There are few things that get my dander up more than that expression. For one thing, people who use it are invariably getting up on their high horses and flouting their self-awarded moral authority.
These people are better than you, better than me, and have no reservation whatsoever about saying so. It’s as though I were to call myself a master teacher. What does that actually mean, coming from me? (Were my students to say this, it would be another matter entirely.)
Of course, putting students first always implies we put teachers last. It strongly suggests, in fact, that teachers are somehow adversarial to students. It’s a continual struggle, evidently, between our insatiable desire to sit around and read tabloid gossip (or whatever) all day and the good administrators, who want only to make us work for the good of those poor children. Never mind that said administrators went and took coursework with the express goal of getting the hell out of the classroom, and never mind that the motivation for many was their inability to handle the classroom.
Another utter irrelevance is the fact that working teachers have chosen to continue working directly with children. It’s not an easy task, what with the media virtually always vilifying us for our crime of taking summers off. After all, perish forbid that the children we love should grow up and take summers off too. How would Walmart employees muster the motivation to wear those blue vests and do low-wage, no-benefit work for years and years? How would Amazon get people to keep peeing in their trucks while delivering novelty t-shirts to people who can’t wait another day to own them?
They say they were master teachers, and that should be good enough for anyone, least of all, you and me.
A basic concept that eludes these administrators is this: Our working conditions are student learning conditions. For example, if student athletes walk the halls carrying baseball bats year after year, despite complaints that this could be a hazard for the much-loved children, that’s a big nothing to administrators. If test administration is a disaster year after year, that’s not important. After all, you, a lowly teacher, couldn’t possibly comprehend all the difficult steps it takes to master the intricacies of such activities. Unless it’s in your classroom, of course, in which case you get a letter to file explicitly threatening job loss should it happen again.
A big goal of Children First is thwarting those awful union contracts and agreements that inconveniently require payment, or perish forbid time, for extra work. Shouldn’t career educrats in Tweed decide what work teachers do? If not them, at least principals. How on earth can teachers make their own determinations? What is all this crap in the union contract stating lesson plans are at the teacher’s discretion? Shouldn’t administrators be able to require inclusion of which Common Core goals they meet? And even if Common Core is dead, since whatever replaced it is the same, shouldn’t they be included anyway? What are conscientious administrators to do about teachers who refuse to teach Common Coriness, the most important thing on earth? Will those awful English teachers fritter away time teaching reading and writing what people actually think and feel, which administrative guru David Coleman has conclusively labeled a bunch of crap?
To be a good administrator, it’s important to control the time of teachers. You can’t have them wasting their time prepping lessons when there are meetings to be had. Why not find someone monolingual, someone who’s never lived in another country, and have that person lecture all the language teachers on how to be multiculturally sensitive? After all, that person has taken a training somewhere, whereas all the language teachers have done is traveled, lived in other countries, and learned the languages of the countries they’ve visited. What possible value could there be in that compared to having attended a lecture by someone who Really Knows?
It’s just infuriating that those darn teachers persist in being unionized and retaining collective bargaining. This prevents school leaders, clearly the only people on God’s green earth who care about children, from doing Whatever They Want, a vital goal. That’s why Tucker Carlson is on TV demanding you go in and thrash teachers, and that’s why the fine folks who follow him think we ought to be executed. After all, if we aren’t willing to pretend America is the Andy Griffith Show, how can we be benefiting our children at all?
So for goodness sake, we have to get behind these administrators. Some of them don’t even want to execute the teachers! They simply want to micromanage them, because teachers can’t be trusted and you have to look over their shoulders every minute. They need to control how teachers do things, control their time, and make sure they have as little independence as possible.
And because only they care about the children, they want the children to grow up micromanaged, with someone constantly looking over their shoulders, with little or no independence.
Because, it turns out, people who don’t give a crap about teacher morale don’t give a crap about student morale either. Everyone knows that suffering builds character. That’s what the racist, corporate United States are all about. That’s why we don’t have nice things, like universal health care. That’s why I spend twenty years teaching in a crumbling trailer. And that’s why COVID accommodations for much of the country’s schools entailed, maybe, one window that actually opens.