Guest Blog: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Can’t we all just get along?

Guest Blog by Cindi Rigsbee

I am touchy-feely—it’s no secret. Every team-building experience I’ve ever participated in points to me being the emotional, sensitive one. I have taken the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator assessment, for example, numerous times in different settings. I am always identified as sensing and feeling. Always.

At the beginning of the school year a few months ago, the entire faculty took a test called the Personality Compass, and of course I was labeled a “South” – friendly, helpful, and caring. We Souths embrace our symbol –sunshine. Our strength is cooperation, and our weakness is non-assertiveness. We hate conflict and have an aptitude at peace-making. Touchy-feely….yep.

So being an educator these days seems to be requiring a lot more energy than it takes to merely spread good cheer everywhere. It seems my days of being the “Little Mary Sunshine” in the school are coming to an end. Teachers are under attack from all directions, and I find myself increasingly agitated and angry, my blood pressure hovering at an unhealthy level.

First, I was hit from all sides with announcements, commercials, and Facebook posts about Waiting for Superman,the now-released documentary that, according to Wikipedia, “analyzes the failures of American public education.” Yes, the focus is on the failure of our schools, and that word is used with unleashed abandon. Well meaning friends and relatives immediately began sending me the link to the movie’s trailer as soon as it was available, thinking it was an inspirational video that a teacher would love. So I watched…but only once.

It took 21 seconds to read “Our schools are failing them” and 23 seconds for DC school leader Michelle Rhee to announce, “Kids are getting a crappy education.” I wasn’t over the shock of that statement when I was blindsided by this one: “Their only chance of getting into a great school is if their number is picked in a lottery.” (By the way, Michelle Rhee has bragged on several occasions: “I’m not touchy feely.” Maybe she should give it a try.) Now, as I said on my blog, I do agree that there are SOME bad teachers. I’ve worked with a few who needed to seek other employment. But in my experience, that’s the exception. To throw out broad-brush statements like “teachers are failing” and “crappy education” is offensive to the good teachers in good schools who far outnumber the rest.

Next in line was Education Nation, a week of events designed to open up conversations about schools. There were virtual discussions and forums. Folks could send in comments, but interestingly many weren’t posted. Some teachers were even blocked from participating because their posts were “controversial.” So the world gets to blame education’s problems on schools and teachers, but teachers aren’t at liberty to respond. Politics and propaganda are running rampant these days.

Some have called it a “war on teachers” with examples showing up everywhere. Last week the Los Angeles Daily News had this for its Question of the Week: “Are teachers to blame for education failure?”  Even MORE magazine enticed readers with this article last month – “Are teachers ruining our schools?”

A recent Oprah episode touted the work of Michelle Rhee and her movement to fire subpar teachers (how do we measure teacher effectiveness anyway and what if we trained and supported struggling teachers instead of throwing them out and starting over?) and promoted Waiting for Superman, intimating that charter schools are the answer to children’s every need in this country. (The latter idea was accentuated with video clips of tear-stained, shaking children…waiting to see if they will be chosen in the charter school lottery.) Teachers were not included on the episode.

And what about Rigoberto Ruelas, the dedicated California teacher who committed suicide after his teacher rating was publicized? Did he have a voice?

We learn so much from what we tell our students. We tell them to treat each other with kindness and to respect each others’ opinions. And when our students don’t follow these guidelines, it’s simple. We remind them to say they’re sorry.

I recently read that some schools in Maine are requiring apologies as part of their discipline plan. We need a plan, too. No more touchy-feely. Teachers have begged to be valued and heard for too long. Now the teacher bashing must end.

But first, it’s time for some folks to apologize.

Check out Cindi Rigsbee’s new book Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make (A Memoir). Finding Mrs. Warnecke tells the inspiring story of Cindi Rigsbee, a three-time Teacher of the Year, and Barbara Warnecke, the first-grade teacher who had a profound and lasting impact on Cindi’s life.

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