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Just Like Cops, Teachers Often Refuse to Address the ‘Bad Apples’ in Their Profession


I’m here to say that I know that all police officers aren’t bad. In fact, troubled by the obvious, and most recent, “bad practice” in policing, I again turned to one who I have trust in on the matter, a relative who is a former police officer. 

I began by mentioning that I have cognitive dissonance in understanding how one “sworn to protect and serve” can watch and observe in silence when another officer brutalizes or kills a citizen. The solution seemed simple, why can’t the “good” officers just weed out the “bad” officers?”

My relative acknowledged that the Floyd case was a matter of terrible policing and disrespect of human life. However, he also responded with a question for me. He asked, “do you know any bad teachers?” He knew the answer as did I. “Furthermore, why haven’t you weeded them out yet?” 

As you can imagine, I was caught off guard with what seemed like a simple ask. In a split second, he made me do a double-take on what officers “accept” in their departments and what educators often tolerate within their school buildings. 

We compared the work of the two professions and recognized that there are definitely some key similarities. First, human centered work ain’t easy. As humans, we all have biases and often, intentionally or unintentionally, operate in that bias. Both professions are hailed as vital services to society but the pay suggests otherwise. Equally, in both professions, the training in how to be most effective, is inadequate. We talked about the greatest means of finding success is by developing relationships and establishing yourself as a friend, ally, and asset in whatever community you serve.

We also saw similarity in the one major difference. The major difference is that when an encounter with an officer goes wrong, it can result in an immediate loss of life as we’ve seen in many cases across the country. However, the similarity is that a bad teacher may not produce a quick death but could certainly be a part of a long slow process of dehumanization. We see that “death” represented in academic outcomes as well as a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts kids of color. Imagine being known as a bad student because your teachers failed you and suspended you from preschool forward? 

Our conversation also led to how many in both professions oftentimes turn the other way to behavior of colleagues that needs to be addressed. We hear people say, it wasn’t my business that my colleague was racist or sexist. Some educators ignore patterns that we need to have fixed and rectified. We shouldn’t have traumatic situations that jump off and in the back of our minds we’re thinking, “Yeah I always knew that Smith could do something like that.” Does that mean one is complicit in that incident?

Just as with bad police officers and society, many teachers in schools have a social contract that has been broken. The social contract requires everyone in that community to treat people with dignity and a violation of those norms should lead to consequences and accountability. Both professions should be vessels for which to protect and serve. 

But, when that social contract in education is violated then we see students who are “protesting” through disengagement and insubordination. When not feeling protected and safe from bad educators, students withdraw from their own academic goals because they don’t want to appease a system that doesn’t care for them. 

In this conversation with my family member I was reminded that to live in a just society, we all have to respect that social contract and promote the full humanization of every being, in every space. One has to first acknowledge that the contract has been broken and is in need of repair. 

Again, human relations professions are not easy and require continuous training to understand the humans one serves. We need to support teacher’s professional development and growth to be reflective practitioners but we also have to call out those who refuse to acknowledge their bad practice and are doing harm to kids. 

I’m hoping this piece shines a reflective light on the blue wall of silence and how we all have to be better in disrupting institutions that ignore or justify bad practice, in both professions. It won’t be easy to call out everyone because it takes a lot of effort to do your job and “police” inadequate colleagues. However, as members upholding a social contract, educators have an obligation—just like with police officers—to continuously recognize that a few bad apples can take a life, and we need to fight like hell to not allow that to happen anymore.

This piece first ran here at Citizen Ed.

What Do You Think?
Daryl Howard
Daryl Howard, Ph.D. is an equity instructional specialist and ethnic groups course facilitator in Montgomery County Public Schools (MD). His work and research interests include the study of cultural competency, race and ethnicity, and social emotional learning in education spaces. He leads initiatives focused on the recruitment, development, and retention of male educators of color with BOND, Building Our Network of Diversity Project. Howard is the author of Complex People: Insights at the Intersection of Black Culture and American Social Life. He shares his life with his wife and three children.

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