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Choosing to support our teachers

“You always take the teacher’s side!”

I am still amazed, in my second decade as a school principal, that this statement is hurled at me like some accusation of wrong doing. In fairness, this is not a common occurrence. Most parents usually back the teacher in front of their children, even if privately they disagree. And many students learn that pitting parent against teacher is a losing proposition. However, there are those times when an irate parent or an exasperated student questions my support of a teacher. When that happens, all I can say is, “Yes, I do.”

Shannon Eubanks

Shannon Eubanks

That’s not to say the teacher is always right, or that the teacher (or principal) shouldn’t do better a better job on how some situations are handled. Teachers are human, so they are going to make mistakes. But most common complaints — issues like homework, test grades or classroom discipline — fall squarely in the teacher’s domain. Nothing short of a clear violation of law or policy will change that. A teacher’s job is tough, even in the best of circumstances. So deference will be given towards a teacher in her or his decisions.

Pause for a moment to consider the job of a teacher:

A teacher is responsible for the educational training of children, a pretty weighty duty. These students are all individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, abilities, and concerns. Because they are not robots, managing classroom behavior and expectations becomes paramount before the first lesson is taught. Then remember there are the outside factors beyond a teacher’s control that affect a child’s learning: stress at home, sickness, depression, hunger, etc. Not to mention the dreaded p-word — puberty. So teachers not only have to address the educational needs of students, but also their mental, emotional and health needs.

Consider that these challenges exist for teachers in the best of situations, in affluent schools that have plenty of resources. Just imagine teachers in high poverty areas having to work with torn up textbooks, leaking roofs, faulty air conditioning, the occasional mouse or two, or classrooms down the hall with perpetual long term subs because a teacher cannot be found. Without question, the stress of crime, poverty and family issues greatly affect the success of students. Yet teachers are expected to be able to overcome these obstacles.

And we’ve not even considered the factors in a teacher’s life that may contribute to their effectiveness, because teachers are not robots either. A teacher may be having health issues, a family crisis or any number of problems that adults struggle with. Pressures from sources outside the school also affect teachers: new testing requirements, new standards and curricula, accountability rankings, teacher evaluations tied to test scores, etc. Layer upon layer of stress and demands are made on teachers, who are deemed “failures” if these expectations are not met.

Decades ago, teachers were considered masters of their domain. Their word and decisions were law in their classrooms. Today, teachers are increasingly micromanaged and every aspect of their job dictated by others. For example, a quick look at legislative proposals show attempts to mandate the amount of homework given, what grades to give, and how teachers will handle their classrooms. If you listen to the rhetoric dominating the media, teachers today are accused of being lazy, unintelligent, and concerned with only getting a paycheck. The social ills of drugs, teen pregnancy, abuse, along with illiteracy and lack of jobs, are somehow laid at the feet of schools and teachers, as if somehow these problems are their fault and their responsibility to correct. And it gets tougher every year.

So yes, even when a teacher makes a mistake, I’m going to support that teacher. Not because of low expectations or that I think it is okay to mess up, but because of how hard the job is. And I am thankful my teachers still love doing their job.

Shannon Eubanks is the principal of Enterprise Attendance Center.