Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture (book review)

Bad TeacherI had the pleasure of hearing Kevin K. Kumsahiro speak at the ASCD conference last March, and knew immediately that I’d want to read his book, Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture. This is such an important topic, and teachers desperately need someone to speak up on their behalf.

The scapegoating of public school teachers in America is a complex topic, and I have to admit, this is a complex book that I sometimes had trouble following. At only 90 pages, I figured I could skim through it one morning on the subway and get the gist. Not so. Bad Teacher requires a lot of intense concentration. I pushed through it because I believe in the heart of Kumashiro’s message, and I think in Bad Teacher, he’s provided a very comprehensive explanation of how and why the reputation of America’s teachers has disintegrated.

The idea that American public schools are failing and that the solution is to get rid of “bad” teachers is something that’s debunked right in the foreword:

Let’s say we did fire all the bad teachers, however defined or described. What then? Did classes suddenly become smaller, schools better-resourced? Is outdoor playtime now in place and obesity a thing of the past? Are kids now focused and engaged? Is poverty eliminated and health insurance available to them? Are guns and drugs out of their communities, and their local libraries open every day?…One counterpoint would be to ask a different set of questions: what makes a good teacher; what qualities constitute goodness in teaching; what policies would promote the good? Perhaps rather than an exclusive and anemic focus on the “bad”, we should invest resources, intellectual effort, and energy on promoting and supporting the good.

Kumashiro addresses the fact that most efforts to improve schools have the opposite effect. “Under current reforms, the more students struggle, the less their schools are allowed to teach, and the less they are made to look like flourishing school systems in this country and to other nations. In other words, current reforms are making even more substantial the differences between schools for the elite and schools for all others.” Kumashiro goes on to explain how reform is fear-based, and would not be occurring without a sense of crisis that has been created by those in positions of power. Fear is what drives the standardized testing movement, “which in turn, creates opportunity for profit.”

This monetization of the education system is addressed head on in the book. In the media, criticism rarely seems to fall on curriculum manufacturers, creators of standardized tests, and others who stand to make a profit from school reform. So instead, the story of American’s failing schools is blamed on a lack of effort on the part of teachers and schools. Policy and legislative changes reinforce this: “Gains in student achievement are not sufficient? Create incentives to make teachers work harder, work smarter, and innovate their way to success, all the while regulating and monitoring them. Schools are still failing? Get rid of those teachers.”

It was evident to me throughout the book that Kumashiro leans to the left politically, and though I personally agreed with most of his views, I think his arguments would have been stronger had he taken a more unbiased approach. I got a bit lost in the section on homeschooling, particularly around the “re-Christianization of teaching” and the “feminization of teaching” as a threat to public schooling. I didn’t find those arguments convincing, but I’m largely unfamiliar with those two phrases and would like to do some more research so I can form my own opinion.

Overall, though, Bad Teacher is a worthwhile read for anyone who is concerned about the vilification of the public school teacher. I really appreciate that Kumashiro is not afraid to speak the truth as he sees it about what’s really driving school reform. He’s tackled the topic from many different angles and provides a very comprehensive look at the topic. Kumashiro’s consistently pro-teacher stance is refreshing, and extremely validating for all the teachers who have been left scratching their heads these last few years, wondering when they became the enemy and why they’re not allowed to teach anymore. We can only create workable solutions when we understand the root of the problem, and Bad Teacher is a terrific resource for examining the big picture.

Teacher’s College Press has offered to give away a copy of Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture to one reader of The Cornerstone.  Use the Rafflecopter giveaway below to enter. Contest closes at midnight EST on Monday, October 21st, 2013. Good luck!
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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tarah October 15, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Wow, this sounds like it covers topics that are frequently debated in my grad school classes.

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2 Heather aka HoJo October 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm

This sounds extremely interesting! I’m going to add it to my “must read” list. Thank you!

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3 Libby October 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Sounds like a very good read! Am going to add it to my list.

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4 Kelly October 15, 2013 at 7:35 pm

So glad someone is on the teacher’s side! Appreciate Kumashiro writing this book.

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5 Megan Neubauer October 15, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I love your site and now this book is on my to-do list!

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6 Sharon Cahoon-Winter October 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Hi Angela,

I would love to read this book. Sometimes it just feels like the world is against teachers. I remember when I was a little girl, my parents held teachers in the highest regard….those days are long gone. Thanks again for another informative blog post!

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7 Tanja Fussell October 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm

This sounds so interesting. I will totally read it somehow! It’s good to hear the truth that we already know – that teachers are the hardest working, most creative, least appreciated professionals in our society.

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8 Leslie October 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm

This sounds really interesting! I kind of want to give my principal a copy, and talk about it at our next staff meeting.

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9 Amanda October 16, 2013 at 8:21 pm

One of these days, I will create a workshop called the “Care and Proper Feeding of New Teachers” because there is so little support for new teachers that it can get easy to rely on bad habits that become a part of your classroom management. And just like with our students, it’s very hard to unlearn once you have learned.

