It’s the teacher, it’s the teacher, it’s the teacher.
I have worked in public education for almost two decades. Although I was an effective and often commended classroom teacher, I knew by my tenth year that I had to find a different job. While I still work in the arena of education, I write this small tribute to those who are still in the ring, fighting to do the right thing against often, unbeatable odds. If you think that statement is corny, then please try to imagine juggling all of the things you have to do at a busy desk job while teaching a group of children several meaningful concepts each day and then prove it on an annual test you are never allowed to see.
Becoming a teacher is not easy. In the state of California the most basic credential requires an expensive, five-year college education. Teachers, who come from all walks of life possessing an incredible range of talents, enter the profession knowing they will have challenges to face, but no college curriculum can fully prepare them for the real work. A teacher must be intelligent, politically, as well as technologically savvy, possess wit, courage, creativity, patience, and a have complete and total regard for the well being of children.
How well our students achieve, does heavily depend on the knowledge, experience and persistence of the teacher. And this can be a crushing responsibility. But I believe that even when the class sizes are too large, or the range of abilities spans several grades, or the curriculum is inadequate and the teacher is being drowned in paperwork, she is not only at the front of her classroom hammering in the “basics,” but also finding ways to infuse joy into the lives of her students, often paying for these extras herself. And our teachers are succeeding; our test scores are rising.
Students, parents, administrators, and the public all depend on the teacher to do what we cannot do on our own. If we want to keep our best teachers from burning out and quitting, we have to stop overloading them with impossible tasks, and also stop reporting that they are not in it to earn a living. Of course teachers have to earn a living! Saying that teaching is an altruistic occupation is the most insidious kind of name-calling. It certainly lets us all off the hook, doesn’t it? Summers off? Teachers spend most of their off time either working a second job or planning for the next year, or attending professional development classes required to keep their credentials current.
I know from first hand experience that every time a student fails, a teacher’s heart is broken. If teachers feel overwhelmed, and under appreciated, they may take a few minutes to weep in frustration, but then they wipe their tears, square their shoulders, and pull open that classroom door determined that every student will learn more today than they knew the day before. For this I truly believe, no matter what you have been told, teachers can do and then they teach it, while the rest of us, wish we were so equal to any task.
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