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You'd have to be crazy to take a teaching job anyway!

Deron Overpeck
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 14, 2000
Talk about this story

Our fair city of Tucson has made the national news, though not in a way most citizens would prefer. National news programs like Today and CNN have reported on local schoolteacher Kathy Morris, who shot herself to demonstrate, she says, the laxity of Amphitheater schools' security. Actually, all she demonstrated was the deplorable state of public education in Arizona and the United States as a whole.

Although the basics of the story have been given plenty of coverage, they bear a brief recap. Monday, Morris excused herself from a faculty meeting. A few minutes later, she reported having been shot in her classroom by a bald Hispanic teenager. Police searched high and low for the alleged assailant until Morris confessed she had shot herself to prove the aforementioned point.

Reaction to the revelation was fast and harsh. Hispanic groups rightly demanded a quick apology, which they received from the school district. Students expressed disgust at having been instructed by a racist loony. To determine if she was indeed a racist loony, the city prosecutor filed a request to have Morris undergo a psychological test. Police speculate she may have done it to lay a foundation for a future lawsuit against the district.

She's not crazy, and maybe we shouldn't rush to judge her to be venal. Prior to Monday's incident, Morris was a well-regarded instructor, dedicated to her task. Maybe her actions should be considered further proof of that dedication. Think about it for a moment: isn't the willingness to take a self-inflicted bullet over her concern for students' safety evidence of the depth of her pedagogical commitment?

No, it's probably not. More likely, it's evidence of a tenuous grip on reality. One would have to experience differently the world to not expect the police to know the difference between a self-inflicted gun-wound and one from a gun fired six feet away. So, while probably not crazy, Morris does seem to interact with a different world than others do.

But teachers with unique understandings of reality seem not at all uncommon. Everyone expects university professors to be a tad daffy -on the Albert Einstein model- but would prefer that those charged with "shaping young minds" toe the cultural line of reality. So when a teacher develops a long-term emotional commitment with a junior-high school student, or has curious methods of discipline, or squeezes off a round into themselves to make a point, society collectively gasps and searches for reasons why.

Here's why: teachers in Arizona and around the nation get squat. State legislatures underfund public school districts, resulting in poorly constructed schools. Facilities and equipment don't meet educational standards. Children are herded onto prison-like campuses -check out some of the windowless monstrosities in the Phoenix area- half-heartedly instructed by bitter, underpaid instructors, use antiquated or inappropriate equipment and are then required to pass an exit exam that covers material not taught in the classroom.

If students don't pass the test, they're failures, their teachers lazy baby-sitters protected by tenure and public education- a failure that should be replaced by private schools funded with tax dollars. So students and teachers are set up to fail, then blamed when they live down to those expectations. We shouldn't be surprised that some teachers (and students) have snapped-we should be surprised so many haven't.

It's time we recognized that as long as education isn't a priority, then we won't get the results we want. Or, more accurately, we get what we pay for. As long as teachers are paid low wages, teaching will be considered a mediocre profession. Our culture accepts the idea that "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Little wonder, then, that the education profession has difficulty attracting people. It carries the stigma of an admission of mediocrity. We have created an educational system in which our children are educated by people considered social failures.

Throwing money at education won't immediately cure all its problems. But it would be a good start because adequate funding would indicate some level of realistic commitment to education. As long as our cultural attitude towards teachers is erratic, so will our teachers be.

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