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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Roanoke Member Takes On Time

By Nancy F. Chewning

Editors of Time magazine, I am incensed at your November cover depicting American public school educators as “Rotten Apples.” So, forgive me if this Rotten Apple tells you exactly what I think of your reporting, since you never bothered to interview a public school teacher for your piece.

First, let me clarify what it means to be a public school educator in the U.S. today. Many education majors are berated by their peers for their career choice on college campuses today. I was told on many occasions at the University of Virginia I was wasting my time and talent on teaching. After graduating, the Rotten Apples are then afforded what the Economic Policy Institute calls “the teaching penalty.” The EPI’s studies show teachers earn at least 12 to 14 percent less than “other similarly educated workers.” These Rotten Apples spend their summers attending conferences and classes, which most pay for themselves, to learn to enhance the instruction their students receive in the fall. They return to their classrooms in late July or early August, using their own money to pay for essential supplies for themselves, their classrooms, and their students.
The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 am because most help students before the school day begins. They often feed students breakfast. They teach all day, even during their planning periods. They get less than 30 minutes for lunch, often with students. After the school, the Rotten Apples then teach or coach. After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10 pm. The Rotten Apples do this every day of the school year. In addition, they’ve now been asked to be counselors watching for signs of drug use and mental health issues in their students. They buy students clothes, provide them with meals, and worry about their safety after they go home to what are often unsafe neighborhoods. In our society, they’re also expected to keep every student safe at school. How many times have we recently seen teachers risk or give their lives for students? These are the people you have so crassly referred to as Rotten Apples.

Thanks to NCLB, the Rotten Apples are held to a standard in this age of high-stakes testing that no other profession is held to: a 100 percent pass rate. If teachers are held to this standard, why not their more highly-paid peers? Let’s look at doctors and nurses, for example. According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people die annually from preventable medical errors, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. today.

Have you characterized doctors or nurses on your cover as Rotten Apples? You have not. Is the government setting impossible benchmarks for doctors and nurses to make to correct this problem? No, it’s not. 

In a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of American parents said they were satisfied with the quality of education their child was receiving in public schools. However, another Gallup poll showed only 14 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job. Have you done a cover calling Congress Rotten Apples? Why no, you have not. In fact, I checked your covers for the last two years and not once have you said a disparaging word about Congress there.

You should be ashamed that you’ve not publicized what is the civil rights issue of our generation: poverty in this country.

When schools open their doors to kindergartners, some of the most important connections in their brains have already been formed. Young children in poverty have had their brains in a stressful state since birth, and they arrive at school with a word deficit compared to their non-poverty-stricken peers. Address poverty and students will be more prepared for school from the start.

Your cover infuriates me because it is an indirect attack on defenseless children who so desperately need these “Rotten Apples.” You’ve perpetuated an attack on the only people left, it seems, fighting every day to help children. In the course of the week I wrote this, Rotten Apple One at my school made sure a student had basic necessities needed for school. Rotten Apples Two and Three made sure a student had proper medical care when no one in the community responded. Rotten Apple Four stood up and begged a judge to have mercy on her student when no other adult spoke on his behalf.

Take away these people, drive them away from teaching, discourage others from becoming teachers, and who will fight for children today?

Chewning, a member of the Roanoke County Education Association, is an assistant principal at William Byrd High School.



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