Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teach on TV

The recent rise of interest in "saving our schools" has spawned two TV reality shows, Teach: Tony Danza, and School Pride. I remember the exasperation when Teach was first revealed. I don't need another person to tell me how to do my job. There's enough assholes in America today pontificating on the subject, despite lacking credentials or teaching certification. The idea behind the show is that Tony Danza will teach in an inner city school, learn how the system operates, and somehow teach his students and viewers about the reality in public education today. Surprisingly, it's doing a decent job.

Like all first year teachers, Danza is terrible. Also like all first year teachers, he cares deeply about the students, and takes much of his failures to heart. Instead of being edited to show the dysfunction of the school system, the focus is on Danza. He stumbles his way through lessons, absorbs criticism from teachers and students, meets and angers parents, feels overwhelmed, and fears he is being ineffective. I enjoy this show because it reveals much of what first year teachers go through, and that teaching is a skill not learned by books and colleges, but through actually doing it. Danza himself quotes the study that shows 10,000 hours of doing anything can make you an expert. The principal tells Danza she wouldn't expect herself to dance or act after a short lesson on techniques, because they are difficult skills to learn. Danza should not expect the same of teaching for himself. Teach shows how Michelle Rhee, Davis Guggenheim, Barack Obama, or Arne Duncan would perform, how they criticize something they are unable to do. Teach shows how those leading "reform" would perform in reality. Education is not something a novice can stumble into and change. You need to know what you're doing first. You need your 10,000 hours.

My experience differs a bit from Danza's. What I found remarkable about Teach was that it appears as though Danza teaches only one class, and he has a teaching coach in the room every period. Most new teachers don't have it nearly as easy. The students seem well behaved, perhaps chosen as the TV class, assisting Danza with simple but important classroom management. He has already met dozens of parents. On back to school night I met the 3 parents of my 180 students. The "trouble students" seem like half my class. Nonetheless, I enjoy the show, and hope it continues to humanize the teaching profession, and show the reality of its difficulties.

School Pride is a new show, where outsiders come into an urban school with buckets of money, and fix up the school. The show gets corporate donors to sponsor classrooms. For example, the Microsoft Science Lab, Starter Sports Complex, and People Magazine Reading Room were shown prominently in the show, and called answers to our education problems. Corporate sponsorship is not the answer to school funding. Private advertising does not belong in public school. If your school doesn't have enough money, raise taxes or issue a bond or mill levy. We must invest in our future, not sell our kids short. No amount of paint will make up for slashed education budgets.

My fear is that people will watch these shows and believe themselves to be instant experts on the subject. The pattern of all the school "reform" talk these days continues to give voice to the novices, and none to the teachers. For any meaningful reform to happen, the pattern needs to be reversed.

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