There is little about this era of Education Reform that so flummoxes me as the latter day “new, improved” standing of teachers.

As the daughter of a college professor, and surrounded ever since by teachers of myriad sorts, this endeavor has always personified for me the acme of life’s greatest possibilities:  to share what you know, to shepherd another across the divide between uninitiated and stuffed-up-with-understanding.

From iconic one-room school teachers like those described and embodied by Laura Ingalls Wilder on the prairie, to heroic, urban pioneers like Jaime Escalante right through to the perfectly wacky Miss Frizzle or Marian the Librarian, teaching and teachers were once infallible.

But at some point the iconic rosy apple on teacher’s desk was displaced by a corporate logo for hardware featuring that apple’s shiny surface marred by a bite (byte?) mark.  Today AppleInc is aggressively supplanting teachers from their place of honor at the front of our classrooms.  And there has been a carefully orchestrated move to encourage and celebrate the usurpation.

As part of the process, teachers have been steadily devalued.  First came the hubris of blaming teachers for the tribulations of society, for poverty and academic non-preparedness, for distraction and disinterest.  Along the way their word has been ignored and disrespected – witness the recent reaction to evidence of physical disrepair in our schools.  These failings have been chronicled steadily for years by teachers; the complaints have simply been disregarded, and the bearers of them afforded the same discourtesy by definition.

An even more shocking example of how teachers are disrespected is glimpsed through tales of its “teacher jails”.  Following recent high-profile sex scandals involving teachers at Telfair and Miramonte, the school district has opted to respond conservatively to allegations of teacher-wrongdoing.  It is better, the reasoning goes, to inappropriately act on allegations that turn out to be false (a ‘type I’ or “false positive” error), than to inappropriately ignore allegations that turn out to be true (‘type II’ or “false negative” error).

In this climate, not only do unsubstantiated rumors of misconduct trigger immediate action in the form of removing the teacher from their classroom, but it is alleged all files are being reviewed for unacknowledged allegations from any point in a teacher’s career.  This is one of many contributors to an atmosphere that is considered to be precisely the definition of a “witchhunt”, the superintendent’s specific denial notwithstanding.

Is the ham-fisted response warranted?  Short of death, I think it is hard for any parent to imagine a scenario more horrific than sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher.  The degrees and direction of betrayal are cataclysmic, both for the object of abuse, for innocence lost, and for the breach of faith by a parent unable to protect.

But as every action has a reaction, these processes for securing safety reverberate throughout the whole community.  Teachers and students are intertwined in a “co-dependent society” where mistreatment has widespread effect.  When teachers are removed from the classroom, their students feel this loss keenly over the long-term not only pedagogically but emotionally as well.  When teachers are denied the basic constitutional protection of facing their accuser and by extension, of knowing what they are accused, then an accuser, whether a student or another adult, potentially, holds untoward power over the life and livelihood of the accused.  Any power structure so egregiously akilter, is pernicious to any society.  When allegations are not investigated properly, as continues to be the case despite the board’s recent attention to questionable competency in the past, a similar abuse of power prevails.  When allegations are not investigated in a timely manner, teacher’s lives are corroded and the district’s budget crumbles:  paying two salaries for one person’s work is insupportable.

Most of all, absence of due process amongst the erstwhile estimable teachers, belies any blustered pretense of esteem or dignity for this formerly integral part of an educational community.  And conversely, it is not possible to so threaten an entire class of people with fear and with abuse, without doing untold damage to their self-esteem and the integrity of the whole community at large.

These are absurd conditions for learning; they are pedagogical circumstances of destruction not construction.

Destroyed is an institution of veteran teachers experienced in the tricks of teaching that work.  Because veteran teachers are older people and older people (and people of color) are disproportionately represented in teacher jail.  Older teachers are more expensive employees because experience comes with seniority which merits higher pay. Dismantling the structure of this society destroys the prerogative of the labor unions that created it.  And dismantling the labor unions is part and parcel of the triumph of technology over teachers.

The stories of teachers’ suffering while under suspicion in teacher jail will affect even the strongest anti-union, pro-privateers.  Read hundreds of stories here and pay particular attention to the latest in a long string of fabled but older teachers incarcerated here.

Teachers – even malicious ones – deserve due process and respect for themselves and the whole community to which they belong.