Every teacher is a fountain of stories, but few tell them as well or as honestly as recently retired Michigan music teacher Nancy Flanagan in her blog “Teacher in a Strange Land.” (Hat tip to Blogboard.) She’s a real person (so, like Howard Dean, she’ll never be president) and not an ideologue. The Blogboard link will get you her hair-raising story about trying to become a substitute in the district where she taught last year.

A few days earlier, she posted about her grad-school office-mate Jeff, “precisely the teacher that the talking ed-heads and columnists say we desperately need: a bright, well-prepared high school science specialist” who used to teach in Cincinnati:

“A few years into his career, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers proposed a new pay system tied to an innovative evaluation plan, involving classroom observations by principals and peers, plus a professional portfolio, all standards-based. While Jeff had some reservations about the plan—he felt some of the indicators were less demanding than they could be—he thought the system would reward hard workers like himself and weed some of the deadwood. In fact, he was sure he could reach the top of the scale in a couple of years—a five-figure salary boost. For a young husband and father, this was reason to stay in teaching for a good long while.

“The plan was voted down in May of 2002, by 96% of Cincinnati teachers. Jeff believes he was one of only two teachers in his high school who voted for the plan. He says there were issues between union and district leaders and a mistrust of the new evaluation system, not enough time for teachers to absorb the ramifications of change—too much revolution all at once. Lots of reasons, all boiling down to the same thing: fear. Jeff began seriously looking, that spring, at graduate schools and new career paths, plotting an eventual escape from a system that suddenly felt unbending and stuck in the past.

“Jeff will be a world-class teacher educator, but it is a shame that he stopped teaching those kids in Cincinnati so soon. What is absolutely criminal is that he was pushed out by the intransigent fears of his colleagues. We are not a profession of risk-takers or innovators. We sometimes prefer the mediocre known to the potential of the unknown, and we keep settling for a little extra for everyone rather that shuffling the deck and trying to use our resources to reach our goals.”