Response: Yes, apathy is the deadliest sin of all

This post “Is Apathy the Deadliest Sin” had me thinking so much that it required a post rather than just a comment. In response to this question, I have to loudly shout “YES!” I think that apathy is absolute death to teachers in the profession today. As this school year nears a close, I keep hearing more names of great teachers who are leaving the profession…just like the great teachers I knew last year…and the year before that. The research calls you “leavers.” But I wish so much that you could muster up the courage to be “stayers.” I get it teachers: there’s a lot of messed up stuff in education and we are all too over-worked to have energy left at the end of the day. But leaving just makes you part of the problem. 

I once heard David Berliner give this advice to teachers: “Do yourselves a favor. One night a week, just stamp that homework pile with a bunch of happy faces, take the night off, and go out to a community event to chat with people about the teaching profession.” This advice has really stuck with me. See, I think that Dr. Berliner is right. Teachers have got to get more involved in the community by sharing our stories and concerns. As people get more isolated in their homes with television as company, we are losing our community connections to clubs like Kiwanis Club, the Charros, Knights of Columbus, and so on. Can you think of others? Well, go get ’em!

I think that the problem in teaching is that it’s gone way beyond apathy. Let me be so bold as to say that teachers are oppressed by educational policy today. I’ve been thinking a lot about Paolo Freire’s work this year and it makes me feel like a revolutionary to say that teachers are “oppressed.” But I think there is truth here. Teachers cannot control the policies that govern our classrooms. And the policies that govern our classrooms lead to so much teacher exhaustion that there is little energy left at the end of the day. As Freire writes about, oppression creates a “culture of silence.” Teachers believe that their voice cannot make a difference. Further, oppression leads to a sense of powerlessness. Sadly, teachers wear the badge of “powerlessness” like it’s a badge of honor. Teachers must stop martyring themselves and get to work.

I am starting a book club in my district to read the book “50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools” (Berliner/Glass). I sent invites out to about 30 colleagues that I thought would be interested and got back plenty of emails that said, “Love to, but too busy.” As of yet, there is only one great teacher who signed up to be part of this book club. Where are you teachers? If we could just increase teacher critical consciousness about the truth in public education–you guys would be mad and motivated. We have to get people in our districts to join together, determine some action plans, and advocate for education at the state and national level.

You might be tired right now teachers, but how will you feel when the Value Added Model for teacher evaluation starts sucking life out of your collaboration and destroys your PLCs? You are about to compete with the teacher next door to you–yeah, that awesome colleague that has been planning with you for the past years. If you think you are tired now, wait until you are planning by yourself as teachers turn away from each other in our schools to protect their own VAM score. 

Apathy, oppression, culture of silence, powerlessness: Call it what you will, but you are the key teachers. Ultimately, you have the power to control your response about what is happening in education. How will you respond?

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