"Whatever you are, be a good one."
My brother got married this weekend. It was my first time away in over two years, so for three days, I was immersed in my surroundings and forgot the other crap. I didn't let myself think about jobs, money or insurance; I didn't even think about writing. I decided to enjoy myself for a change, and I'd say I was pretty darn successful.
Towards the end of the weekend, I had a conversation with a woman who teaches undergraduate courses at a local university. She is beginning her 34th year. We were discussing various topics in public education, and at one point, she cut me off to say the following:
Paul, I don't know what the f*ck is going on, but it has never been this bad. The kids don't pay attention; they're on their phones, they leave early - and then they complain about grades. They don't study, can't write a paper, and don't want to do anything. My office hours are empty - nobody comes to discuss anything. If I offer points to see a guest speaker, I sit in the auditorium myself. They answer essay questions in bulleted fragments and their research papers are junk - nobody can even read a rubric. They don't belong in college, and I'm sick of it. Teachers are not preparing them - they don't read and write enough. There is no accountability and no reason to try. Nobody fails; everyone gets promoted. It never used to be this way. In 34 years, this is the worst I've seen it.
The above statement was obviously typed from memory and is not a direct quote, but still, you get the gist. The professor's thoughts have remained on my mind; I can't shake them because she is absolutely right. Educational priorities have shifted, and it's incredibly frustrating.
If I said everything I wanted to say, this post would be an anthology. But the insight above sparked thoughts I wanted to share. Good teachers are out there, but so are bad ones. Really, really, really bad ones, and I'm not talking about Cameron Diaz. Yet for every bad teacher hogging a classroom, an amazingly talented, highly qualified applicant sits home (to be clear, I'm thinking of many I've worked with - not myself). And every September, they pray for a classroom to enter the next year.
Our system is jacked up. I'm over tenure. I'm over the impersonal online application process because "paper applications will not be accepted." I'm over clicking a link to express interest in a job when hundreds of others are doing the same and my information will never be screened. I'm over cuts made to educational programs. I'm over class sizes equivalent to small fraternities and retiring teachers not being replaced. And I'm over the really, really, really bad teachers who just don't give a damn.
Ten Reasons You're Lucky I'm Not Your Teacher:
1. I care about the kids - not my salary. I declared my major knowing darn well I'd never be rich. I don't care about summers off and I don't call out. In three years, I banked 32 sick days. I wanted this job; I have no intention of handing my key to a substitute. Sorry; you're most likely stuck with me the full 180 days.
2. I make my own assignments, tests, and rubrics. I don't print from the Internet or copy from books because those materials were created by someone who never met my students. Yes, I take ideas from resources and consult others for suggestions, but it stops there. Everything I hand out is made by me.
3. You WILL write in my class. You will read, too, and you will do both CORRECTLY. I missed where it said you only read in English class. I missed the doctrine stating elements of good writing are not applicable outside language arts, and therefore, history papers can be written however you'd like because we only assess content. This teacher believes in writing and literacy ACROSS the curriculum.
4. I'll encourage you to revise assignments and resubmit them for more points. We learn from correcting mistakes and nothing is ever perfect. We can always improve; I'll expect you to take advantage of this opportunity to better yourself as a learner.
5. I stick to deadlines. Patterns of behavior form at an early age. It is so important students are trained to manage their time and submit things when they are due. Bill collectors don't budge.
6. I can turn any game into a lesson and any lesson into a game. My lessons are designed around student-centered learning. Kids learn most by doing; creative and engaging activities provide interaction with the material. I'll never lecture and I'll never assign busy work. No "read the chapter and answer the questions in the back" around here, folks.
7. I will not teach to any test. If I do my job correctly, the students will learn and the test scores will reflect that. I'm not concerning myself with possible exceptions and what ifs; I'm going to do my job. Let the cards fall where they may.
8. I will not turn a kid away. If someone needs help, they get it. If someone needs to talk, I listen. I don't care what time my contract tells me to leave or how many minutes I'm required to enjoy a "duty-free lunch." I'm there for the kids. You will also find me at a number of extra-curricular activities because I support students outside academic areas. When that last bell rings, you don't necessarily get rid of me.
9. If I assigned it, I grade it. I don't walk down rows and give check marks for completing worksheets I never looked at (not that I ever give worksheets). I don't give points because something was filled out or a certain number of sentences were written in a box. Assignments are assessed to ensure a concept has been mastered. If the concept has not been mastered, we will be working together until it has.
10. I DO reinvent the wheel. One of my favorite aspects of teaching is finding new ways to tackle material. I like creative lessons that hook students and keep them interested. I'm always looking for better ideas and new methods. Sorry, but I will never be the teacher who does the same thing year after year and never changes anything.
I don't think I'm exceptional, but I do think I work hard. When you work hard and have enthusiasm for your career, you learn new techniques and continue developing your craft. I know what my evaluations say. I also know if I taught more than three years in the same district, I wouldn't be evaluated in the same manner. It isn't fair. Anything can happen when nobody is watching. If nobody steers the ship, students can drift wherever the current pulls them.
Sitting in a desk does not make a kid learn any more than holding a pen makes me a writer. Every classroom deserves an excellent teacher standing up front. How much longer do we allow the economy to dictate the quality of education being delivered? And how much longer do we protect bad teachers? How many years of safety are we granting those who do the minimum because they're untouchable? How many more teachers will we certify when there are no jobs to be filled?