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10 Jackie Hahn October 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm

As a new teacher, it can be so disheartening to be blamed for all that is wrong with today’s education system. I would love to read more about it.

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11 Jeni October 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Thanks

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12 Becky October 16, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Sounds like a great read! I am going to put it on my reading list! :)

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13 Kelly Irving October 16, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Sounds like an interesting read.

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14 saralizy herrera October 16, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thank you so much for this chance to read this book . Bigger problems at home are always blamed on the biggest helpers , the teachers !

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15 Carey October 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Sounds interesting! Looking forward to reading it.

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16 Romana Wendenon October 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm

It’s good to know someone is on the side of teachers! Our job is the most important job! It is also the hardest! It is also one of the most rewarding! I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! The constant bashing wears me out! I feel as though I am constantly defending what I do for a living, almost to be apologetic! I would love to read the book!

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17 Sarah October 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Interesting review. Sounds like a must read for any teacher wanting to speak with knowledge & passion.

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18 Susan S. October 16, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Wish the media would venture into this debate. I agree that the blame is being misplaced.

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19 paul shaskan October 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Sounds like a marvelous book.

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20 Krystal October 16, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Thank you for this thorough review. I, too, am not familiar with both of the terms that you mentioned, and the fact that you brought them up only means I need to stay on my toes and do my research! It definitely seems like a good and interesting read! I have been working as a substitute teacher for the past year, and have overheard so many comments from parents, teachers, and even students (I sub mainly in the secondary level, but these comments from students are usually from upperclassmen in high school), from across the spectrum. It seems like it will be a refreshing read for many of us teachers!!

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21 Kathryn B. October 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm

It sounds like an interesting read!

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22 Sarah L. October 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Sounds intriguing! I’ve added it to my to-read list!

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23 Celeste H October 16, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I’m adding this to my list of reading musts, even if I don’t win it from you! Thank you for putting this book on my radar.

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24 Rose Warrell October 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Thanks for the review. I’m tired of hearing it’s the teachers fault that students are failing. However, there are many other factors involved. Poverty, home life, lack of willingness or parent support at home, etc. I work very hard and stay late every night and still take work home. Searching the Internet for meaningful resources that will aid in my teaching to align with the Common Core Standards, which curriculum hasn’t been developed for but we have to follow the standards. Again, thanks for review.

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25 Jen October 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm

would love to read and share ideas with others!!

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26 Beckie Alvaro October 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Sounds like a great read. Now, if we could only get “the powers that be” to read it, too!

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27 Jill October 16, 2013 at 9:37 pm

This sounds like a great book to read. Adding it to my list of books to read and hoping to win a copy of it.

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28 Emily October 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Looks like a great read! Thanks for the review.

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29 E Dickinson October 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Sounds like what we are all trying to say.

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30 Amy S October 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Great synopsis. I’m definitely interested in this book!

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31 Jaci October 16, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Sounds like a very interesting read.

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32 Jules M October 16, 2013 at 11:08 pm

This sounds like a must read – not just for me, but for everyone who is involved in education.

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33 Dan October 16, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Sounds like a fascinating read, and about time for a book on the topic of scapegoating teachers.

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34 Sarah October 17, 2013 at 1:05 am

I really hope to read this, and I hope that I can share it with many others.

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35 nancy valles October 17, 2013 at 1:31 am

Reading this review I have just the feeling to read a description of our school system in only a few years ahead ! I teach in France, where the government is trying to enforce reforms on behalf “what’s good for the children”…Teachers here are perpetually challenged by some parents who think they are the ones who are working and have no time to come to school discuss their children’s misbehaviour…

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36 Gregory Sampson October 17, 2013 at 4:49 am

I look forward to reading the book even if I don’t win the free copy.

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37 Kimberly October 17, 2013 at 5:38 am

I really want to read this book! I am so tired of feeling like a villain when test scores are released. I teach students with disabilities, by the very definition they are not likely to meet grade level standards and yet administrators insist on acting like this is something new they’ve discovered and something teachers could fix if we could do our jobs well enough.

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38 Kathy Alexander October 17, 2013 at 7:37 am

Sounds like an interesting read!

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39 LaNessa October 20, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I would love to read this-sounds intriguing! kindercards@gmail.com

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40 Connie Casserly October 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

Angela,
I enjoyed reading your review of Kevin K. Kumsahiro’s book, “Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture” because you are very candid about how this book is not a quick read. Also appreciated is the fact that you don’t agree with every tenet that the author discusses. I enjoy hearing readers discuss what they liked and disliked about a book, especially one with such a fascinating title.

Connie
http:teachitwrite.blogspot.com

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41 nicole May 31, 2014 at 10:27 am

I just read this book for one of my grad classes and I was not a fan. While I agree with his points about the problems with the education system extending beyond the teachers, I’m not too sure what his point is. To get the public outraged? To get more teacher involvement in the politics of the system? The last section in the conclusion, A framework for advocacy lacks a significant guidelines for people who want to change the system. Kumashiro offers lots of suggestions but no solid avenues, what is he doing to change the system besides writing books?

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