How would you like to work in a business with 236 CEOs telling you what to do, but with only a few having the foggiest notion what your job entails and no responsibility for what happens? In other words, how would you like to be a public schoolteacher in Georgia?
The 236 CEOs are the members of the Georgia General Assembly. Add to that the governor, education bureaucrats at the federal, state and local levels, and a few second-guessing media types for good measure. No business on God's green Earth could survive a year under those conditions, but somehow our public schoolteachers keep plugging on.
Case in point: Two geniuses in the legislature last year decided the school year should be shortened by five days because it interfered with family vacations. Fortunately, that imbecilic idea died a quick death, but the thinking behind it was revealing. Did the legislators talk to teachers? Did they examine the curricula and see if five days could be shaved off and not affect the teaching schedule? Did they study the impact such a decision might have on the classroom? Could either guy survive a week as a public school teacher?
Case in point: The gold standard in the teaching profession is national certification by the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards. I know. My son-in-law, Dr. Ted Wansley, a science teacher at Whitewater High School in Fayette County, achieved certification after six months of testing and ponying up $2,000 of his own hard-earned money. He is one of 2,500 nationally certified teachers in Georgia, which ranks 10th among all states in that achievement. Gov. Roy Barnes thought so much of the program that in 2000 he championed a 10 percent stipend to any teacher attaining national certification.
Now, Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to do away with the funding for the program and replace it with something called Master Teachers. Why? The cynic in me says that anything Barnes supported, Perdue is against. Older heads around the Capitol say it is the political nature of things. Every governor wants to be the "education governor" and put his on stamp on things. The problem is that as soon as a governor is gone, a new one comes in and feels duty bound to axe the old program and put his own in its place. Look for Perdue's Master Teacher program to die like a weed when he leaves office and for something new to sprout.
In the meantime, pawns like my son-in-law are left holding the bag. Ted thought the state was acting in good faith when it promised him the stipend if he achieved national certification. Here is a public school teacher who has won more than $30,000 in grants for his school, has been named Star Teacher by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, will represent Georgia as a Fulbright Scholar in Germany this summer and has a team of Whitewater students traveling to MIT this summer to showcase a water purification device that they've engineered. Everybody from Gov. Sonny Perdue to the lowliest bureaucrat should use him as a role model on what our education system can accomplish when a motivated teacher is in the classroom.
Instead, they propose to give him and the other certified teachers in our state the back of their hand.
Here is a thought for a governor who wants to change a good idea because it wasn't his: Call Dr. Ted Wansley, or invite him in for a chat. Explain why this Master Teacher program is superior to national certification. Maybe offer to grandfather in to the program teachers who have achieved national certification since they already meet many of the Master Teacher criteria. Tell him you appreciate his hard work and those of other teachers in the state and that you are just trying to help.
If, however, the governor and legislators are too busy to bother with a mere school teacher who is busting his butt to make a difference in the lives of young people, maybe somebody could explain to me why in the heck anybody would want to be a public school teacher in Georgia, given the constant meddling. I could use the education.
E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.