December 24, 2012

Heroic actions bring change in attitudes toward teachers

Christine Armario / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this Dec. 15, 2012, photo, Gary Seri, general manager at the Stone River Grille, hangs a sign reading "HUG A TEACHER TODAY" written on a table cloth in honor of the teachers who died along with students a day earlier at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.


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President Obama addressed the need to elevate the status of teachers in his State of the Union address last year.

"In South Korea, teachers are known as 'nation builders,'" he said. "Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect."

His next line, however, suggested not all merited that status: "We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones."

Parents may like their own child's teacher, but their overall confidence in U.S. schools appears to have reached a low point. A Gallup poll released earlier this year found that just 29 percent had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools — the lowest level in nearly four decades.

"I think there has been a fairly concerted attack on teachers and teaching, specifically focusing on unionized teachers," said Jeffrey Mirel, an education professor at the University of Michigan.

Indeed, much of the criticism about education in the United States has centered on teachers and firing or weakening their benefits as part of the solution. When a board of trustees needed to come up with ways to improve one of the state's worst-performing schools in 2010, it decided to fire all of the teachers there — a decision that Obama said was an example of why accountability is needed in the most troubled schools.

The teachers were eventually allowed to keep their jobs, but in some ways the damage had already been done.

Whether the courageous actions in Newtown, Conn., lead to anything more than a temporary shift in the tone of how the nation talks about teachers remains to be seen.

But for the moment, teachers are grateful.

"When situations like that occur, teachers basically have a disregard for their own safety and put their own bodies between whatever might be happening to keep their kids safe," Krantz said. "I think we're always conscious of the fact that something like that could really happen."

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