As he ponders an education policy for his second term as governor, Dannel P. Malloy would do well to talk to a few teachers first.
In his first go-around as governor, Malloy often seemed intent on insulting the professionals on the front lines of public education.
Some of the insults were indirect, such as naming Stefan Pryor as Commissioner of Education. Pryor’s experience in education was not as a teacher but as an executive for a charter-school company.
Malloy’s strategy, apparently, was to appoint an outsider to shake up the status quo, but Pryor’s pro-charter school priorities proved somewhat of a distraction.
Other insults from Malloy were not so indirect, such as his very first words to teachers: “[T]o earn that tenure – that job security – in today’s system, basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”
When Malloy made these remarks four years ago, it had been some 19 years since I first entered the classroom. My memory might have been fuzzy, but I was quite sure that my first four years in the classroom entailed a bit more than simply “showing up” every day.
I personally found Malloy’s remarks offensive. It was not the first time.
Months before, during a campaign stop in Branford, I introduced myself to Malloy as a teacher. He quickly shook my hand and said, “Well, then, you get it.”
Yeah, I “got it” for sure — right in the teeth. Thanks, Governor!
In the spirit of forgiveness, here is advice from one experienced teacher to Gov. Malloy as he fashions the teacher-oriented points of his second-term education policy:
1. Appoint an Education Commissioner who has worked in public education in a real public school.
Ideally, this person should have experience both as a classroom teacher and as a school administrator.
Go ahead and choose a maverick known for implementing radical school programs. But unless he or she has worked within the parameters of a public school system, forget it. Public schools are complicated organizations with multiple stakeholders, and they must serve every kid who walks through their doors. No picking and choosing students.
Only an administrator with that kind of experience understands public education.
2. Make teachers part of the solution rather than treating them as the problem.
Teachers today face challenges never faced before, so the governor would be wise to consult them regularly since they know, firsthand, what works and doesn’t work in schools.
Ironically, not only have teachers remained out of the loop with various reform efforts; many have become targets for extinction.
Celebrities like Campbell Brown and news sources like Time magazine have transformed education reform into a campaign to eliminate tenure, blaming the “rotten apples” among teachers who are “nearly impossible to fire.”
Forget the fact that tenure does not guarantee lifetime employment. At the same time, let’s agree that bad teachers should be fired. But isn’t this hyper-focus on eliminating teachers wrong-headed and counterproductive, considering how difficult it is to recruit and retain talented teachers?
In his second term, Malloy should include teachers in any policy discussions that directly affect their professional status. If anything, it would help him prevent the need for any second drafts like the one that disrupted his first term’s teacher-evaluation policy.
3. Visit public schools throughout the entire state. While they are in session. Often.
Go to Bridgeport and Waterbury. Make stops at Madison and West Hartford. Trek to Falls Village and Plainfield.
The only way to appreciate this state’s wide variety of schools and kids — as well as the wide variety of challenges that face them — is to see them in person. This is an especially important strategy for leaders who want to improve schools but have never taught in a public classroom.
What’s more, talking with living and breathing students in schools is much more enlightening than reading data sheets filled with aggregate test scores from distant districts.
So there you have it, Gov. Malloy — a three-step plan for your second term’s education policy as it pertains to teachers.
No insults required.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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