When the Cheaters Are the Teachers
The mother in me feels betrayed. The teacher in me is outraged.
Those who committed these violations traded the public's trust for the greed of unearned bonuses. They treated their students, not as unique individuals with potential, but as roadblocks to their false success.
This debacle, which may prove to be even bigger than what we're currently seeing on the news, has re-opened a debate I've had with my colleagues in education and my friends in catechesis: How many second chances do we give as educators? How do we do this while upholding accountability, for ourselves as well as our students?
I see the long-term effects of this at the college level. Many students are entering college needing remediation, and it's not a matter of a review class. In many cases, they are learning the material for the first time.
We do no one any favors when we lower our standards or reduce our expectations. To teach effectively, we must look beyond the data points and see the unique individuals in the desks. We must meet them where they are and help them become what they can be.
I can't begin to understand what those administrators were thinking. Were they motivated by earning bonuses? Or were the bonuses a secondary concern to imprudent choices to make the schools seem better and save their jobs?
What astounds me, and frightens me, is the lack of a moral compass necessary in order to intentionally erase student work. There is no way to skirt that reality. I might be able to rationalize giving oral hints or straying from the time limits. I cannot explain away wholesale erasures on entire class sets of exams.
I fear that it's a bigger indicator of where we are as a society today. The moral relativism that we have been fostering—that we have been teaching—that we have been indoctrinating in our children has finally come out in force.
I have to remind myself that while this scandal does damage to the profession, it raises the consciousness of every educator. It does not diminish the excellent teachers I've known in my lifetime—colleagues, friends, and educators who pour their hearts into their work because they know their work is about having heart.
What scares the hell out of me is that this might just be the beginning of a different battle I never expected, about fundamental values, ethical comprehension, poverty and opportunity; we need to have conversations about these topics that are forthright enough to make us uncomfortable.
The educational system needs reform from the inside out. It's not about data. It's not about curricula. It's not about money.
It's about having the heart, the courage, to stand for our children. It's about the integrity to do our jobs right as teachers, even when it means failing. Especially when it means failing, because it shows us where the real work must be done.
María Morera Johnson teaches composition and literature at a technical college in Georgia, and consults and writes about trends in post-secondary education. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Star Quest Production Network (spqn.com) and co-hostsCatholic Weekend, a weekly current events podcast.