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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Would Anyone Want to Teach?

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work.  
It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years." 

~Jacques Barzun

Why would anyone want to become a teacher these days? Low pay, dwindling benefits, state-mandated standardized testing, critical performance standards, heavy clerical paperwork loads, never-ending procedures of accountability, more and more pressure from administration, retirement worries, on and on ... the responsibilities of a teacher are simply overwhelming. Buried somewhere in this mountain of encumbrance is daily organizing, planning, and actual classroom teaching.

Just ask any teacher what hurts the most. I bet you will hear something like this -- "Now, more than ever, there is less classroom teaching time due to a forced schedule full of "Micky Mouse" requirements."

Welcome to the ever-confusing world of American educational reform. Education is the profession where "pile the work on the teachers" is supposed to produce classroom after classroom of students who are  (1) "never left behind" and never failing, (2) grade level proficient, (3) free of discipline problems, and (4) well adjusted, stress free, and college bound.

Do you want the truth? Why would anyone want to teach? Well, here is the "truth" as far as my opinion.

Good teachers are rewarded by the product of their hard labor in one way. They teach and teach and wait and wait and somewhere way down the line, years after their contact with kids, they get to see the cream of the students they taught do wonderful things in their own lives. Teachers live to see this delayed achievement.

Teachers absolutely thrive on the accomplishments of their students. They love to see "their kids" doing well and raising families of their own. And, they cherish having been a small part in the development of these successful adults.

But there is another unfortunate outcome that teachers suffer. Some ex-students do not thrive as adults. Whether genetics, environment, or unseen fate contribute to their hardships, these "products" become defective. They get addicted, engage in criminal activities, get arrested, and even die. As their dramas play out before their old teachers' eyes, these teachers find the reality incredulous.

So, the teachers hurt simply because they can't understand how the "Johnny" or "Mary" they knew could have done "such things." And, then the teachers wonder "Is there anything I should have done to prevent these problems?"

At these reflective times, educators feel like failures. And, at times, they realize that they have been grossly inadequate. In rare cases, teachers even consider that they caused some open and festering wounds. All of this goes with the territory of relating to children during formative years.  It is something all teachers learn to accept but the pain never goes away. Simply stated, all good teachers understand they they can never do the "best job" with all the variables present in their human products. The skin and bones of youth often hide their true hearts, minds, and souls.

If you are a teacher and you have yet to experience these rewards and disappointments, you probably are a novice. They will come in time. Continue teaching and you will feel the great impact of your products. This deep concern over "quality control" must be the primary reason you chose to become an educator. You should have chosen to enter the profession because you care about every students' future. If you are teaching for some other reason, you probably should consider getting out of this line of work.

Lucky teachers receive their compensation in time. It largely comes from observation at a vantage point of a great distance. Most of the reward involves this silent observation without feedback or any discussion. Teachers see their students grow into adulthood. A lot of hope is involved, hope that something they did makes a little positive impact to enable their comfortable transitions.

At times, the compensation comes in heartfelt words, smiles, and simple gestures. These gifts are most often totally unexpected, spontaneous "thank yous" more precious than gold. The gifts can be meager, babbling, or eloquently stated -- no matter, their worth is all the same. They stir the soul and remind teachers of the reason to live.

And, to be honest, the most gratifying times for a teacher occur when a failure matures, commits, and achieves. Despite the odds against overcoming their obstacles, these students persist. They scratch and claw their way out of the pits to become happy, successful adults. In doing so, they endure a long, tough metamorphosis by finding solid ground, an environment in which they can spread their wings and fly. And every great now and then a teacher bumps into one of these grateful folks and they simply say, "I get it now."

I do fear that the profession of education has become more interested in statistics and in reports of accountability than in great teaching. I believe a great teacher uses subject discipline within the classroom to provide lessons in thinking, communicating, and problem solving. I believe the great teacher challenges students, encouraging them to learn independently and to seek answers. Unless a teacher can be trusted to develop lessons and strategies independently within a curriculum, all uniqueness and personality dies, leaving drab, automatic, watered-down learning.

I can't, with a good heart, recommend entering the field unless the job allows a teacher to instruct with unlimited creativity. Throttling good teachers by limiting their classroom control and their time spent teaching contributes to the death of independent learning. Not all good teachers have the same assets and the same philosophy, yet all have the same target in mind -- finding the "relevancy targets" and scoring bulls-eye after bulls-eye with pertinent subject matter.

That said, to me, good teachers are not the confidants, the bosom buddies, or the social friends of their students. Good teachers transcend those relationships by relating through their teaching. The learning they offer becomes the trusted companion and strength for their students. Good teachers personify themselves in their lessons, their discussions, and their conversations with those whom they teach. Good teachers must be given the maximum amount of time available to do the only thing that makes good students -- teach, teach, teach, and teach some more.

"A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil 
with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron. "

 ~Horace Mann

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