by David Sisler

It seems to be a popular form of punishment for educators who have ascended to the lofty postions of administrators: if you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar, you will be slapped with the most severe form of punishment possible demotion to the classroom. The good folks at the board of education will probably not take one single penny out of your salary, but they will send you back to toil among the great unwashed. Beware administrator, for malfeasance and misbehavior you will have to become a teacher.

Case in point: Charlotte Sudderth, demoted from her position as assistant principal at Hephzibah Middle School to the position of teacher "for using language school officials considered inappropriate when describing sexual harassment to students."

Ms. Sudderth's innocence or guilt, the appropriateness or inappropriateness of her remarks is not the question being considered here, merely her punishment. She was found guilty and sentenced to the classroom, giving a new wrinkle to the dictum, "Those who cannot, teach." Now, thanks to the Richmond County Board of Education, the line will read, "Those who are punished, teach."

To the members of the board of education, to the superintendent of schools, what does this punishment say to school children, their parents, and most importantly, to other teachers?

It says, "This individual's actions warrant the horrible fate of educating. Teaching is not a job into which you are promoted, but a job into which you are demoted. Supervision is all, teaching is nothing."

Why not disparage all of the school janitors by forcing convicted administrators to sweep floors? Why not disparage all of the school cafeteria workers by forcing convicted administrators to serve lunch? Why not disparage all of the school bus drivers by forcing convicted administrators to pilot a yellow and black cocoon? Why is it, that appropriate punishment for inappropriate behavior (remember, the board of education said that, not your friendly scribe) is teaching?

If you are a former teacher who has searched for and attained the position of supervision, do not sharpen your pencil for a letter to the editor (or a wooden stake for my heart). Many great teachers have aspired to, and attained, the positions of supervisors. I have nagged a certain teacher of my 30-year acquaintance to pursue a doctoral degree for the express purpose of becoming a high school principal. "Someone who cares about kids the way you do," I tell her, "could have tremendous positive effects on the classroom from the principal's office."

"I want to teach, she says. "I can make the most difference from there."

But now, classroom teachers, your job is not something into which you rise, it is only something into which you fall.

Then, again, maybe teaching is appropriate punishment. Consider the fact that after eight hours in the classroom, you are required (not by any law I know of, but by your own conscience) to put in several more hours each night, and still more hours each weekend in order to do your job properly.

You have papers to grade, grades to average, averages to post.

You call parents to enlist their support with the education of their children and are told to mind your own business, or you are told to stop picking on their little angel, or, worse, you are ignored.

You stand in front of the flower of America's youth every day and listen to curses and threats. You are bumped and jostled in the halls, occasionally knocked onto your dignity. You attend endless hours of faculty meetings, hearing the chiefs tell the Indians, "It is time you all start doing your jobs," when 90 percent of you are doing your jobs and the administrators lambast all of you instead of confronting a few of you. You spend endless hours in motivational seminars which only motivate you to wonder, "Whatever happened to teaching?" And then your ranks swell because someone is punished into the classroom.

But then with your fingers stained, not with the ink of the overhead projector, but the ink of the newspaper because you have been reading the want-ads, looking for a 40 hour job where you are paid for 40 hours, not an 80 hour job where you are paid for 40 hours, you see a former student out in town somewhere, and that growing up person says, "Thank you for being my teacher. You made a difference in my life." It may happen once or twice in your entire career, but those kids, and all of the others in whose lives you made a difference, in spite of the fact that they never realized it, those were the reasons you claimed the mantle of classroom teacher. But to become a teacher because you were demoted and punished? That is inappropriate!


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/12/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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