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'I don't get no respect'

Here was the catchphrase of famous American comedian and actor Rodney Dangerfield: "I don't get no respect." He died in 2004. The phrase lives on -- for Kansas teachers.

The Kansas school finance bill signed April 21 ended the mandatory due-process required before experienced teachers could be fired. No respect.

When a rookie teacher just out of college begins teaching their first several years, a school always could say goodbye and not renew the contract -- no reason given. But after three or more years in a district, the school has had plenty of time to assess a teacher's professional skills. Thereafter, a teacher had some job security as a professional, and due process was required, a status often called "tenure."

But it never guaranteed a job forever. When No Child Left Behind was mandated more than a decade ago, some Kansas schools threw all of their resources into teaching-to-the-tests. Many art and music classes were discontinued. Those veteran "tenured" teachers lost their jobs. No respect.

And it always took competent administrators to get rid of an incompetent teacher. If they somehow do not catch incompetence in the first three years, it still can be documented later. But now teachers are forever "rookies." No respect.

If an administrator does dismiss an incompetent teacher, that administrator needs a competent replacement waiting in the wings. That talent now is going to become harder to find.

And it can be worse. In eight other states, if students' scores on external assessment tests decline for two years in a row, a veteran teacher can be fired. No respect.

It is not just legislators and administrators who lack respect for our profession. Disrespect has been growing in American culture for decades.

In 1962, in "Anti-intellectualism in American Life," author Richard Hofstadter described our growing public disdain for intellect and our shallow preference for mundane job training.

In 2000, in "An Elusive Science," Ellen Condliffe Lagemann detailed our growing disrespect for teachers, and how "anti-educationism has helped to undermine the effectiveness of all aspects of education." This was made clear in our Kansas bill that also has relaxed licensing requirements, allowing districts to hire folks without any teacher training to teach math, engineering, science, technology, finance and accounting. Again, no respect.

Our governor defended this action, according to news reports: "What if you can bring a retired heart doctor into the classroom to teach biology now, which you couldn't before? And what can that teacher do and inspire and instruct that you couldn't do before?"

Well, a heart doctor would not know botany and molecular biology and microbiology and ecology for starters. And Kansas needs more than 700 fully educated biology teachers in our classrooms. But you can count the number of "retired heart doctors" who would want to work a year in a Kansas public school classroom on one hand -- and have five fingers left over. Our governor's example is unreal. But the attitude is clear. Trained teachers get no respect.

I leave for China on May 20. They will be aghast at this Kansas action. Whenever I walk into a classroom to lecture in China, everyone stands up. If I sit with the headmaster at the back of a class, both of us stand along with the students when the teacher enters the room. It makes the hair stand on the back of your neck to feel this respect. Respect teachers deserve. There is no way I can explain to them the disgraceful way Kansas is treating our teachers today.

My job includes recruiting excellent college biology students into secondary biology teaching in Kansas. Before NCLB, I could persuade them to enter teaching where they could ride the wave of science discovery and enjoy translating new developments to their students with labs and fieldwork. But when many Kansas school districts canceled labs and field trips and turned science teaching into test drill work, new licenses in science teaching across Kansas dropped to one-fourth pre-1999 levels. This generation of college students is looking to other fields for decent pay -- and for respect.

With little protection from arbitrary dismissal, it would be unwise for any new teacher to buy a house. They probably always should rent.

Our legislators probably will get the teachers they deserve. But our future children deserve better.

Rodney Dangerfield lives on for every Kansas teacher remaining today: "We do not get any respect!"

John Richard Schrock is a

professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University.