If you thought the public’s scrutiny of classroom teachers is new, think again. The cover story of Time magazine for June 16, 1980 was titled “Help! Teacher can’t teach.” You could easily mistake it for today. Talk of failing schools, budget problems, racial tension, and schools that no longer were as good as some golden age.

And, this about teachers:

Horror stories about teaching abound. In Oregon a kindergarten teacher who had been given As and Bs at Portland State University was recently found to be functionally illiterate. How could this be? Says Acting Dean of the School of Education Harold Jorgensen: “It was a whole series of people not looking closely at her.”


In Chicago a third-grade teacher wrote on the blackboard: “Put the following words in alfabetical order.” During the weeklong teacher strike last winter, many Chicago parents were appalled by what they saw on television news of schools and teachers. Recalls one mother: “I froze when I heard a teacher tell a TV reporter, ‘I teaches English.’ ”


In the Milwaukee suburb of Wales, Wis., school board members were outraged when teachers sent them written curriculum proposals riddled with bad grammar and spelling. Teachers had written dabate for debate, documant for document. Would was woud, and separate was seperate. Angry parents waved samples of their children’s work that contained uncorrected whoppers, marked with such teacher comments as “outstanding” and “excellent.”


A Gallup poll has found that teacher laziness and lack of interest are the most frequent accusations of half the nation’s parents, who complain that students get “less schoolwork” now than 20 years ago. Whether the parent perceptions are fair or not, there is no doubt that circumstances have certainly changed some teacher attitudes. At a Miami senior high school this spring, one social studies teacher asked his pupils whether their homework was completed. Half the students said no. The teacher recorded their answers in his gradebook but never bothered to collect the papers. Says the teacher, who has been in the profession for 15 years and has now become dispirited: “I’m not willing any more to take home 150 notebooks and grade them. I work from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and that’s what I get paid for.” A longtime teacher in a large suburban school outside Boston told TIME it is common knowledge that some of her colleagues, anxious to preserve their jobs as enrollments dwindle, fail children simply to ensure hefty class size the next year.

All of that should sound familiar. And that should be depressing considering how far we’ve come in every other aspect of life.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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