Last week I did something I said I would never do again. I accepted a student teacher for January. Anyone who has stuck around Blogush for awhile knows that I have deep concerns with the direction the education system is traveling…especially with the ccss (not capitalized on purpose). I just could not figure out how I could face someone everyday and ask them to give 200% to become what I know is becoming increasingly a robotic profession…one that is painful to endure as I watch the powers that be tearing away the last vestiges of teacher autonomy, innovation, and passion.
I have noticed in the last several months that people have been arriving at my blog after using painful search terms such as “need to leave teaching now,” “how do I know if I should be a teacher?”, “leaving teaching,” and “should I become a teacher.” I have shared similar angst over the years in multiple posts. More and more I am reading about other teachers quitting teaching. We have to take their credible reasons seriously as they consider leaving, and then as they finally decide(please check out one of those links). I have nearly lost faith in my job as the President, politicians, administrators, and teachers continually support policies and methods that crush students spirit. From one post last year:
As the weight of proposals such as these and standardized testing crushes my innovation, imagination, and creativity, I can no longer look anyone in the eyes and recommend that they become a teacher. It breaks my heart when my daughter says that she wants to become a reading teacher and the only thing I can think of deep down in my heart is “please don’t let it happen.” I have been passionate about working with college students both as interns and student teachers. It has been one of the greatest benefits of my profession over the last 22 years. But this year I turned down a placement with me, and plan to continue to do so into the future. I can no longer assist people to become a part of a system that is hell bent on creating an educational genocide.
After being asked for the third time to take a student teacher this year…I paused and asked for 24 hours. I decided to bring it up with my wife over dinner…”Should I take a student teacher?” She asked me what I thought, and I said I think I should. She offered no other advice and when I asked why…she said, “everyone knows you were going to say yes.” At first I was a bit upset, because she usually (always) gives me good advice, and this time I received no answer…but I did.
I remember reading about how when tragedy strikes, people who knew peace and prosperity before the tragedy can recover from it quickly once it is over, and knowledge of how it once was allows them to persevere. Those who were born into it suffer, often lose hope, and quit. All of those people who are searching for results on “leaving teaching…” I wonder how long they have been teaching? Do they remember what it was like to enter the profession at a time when there was hope? When you could innovate without crushing federal and district policies? Do they remember back to when if you needed to do something to help kids you just did it…there was no paperwork, committees, and six layers of bureaucracy to get through?
I do…I remember when my dreams were not about raising test scores or proctoring district writing assessments. I remember taking the empty room and turning it into a green house just because…I remember talking about something in class, a kid mentioned we should visit a place, and three days later we could get the forms filled out and the bus in front of school to take us there…I remember when if something happened in school, the town, the world, and being able to push aside the day’s plans to talk about it…even if it took all week.
I think that is why I said yes. I see many folks coming into teaching never have experienced that feeling of autonomy, of trust, that feeling that they can create powerful learning experiences for their kids without the district or state giving them plans and telling them exactly what to do. What I especially see, are teachers who have never experienced excitement in school as a kid. Test prep is all they have ever known. Standardization is all they have ever known. Decisions have always been made for them.
They were born into this tragedy.
Maybe it’s the grey hairs that I keep acquiring, maybe it is because I can smell the end of my teaching tunnel, but I am not going to feel guilty about bringing this student teacher into the profession. At some point there will be a Civil War in Education nation, and we will need teachers to lead it, and teachers to re-build it in the aftermath. I think Jason my student teacher will be one of those people.
I was in a session at Edcamp New York City that was aimed at tech integrators. The discussion was centered around the difficulty of getting teachers to integrate technology…but at it’s core it was about something else that wasn’t mentioned. If teachers were excited about what they were doing and felt powerful, they would take on the responsibility for their own PD. They would take risks and not wait for someone to give standards or a packaged writing prompt. They would not wait around for …dare I make the reference…for superman to come.
The approach to how to get teachers to integrate tech suggested that many of the teachers were born into the tragedy. Most discussions like this one are centered around how to get the teacher to do something…but if you listen carefully you can hear “how do we ‘make‘ teachers do this.” A similar approach taken by politicians, administrators, and teachers who grew up in a system that was centered on forcing kids and teachers to do things by implementing new rules and procedures. It is the opposite approach I take with student teachers. You can’t teach anyone anything other than facts. In order for someone to learn something from you, you must be answering a question that they have. Your role as a teacher then, is simply to get kids to ask questions. No questions, no learning. My role as a mentor teacher is to get a student teacher to ask a question. Not just any question…how do I prime a conversation or situation so that a deep probing life-changing question emerges?
I think I can do that. I can get a student teacher to ask life-changing question to me, and more importantly to themselves. I am not going to run for office. I am not going to write a book. I am not going to be a consultant or a keynote speaker. That is not who I am. I am not a talker or writer, and I enjoy leaving the crowd behind and eating lunch by myself. Unfortunately many of the people who have ascended into leadership roles at the national, state, local levels, and the internet aren’t the ones with the best ideas, but they are ones who can talk the best and the loudest. There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. So what is my role in the civil war…
How does a quiet person lead a revolution?
Not by quitting teaching or saying I will never take another student teacher, but by assisting people to become a part of a system that is hell bent on creating an educational genocide.
I will quietly continue doing what I do in the classroom with both kids and student teachers, I will go to conferences and lead sessions that are quiet calls for disrupting the system, I will quietly mentions things to teachers in the hallway, twitter, and email. My hope is that someone much louder than I will ascend to power and lead the revolution. It will not be me, but I hope that I can help in their training.