Heidi Crumrine: I am a proud loser teacher

  • Denise Fournier, an English teacher at Concord High School, works with 10th-grader Jack Smith. Heidi Crumrine / For the Monitor

  • Heidi Fyfe, a reading specialist at Christa McAuliffe School, works one-on-one with a first-grader. Heidi Crumrine / For the Monitor

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/3/2019 12:25:09 AM

Suddenly it has become cool to be a loser. A loser teacher, that is.

Late last week, at a rally in El Paso, Donald Trump Jr. shouted: “Keep up that fight; bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.”

Aside from being insulting, I have several issues with this statement. There is the grammar: It should read, “These loser teachers (who) are trying to sell you …” There is pragmatics: We no longer refer to one another as “losers” in civilized society. And there is semantics: The sweeping generalization about an entire group of professionals, the inaccurate use of the word “indoctrinated” and the perpetuation of negative connotations associated with socialism.

I should add that as a teacher, I’ve been called a lot more creative and innovative things than a loser. Some as recent as this week.

All joking aside, this is serious business. I’m not personally offended by his comments, because I’m able to weed out the noise and know my truth, which is that as a teacher what I do matters very much.

However, as an American, I am offended.

An assault on teachers by accusing them of indoctrination and brainwashing is an assault on our democracy, which we are able to achieve through the high quality and balanced education that we strive to provide for all students in our classrooms. This education is what allows our country to be a leader on the world stage, is what produces some of the best and brightest the world has to offer, and is what allows us to move forward in terms of creating a just and better society.

Despite what we sometimes hear in the press, American students are performing exceptionally well in comparison with other countries.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only consistent, longitudinal gauge of student achievement in reading and math over the last 20 years, shows that students in all racial and ethnic groups are reading better today than in previous years, and student achievement in math is significantly better than it was 20 years ago.

Furthermore, student performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an assessment that has been administered every four years since 1995 to a random sampling of 4,000 students in 63 countries, shows significant growth as well. American students have improved their scores in math each time the test has been administered, the U.S. is one of only 12 countries to improve fourth-grade scores every cycle, and one of only two to improve eighth-grade scores every test cycle. We are one of only 10 countries to score significantly above the mean score in math in fourth and eighth grade. Lastly, fourth-grade science scores ranked seventh in the world and eighth grade ranked 10th.

This kind of success comes as a result of the high quality, balanced and compassionate education that we provide to American students.

Perhaps most importantly, if students are to make sense of the world as they live it right now, and to imagine their place in the future, then we need to teach them about it. This is not an unreasonable expectation.

It’s not socialism to teach about the balance of power in the government and how it is operating today; it’s not socialism to teach about marginalized populations; it’s not socialism to teach students to be critical consumers of the information coming their way at a rapid pace; it’s not socialism to teach about the injustices we have seen throughout history and those we see today. None of this is socialism or indoctrination, it’s education, and to blur the lines between the two is a dangerous and slippery slope.

And since when did teaching our students these things become such a political issue? This isn’t some liberal ideal, it’s the foundation of our shared humanity.

Beyond the significance and importance of a high-quality education, however, we know that teachers are more than just dispensers of knowledge. Their roles can include that of nurse, mother, father, mentor, counselor and life coach, just to name a few.

There are so many stories of teachers caring for their students and even extending kindness beyond the classroom: The teacher who takes her student out for breakfast during the summer to keep him out of trouble; the teacher who buys students books on their birthdays; the teacher who puts money on a student’s lunch account so she wouldn’t be hungry; the teacher who sews mittens for each student in her class before winter break; the teacher who visits a student at home because she was afraid to come back to school after the death of her sister; the teacher who takes a former student shopping before leaving for college so he will have snacks in his dorm room.

Wouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a person like that in our lives? In Concord, our children do. Because every single one of the above stories is a true story about a teacher in Concord.

So if being a loser teacher means possessing any of the above qualities, then sign me up. I will be in good company.

Book suggestions

For older readers: The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

For middle grade readers: Wonder by RJ Palacio

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

El Deafo by CeCe Bell

For elementary readers: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

For little readers: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes; illustrated by, Louis Slobodkin

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)

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