Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Don't Become a Teacher

In every year I've taught, I've heard some of my best and brightest aspire to be teachers. The idealistic side of me is so excited for this possibility, and I understand that it is their great educational experience and love of learning that led them to their decision. And my first instinct is to praise, congratulate, and encourage them. My second thought, however, is more melancholy, and my instinct resting just below the excitement is to counsel them away from the profession. For, in far too many places, teaching has become a thankless task. This week Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet offers a "letter of resignation" of sorts from a seemingly passionate, skilled, and veteran teacher who simply can't do it anymore. In response to Valerie's request for stories, she writes, "I would love to teach, but …"

It is with a heavy, frustrated heart that I announce the end of my personal career in education, disappointed and resigned because I believe in learning. I was brought up to believe that education meant exploring new things, experimenting, and broadening horizons … However, as the whipping boy for society’s ills, I could do none of these things. I was lambasted by parents as being ineffective because their child had a B or a C. “They are not allowed to fail.” “If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.” What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers, I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them, I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time, I was not excusing their lack of discipline, I was not going back in time and raising them from birth, but I could do none of these things. I was called down to the principal’s office many more times before I was broken, before I ended up assigning stupid assignments for large amounts of credit, ones I knew I could get students to do. Even then, I still had students failing, purely through their own refusal to put any sort of effort into anything, and I had lowered the bar so much that it took hardly anything to pass. I would love to teach, but I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit. I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important. I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the Global Scholars test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, waste instructional time and resources, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices. “Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, and understanding is not wisdom.” It is time that we fall on our sword. In our rabid pursuit of data and blame, we have sacrificed wisdom and abandoned its fruits. We cannot broaden our students’ horizons by placing them and their teachers into narrow boxes, unless we then plan to bury them.

Stories like these - and they are not uncommon - distress me to no end. And they would seem to validate my concerns about encouraging students to pursue teaching.  Of course, the issue is so complicated because, as most in education know, there are far too many unsatisfactory teachers out there producing little of the incredibly hard work and results that are mentioned by this teacher.  There is no easy answer to the problems that plague education - and I am certain that many of our current reforms are misguided attempts which will only worsen the situation. But I am not without hope.

So, with guarded optimism, I will still encourage my best and brightest to "Become a Teacher."

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