Talking Down to Teachers

I haven’t read The Smartest Kids in the World, mostly because the title is such a turnoff, but I loved Amanda Ripley’s Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes. So when I saw her “Talking Down to Teachers” article in the February 2016 Washingtonian Magazine, I was fascinated.

Thank you Ms. Ripley for praising teachers’ professionalism and intellect, and making an effort to change the dialogue about teachers-as-missionaries. But I want to know: Who are the “highest performing teachers” being honored at the Standing Ovation event you described? What is the criteria for selecting these teachers? We should be questioning the value of elevating teachers based on artificial measures, like test scores of children, when most education professionals recognize that external factors (like wealth & poverty) are far more influential on student success than any one teacher.

When people hear I’m a teacher, they say “that’s courageous” and imply that I am making a sacrifice to do what I love. Like the DC teachers she quotes in the article, I am not a volunteer; I am a well-paid professional. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, I work very long hours. But what I (we) really need is respect. Respect from the parents who entrust me with educating their children, trust from my administration that I am doing my job, trust from the School Boards and the taxpaying public that I am a well-trained professional making good decisions and making a difference every day.

And by the way, not once in my 15 years of teaching in MCPS has any parent group passed the hat to buy me a gift. All my students are immigrants and they don’t know this American practice. I think it says more about the parents in Ms. Ripley’s school district than anything else. I’d be happy for thank you from the students at the end of the year!


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Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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