi of the West,” for education.

Regardless, once that money goes into schools the first and most important thing that must happen is that teachers need to earn a livable wage.  That’s not to say that other employees should be forgotten and passed over. That’s not to say facilities shouldn’t be updated. It’s not to say better safety precautions are not essential.  The act of education is performed by teachers. All other components support education.

We need enough money for all of those things.  The reality of the situation is that we are not receiving enough money for those things, not even close.

Analogies are risky because they’re always riddled with connections that are close, but not quite right.  The understanding gleaned from analogies is based on different situation with its own set of nuances and relationships and pitfalls are plentiful.  But analogies are powerful and useful in exposing key ideas.  These are all similar in the respect that the primary function of an organization is performed by one role.  Please consider a hospital without doctors, a transportation system without drivers, a computer with a processor, an airline without pilots, a team without players, a band without musicians, a canvas without a painter, a school without teachers.

#REDforED was spurred into existence because of a massive teacher shortage and all signs pointing towards the rapid expansion of that shortage.  Teachers, even after (if it comes to fruition) the 20×2020 deal, will not be staying in education, at least not in Arizona.

If you want what is best for kids, attract the right people into education, support and develop them into quality teachers, then reward and encourage them for staying.

Having quality teachers in classrooms is what’s best for kids. 

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