My daughter and I were together on Saturday. We drove passed a billboard of a young white female teacher with the caption, Irreplaceable. “That is a slap in the face to all the rest of us teachers.” my daughter said. Memphis City Schools has singled out some teachers as irreplaceable, which leaves the vast majority replaceable. “It infuriates me.” she continued. “First of all, it is not true. We are all replaceable. So that is annoying in itself. Then, it is irksome because of some of the irreplaceables, like one at my school, who is a second year teacher, complains all the time about her students…oh yes, and who earned her designation while teaching at the school where her sister is principal!” I know it is a part of a marketing campaign and I suppose it is aimed at the population at large. It isn’t aimed at teachers, clearly.
Excellence in teaching is to be commended, but much of education is a team sport. Singling out exemplary teachers is counterproductive. Better to recognize teams of teachers for their efforts. Teams make the difference in schools. They provide caring and support to their students (and to each other). They share the challenge of students with extreme behavior problems. Effective classrooms, schools, and school systems work because of their positive connections. Once negative relationships grow, a struggle begins and drains off energy. Relationships are built one interaction at a time. Respect and trust take the place of disrespect and fear. People begin to relax and be themselves, and do their best work together. That, my friend, is a team. It is the best way to get work done in education. Teams are also the best way to transform education which needs to be done with educators, not to them.
The Memphis community is in the process of merging the city and county school systems. It is an enormous task that demands cooperation and trust, two skills learned by participating on teams. When the process is complete, the teams who worked together will be stronger and more effective because of the experience.