I’d seen David Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth in theaters and got wrapped up in that whole thing too. I’m not prepared to say now that global warming is a farce, nor willing to deny that we all need to do our minute part in, if nothing else, simply helping the environment out; however, it is noteworthy that the pomp and circumstance surrounding Al Gore’s campaign for everyone to “go green” (not to mention Gore himself) has all but vanished. He got us crawling in the right direction, but there are plenty in the scientific community who are adamant that the jury is still very much out on the human influence on global warming. Gore’s research covers fifty years and he makes projections that cover fifty future years, but the Earth’s temperature and climate cycles have been known to encompass tens of thousands of years. In winters of just a couple of centuries ago, the weather (believe it or not New Yorkers of 2011) was significantly harsher. And remember, the human race emerged after an ice age. We’ve been around but less than five thousand years. So, maybe we’re just coming out of a multi-millenium cold period in the Earth’s ever-fluctuating weather history. One more thing, Gore’s a politician who, along with his old lady Tipper, spearheaded music censorship legislation and essentially claimed that he “created” the internet. I admire his supposed zeal for environmental sensitivity, I tend to think that he could have, unfortunately, just been grabbing some post-2000 election headlines.
But I digress.
Being an educator and having heard of Guggenheim’s latest work Waiting for Superman, I’d begun to deem it as “required viewing,” despite my affection for “Truth” having drastically waned since its initial release. This documentary is incredibly gut wrenching at times, but most importantly, indisputably relevant to every person, young and old, in this country. The film examines the causes and impacts of the lack of achievement in the public schools of the United States.
At times, I was waiting for the attack on teachers because “Truth” had proven to be a one-sided debate, so I was anticipating blame to be thrust somewhere. On the defensive, I got to the segment of the movie that takes some shots at the teacher’s unions. Guggenheim is mindful though that teachers are the big cogs in the machine that, should reform ever be possible, will implement and execute this change. He smartly focuses his criticism on bad teachers, who are clearly doing a disservice to their students and, really, the nation as a whole. His suggestion for weeding out the sometimes downright irresponsible or unfortunately less talented instructors is to boost requirements and standards for tenure, if not scrap it altogether, and institute a merit-pay system. Teachers must then earn the right to keep their jobs and obtain raises, like pretty much any other career path.
I had been against a merit-pay arrangement for most of my career. That is, until I got good. The main counter argument towards this type of structure from the teachers union is that it would divide the workforce. I was incredibly lucky at twenty-two years old to have found a teaching job amongst very willing, helpful peers. I was a teacher who was learning, every day. Would my coworkers have assisted and guided me with as much vigor if there was a merit-pay system? Considering the type of hearts those folk possess, I would say “Yes” because they understand that people who have made the leap into the teaching profession should not be willing themselves out of bed every morning at the mere prospect of pocket-lining opportunities. Teachers do this simply to help other people, sometimes even other teachers. Quality performance should be rewarded and people must understand and appreciate the concept that this service needs to be done for the betterment of society, not for the financial gains of an individual. If some “educators,” like those on display in Guggenheim’s piece, either choose to not dedicate themselves to that reality or simply are incapable, then it is better that they lose their place in the building, as opposed to granting them freedom to negatively impact 170 students a day (on the high school level) year in, year out.
Measures would most certainly have to be taken to assure a fair merit-pay system though. Waiting for Superman does not deliberate on the risk that many teachers would face of losing their job because they have earned the right to be on the top of the salary scale. In other words, knowing how politicians like to consider the ol’ bottom line, I contend that, unless there be stipulations saying otherwise, it would be inevitable that school districts would lay off the best teachers for money-saving purposes. What I am trying to propose here is some kind of merit-pay-tenure hybrid that would be a nice compromise, making everyone happy.
This blog post has become a lot more about the politics in the teaching world and less about the movie. I apologize for my passion. I don’t claim to have all of the solutions, charts, and layouts of the brighter future of education. I loved Waiting for Superman. And if you choose to see it or have seen it, and are considering all that I have brought up here, keep in mind that the film’s runtime is 110 minutes. David Guggenheim doesn’t have all of the answers either, at least not produced within the movie’s span. He only covers a few parents who are very involved and dedicated to their little ones. (I feel that much of the troubles in the schools begin at home with parents who choose not to possess the energy to invest in their own children’s lives and education. And, just like in the teaching profession, every person has to do their part, take on their role.) However, you should most certainly enjoy and appreciate what is presented to you in this film.