Viewpoint

Teacher-athletes, constantly keeping score

Yamarko Brown, age 12, works on a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Maryland on Feb. 12.
Yamarko Brown, age 12, works on a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Maryland on Feb. 12. AP

What if teachers were treated like professional athletes?

In a new Comedy Central sketch released this week, comics Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele pose as anchors on TeachingCenter – a parody of ESPN’s SportsCenter. It’s pitch perfect in tone and look. Key and Peele sit surrounded by glitzy computer graphics and a scrolling news ticker at the bottom of the screen with the breakdown of SAT section scores and other “grades” for schools in different “divisions.”

The lead story involves an English teacher, Ruby Ruhf, lured from her school in Ohio to P.S. 431 in New York, where she will be paid $80 million over the next six years with $40 million in incentives if test scores rise.

Another segment shows the high school teacher draft at Radio City Music Hall, where a calculus teacher is the first pick. As he lifts his arms in victory and runs to the stage to receive his jersey, the anchor says, “And just like that, you’re a millionaire. Mike Yoast is an unbelievable story, his father living paycheck to paycheck as a humble pro football player.”

A French teacher being traded for a head librarian and “two lunch ladies to be named later” and a hint about an upcoming teachers strike that could “cripple the season” are swift and clever. A close analysis of a “star teacher” calling on an introvert during a history lesson – complete with computer arrows pointing out the students she ignored with their hands in the air – highlights the importance of interactions inside the classroom.

The point of the skit is, of course, to show the absurd gap between what we value – being entertained – versus what we say we value but don’t – education.

Underneath that larger criticism is the ridiculous idea that teachers, or athletes, should be judged by scores alone. Remember that Kevin Costner movie “Draft Day” where a talented but selfish football player is passed over in favor of a better man? Not a better player, but one who brings passion and heart to his team? Wouldn’t happen in the real world.

In the real world of public education, good teachers are leaving a profession that evaluates what they do by the narrow metric of test scores.

I suspect that wasn’t true for the teachers Key and Peele had in their own high schools. Key graduated from a Catholic school; Peele attended Calhoun High in Manhattan, a progressive private school that eschews most of what passes for education reform these days.

In Huffington Post’s The Blog, Calhoun’s headmaster, Steve Nelson, talks about the toxic culture of testing, citing the rise of serious mental health issues on college campuses and the suicide of a principal who admitted to gaming test scores for her students.

“Competition, ranking, constant testing, perfection, stress – all of these things inhibit real learning,” Nelson writes.

In the imagined world of Key and Peele, such concerns are ignored. In fact, the best part of the sketch is the BMW ad at the very end. In a beautifully photographed montage, English teacher Ruby Ruhf grades papers, throws Scantron answer sheets over her head and chomps an apple while changing gears in her luxury BMW, all the while intoning, “Strength courses through me. I am velocity. I am power. I am a leader, a believer. I am the force that guides. I am the gateway to what is possible, the path to the future. I AM the future.”

Leave it to the comics to speak the truth.

Kay McSpadden is a high school English teacher in York, S.C.

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