Young is to old as good is to bad -- not so fast

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:44 p.m.

Every year our children are given standardized tests. These tests, in many cases, decide the fate of our kids. All too often we are finding that by using one test, our kids--Black and Latino, the majority of students in the system--are the least likely to get the best opportunities.

Is this fair? And do we want to use the same type of process to judge our teachers?

Finding an appropriate assessment methodology is always a complicated process, whether you are talking about teachers or students.

But the Bloomberg administration and its allies would like you to think that, with their charts and computer runs, they have it all figured out. And when it comes to teachers it is simple in their minds; old is bad and young is good. But hold on--we cannot use the tenure system as the poster child for bad teaching. We have thousands of teachers who have been in the school system for years, who have worked tirelessly so that our children have some possible future. These teachers--paid less, in some cases, than garbage men--have changed the courses of children's lives. Idealistic at 28, and seasoned and powerful at 48, or 58, or even 62, these teachers have made and continue to make a difference.

That being said, there are those teachers who have been in the system for years and are tired, racist, uncaring and just going along, doing the minimum to get by. They didn't particularly care about our kids when they were 24 or 28, and they certainly don't care about our kids in their later years--for them it was always about the paycheck. But this is by all means not the majority.

The majority of our teachers care for the kids. Let's face it; most don't go into education for the money. And we have to keep in mind that not everyone is cut out to be a teacher--some folks just don't have the temperament for it, and they can't manage a class or much of anything else. And even if they did do well in school and are very smart people, some just can't communicate information to other people.

We all had that math teacher or English teacher or science teacher who made us say: "What the hell was he or she talking about?" And hopefully we also had those wonderful teachers who opened up the world of learning for us.

Recently, my family lost my Aunt Lea (Kohn). She taught for decades. At a recent memorial service for her, her closest friend, Donna Lee, talked about their relationship and how, when she first started teaching, Lea took her under her wing and mentored her. They became best friends despite the fact that Lea was in her 40s when they met and Donna was only 21. Through the years Lea helped guide Donna and taught her how to be a good teacher as well.

As we consider all these issues we have to remember that, at the end of the day, we have to look at what is best for the students.