Rule # 1 - Be passionate.
Rule # 2 - Write from what you know.
I sit here today with Teacher Appreciation Week - at least that’s what it is in Maryland - done and over. Not sure if this is a national thing or not. I have vivid memories of this week when I was still teaching.
Some schools make a big deal of appreciating the teachers during this week. PTAs usually treat the teachers and staff to lunch. Sometimes, small gifts find there way into teacher mailboxes. One school I worked at had a daily drawing for gift baskets. Other schools only made announcements over the p.a. system about appreciating the teachers in kid’s lives. At the high school level, most kids blew off the announcements and also, the reminders.
My biggest memories of this week were of the last 3 years of teaching. I was in a middle school – you know, the SERIOUSLY hormonally challenged kids. Teaching FACS – or Home Ec for us over 25 – let me teach some great career skills. I had a project for my 8th graders based on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. The kids grouped themselves, planned a luncheon with menu and decorations, and kept this event within a certain budget. They “sold” their idea on presentation boards and “pitched” the idea to their class. All boards were put in a central location for voting. The winning group got to host the event as the “boss”, and hire their cook and wait staff for the event. It was an intense process for me in planning the dates and clearing calendars. It was really intense for the kids, because they got a real taste of the world of catering and event planning. The event for the last 3 years was a Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. We worked our butts off and had a blast. The kids really looked forward to participating as “employees” of my Crazy 8’s Catering Company. My fellow teachers also looked forward to the process of voting and visiting the luncheon. Helping to honor my peers was one of the most satisfying parts of the job.
I really thought I was doing a great job with the kids. And, on top of that, I was very happy and looked forward to going to work each day. I was excited about the lessons I taught, especially the job lessons.
But then came a voice from administration that what I taught didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Said to my face - in front of my peers and my team. Said often, too. Said in a way that was supposed to belittle me personally. I was often reminded that what I taught in FACS (home ec) was not of the state sponsored tests at all so why do the kids need to learn this stuff? Why learn nutrition? Why learn different methods of cooking? Why learn how to sew or take care of clothing? Why on earth would anyone need to learn money management? Talk about useless skills…. I should get a job teaching real math…
It’s precisely this attitude voiced by administration that helped me make my decision to leave teaching. There really isn’t anything wrong with public education - that students who care, admins who lead and not butt in, and losing all lawyers and politicians wouldn’t cure. I found the school where I worked moving toward a faculty of robotic yes-people. They didn’t want teachers with their own ideas on how and what to teach… they wanted to make over the newbies in their own image. There was a move in the school to have everyone use the same terminology, same teaching strategies, and same philosophy. We were to differentiate instruction for the 30 to 40 kids we saw per hour, but we weren’t to be a bit independent or creative in the way we presented our information. Everyone in every class had to be at the same knowledge point at the same time. Kids were having terminology and philosophy literally shoved down their throats. Why? Because it supposedly brought test scores up. And test scores say the kids will be successful (which any sane person knows is bull….).
Folks, I got tired of being the plumber’s helper, shoving information into a cranial cavity. There is no state-sponsored FACS exam… only that most questions on the state test are FACS based (especially the math ones), as I found out reading the tests. My discipline has a higher testing criteria - LIFE! What I taught to my students serves them in the long term later down the road of life. It’s not something that you can test on a multiple choice test and say they have it. I mean, really… our child care unit???? Our parenting courses???? You can’t test that knowledge out until you become a parent… and even then, there’s no “right” or “best” answer. But the knowledge you get as a 7th grader or in high school, will come back to you when you are a parent. At least, if you are permitted to take the courses and fit them into your schedule …
Many people wonder why I quit teaching, and now you know. I sit on the educational sidelines and shudder sometimes at the “new” things being presented to the world as educational miracles. I read No Child Left Behind’s text and found it so ambiguous that you could have 50 different interpretations and still get it right. The only thing that is a true failure of NCLB is the 100% compliance rate. Acquiring an education is a behavior and its measurement makes it a behavioral statistic. Any statistician knows that you will never get 100% compliance in a behavior-based measurement, and to require it sets you and your program up for failure. Also, if I may pay honor to Sir Issac Newton and his laws of physics: For every valid statistic used to justify a point of view, there is an opposite and equally valid statistic that will justify the opposing point of view.
So, I still have several ideas on education that I will share with you all now. Here goes, from the heart of a former teacher:
1. Not all kids should go to college and get advance degrees. Schools should stop pushing college-immediately-after-high-school on the students.
2. Trade schools are the best, because then, you can get a job in your field. Way too many women’s studies majors are working at McDonalds (and that‘s the guys who majored in women‘s studies for all the wrong reasons, too).
3. If you do go to college, get a degree in something that will land you a job in that field. Going to college to find yourself just means you (or your folks) have more money than common sense.
4. If you have a degree of any level, it doesn’t make you better or smarter than anyone else. You can be book-smart and life-stupid. Lose the academic snobbery. You are not too good to clean up after yourself. And your plumber or auto mechanic will make you look foolish, because they are just as smart as you in their own way, if not smarter.
5. Parents, let your kids fail. If they aren’t doing the work, let them reap the “rewards“, even if it means repeating a grade.
6. Also, parents, remember that you have already been to and completed your basic schooling. You do not need to keep running interference for your child with his/her teachers. Your child will learn to advocate for themselves. It’s their turn to be in school.
7. Kids, when you decide on what you want to be when you grow up, look also at all the other things you can do with your life, with your passions, and with your talents. Somewhere there is a career blend that will use all your skills. Go for it and target your education strategy to your career goal, even if it drives your guidance counselor nuts. There is no reason why you can’t graduate high school with enough college prep credits to get into college AND some marketable business job skills. It’s almost required now, in the business world.
8. Always have a viable alternate plan B (or C or D…).
9. Decide to be happy, whatever happens.
10. Appreciate the fact that you - regardless of race, creed, gender, or legal citizenship - ALREADY have access to all the opportunities to become as educated as you want to be. You do not need to be “given” an education. You have the ability to go out and get it. So get off your butts and get more knowledge. Appreciate the fact you HAVE great teachers and learn from them.
I didn’t mean for this to become an editorial, but there were some things I really needed to vent. You may or may not agree with any or all of this. That’s fine by me. Let me know what you think and it will make for a lively discussion. We can all be “right” on this subject.
Remember, though, that teachers are the infantry on the front lines on the war on ignorance. Don’t forget to thank your teachers. And if you are a praying person, pray for them, too. It’s not an easy job and it’s not getting any easier. Respect the fact that they are doing the best they can and they really do have the kid‘s best interests in mind.
Believe me, I know….