Saturday, February 25, 2012

What would I do?

I started writing this blog post several weeks ago after watching what was going on in the nation and in my state as well as others regarding public education. I then saved it intending to get back to it a little bit later that day. Instead other things intervened, as they often do in life, and the post was pushed to the back of my consciousness - never completely out of mind - but not at the forefront either.

Last weekend during a conversation with a friend who is also a teacher, we talked about what we would do if we weren't in the education profession any longer.  I made a somewhat facetious remark that I'd love to own a bookstore so I could read all the books. It was the second time in as many days that a friend and fellow educator brought up that question and the idea of this post resurfaced. My friend made a statement something to the effect that having been in education as long has he had, he wasn't sure what he would do. I had a similar thought. I have spent so much of my life either in this profession, or preparing for it - quite literally half of my life if I consider my schooling - that it is a conundrum for which I have no clear answer. Again, I dusted off this post and worked and reworked it, then set it aside.

As I've listened the past couple of weeks to what is coming down the road for public education, much of it punitive at the least and retributive at the worst, I realized that I couldn't put off completing this post any longer.

I went into the education profession because I cared what happened to the children who were placed under my guidance. I wanted to make a difference in their lives like so many of my former teachers made in mine.   I wanted to be in a profession where, by and large, most people felt the same way. I didn't become a teacher for the pay or having the summers "off." (Which is a whole different post perhaps I'll tackle some day.) Yes, there are teachers that are less than effective. There are people in any profession who are not effective or who reflect poorly upon that profession because of their words and deeds. Does that mean I paint the whole profession with a broad brush and write them all off because of a few outliers who skew the perception of what the majority do?


Yet, it seems as though everything that I have worked for in the past several years is under attack from the very people who should be the most supportive.

I am all for accountability for teachers and administrators. I don't think many people argue that isn't necessary - just as there needs to be accountability for ANY profession. But accountability in what form and for what purpose? When you consider all that is now considered part and parcel of what constitutes public education it is daunting. Additionally, there are more stakeholders in this situation than just teachers and administrators. Where is the accountability of the parents, students, communities, and policy makers? Where is the consideration of all the consequences both intended and unintended that come as a result of mandates - many unfunded - that are passed down from those who have little to no experience in the actual system of public education?

Here are two very powerful pieces from the perspective of a teacher who says it far more eloquently than I can.

I urge you to read them and share them.

This also brought to mind a story told by Jamie Vollmer a former businessman and critic of public education who is now a proponent. I think it makes several valuable points.

Image found here.
Does the fact that we are not able to choose our "raw material" excuse us from giving our best effort in educating the children we serve? Absolutely not! But, by the same token, you cannot judge public education and its facets through the lens of a corporation or business that has more control over its variables. We are dealing with human beings not pieces of plastic or metal that you can melt down and rework to suit your purpose!

I can honestly say that I don't know where the future of public education lies. Many days those glimpses of the future I do see can be mighty discouraging.

What would I do if I wasn't an educator?

 I don't know... but in the current environment, maybe I need to find out....

And yet, then I think of what really drove me to become a teacher and has kept me in the field regardless of the ups and downs - the children. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing potential wasted. But, conversely, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the moment something clicks with a child. It's those last moments that help me hang on when I feel the most like moving on to something new. I can't control the world, or the nation, or even my state. I can control how effective I am in my classroom and my school. As in the story of the starfish, I may not be able to change everything but I can make a difference every day in the life of a child. I just hope I continue to get that chance.

It came to me
When I was young
That I would never be
       A great philosopher
       A healer of wounds
       A doer of mighty deeds
       A finder of hidden treasure
I am but a gardener
Simply a planter of seeds
A waterer of saplings
Encouraging tender shoots to burst forth
Overshadowing the gardener
As branches stretch ever nearer
The great vast expanse
I am not forlorn
That the world
Knows not my name
I am content
That the seed sown
In the midst of the tumult
Has thrived and now
Sends forth seeds of its own
For me to plant
And nurture
And love

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