In this column, originally published in the New York Times on November 3, 1985, Al Shanker argues that teachers need to be treated respectfully, as the dedicated professionals they are.
This is the story of a man who offended the powers that be. It has nothing to do with the Medicis, the Borgias or Henry the Eighth but a lot to do with the way too many of our schools are administered. Bert (not his real name) has been a New York City social studies teachers for many years, first in junior high and then in high school. He's also a perennial student. In addition to holding two master's degrees, he's spent most of his summers taking solid academic courses at places like Columbia, Temple, Princeton, Rensselaer. Over the years he's won three Fulbright scholarships for study in India, Israel and, this past summer, in Korea.
There's nothing parochial about Bert's interests. He's done work in human relations, psychology, urban problems, Ottoman and Korean culture, the history of anti-Semitism and of slavery, law, school administration, American history and a whole college catalogue of other subjects. In 1980 he was cited for his "outstanding professional participation" in a summer human rights workshop at Skidmore College.
Most important, there's nothing of the ivory tower or the dilettante in all this. Bert brought what he had studied back into his classroom and into his professional relations with his colleagues. His principal once praised him for the "keen insights" he offered in a presentation to the entire faculty after a summer of study in Israel. Now he's preparing a new syllabus for his social studies department based on his summer in Korea. His chairmen have consistently praised his teaching ability. A recent observation report on one of his lessons concluded with, "Keep up the good work."
Sounds like the record of one of the top teachers in his school, right? Wrong! The punch line is that Bert was rated "unsatisfactory" by his principal at the end of the last school year.