Time magazine’s latest cover titled “Rotten Apples” stating that it’s nearly impossible to fire bad teachers inspired me to write these words that have been holed up inside for far too long.
As a first year teacher in rural Wisconsin, I’m sure you’re not too impressed by my credentials and experience in the education field. While I substitute taught here in Wisconsin for four months last spring, my career officially started just a few short weeks ago, 57 days to be exact. During these days, I have had days where my heart has been truly inspired by my students’ thoughts expressed in their writing, and days where I’ve considered quitting and never looking back.
First thing you should know: I teach high school English. Needless to say, not everyone is raring to step into my classroom and analyze a piece of literature. I get it: reading and writing are not everybody’s favorite things to do in the world. (As an complete fanatic and lover of words, I can only imagine it must be like how I feel about math.)
A college professor once asked me, “What do you teach?” My reply was, “English,” though he already knew. He chuckled, and then gave me a stern, grandfatherly look, “No. You teach students. Your students come first. Content comes next.” This has stuck with me for a number of years and is frequently parroted when the question arises at a social event, much to the confusion of my audience who really just want to know whether I teach Biology or English.
My students, each and every one of their names and faces and identities, that is what matters most to me. Learning about my students’ lives, having meaningful conversations with them about the happenings of their days, listening to them laugh as I make a fool out of myself trying to rap Shakespeare’s sonnets…these are things that brighten my day, even in the midst of the demands that come with this job.
(Don’t get me started on teachers having “off” in the summers. But please, feel free to look at this nice infograph to show how our “off” time is quite the oxymoron).
As long as this whole media backlash has been going on regarding teachers, unions, and the like, I’ve read countless blog posts in support of teachers, thanking teachers, etc. Unfortunately, (perhaps it’s just due to the kids’ age range these bloggers have at home) I’ve only seen elementary teachers be commended for a job well done.
Don’t get me wrong—I have the utmost respect for elementary teachers. I have close friends in the profession—heck, my sister-in-law is studying to become one! They have a tougher-than-nails-job, and they have to be sweeter than cotton candy while doing it.
But it is disheartening when the only things I read about upper-level teachers seem to be saying, “You’re not doing enough. You’re not teaching enough. You’re not modifying enough.” “You need to set your expectations higher.” “Look at how your students measure up against the rest of the nation, against the rest of the world.”
I understand that I am responsible for helping them achieve our academic goals and help them progress to the next level of understanding, but I know that at the end of the day, that can’t be what I measure myself on, nor is it how God judges my performance as a teacher.
As far as the Time’s cover goes: I don’t know too many teachers who aren’t frustrated by the exact same system of teacher employment/tenure. I have a multitude of brilliant friends who did not receive an acceptance letter from an employer this last summer, meaning they are working at Starbucks and Target. Or, they are substitute teaching their little butts off to pay rent; hopefully making a name for themselves in the community, so that when a position does open, they won’t just be a faceless resume in the stack.
I’d love for the system to be flawless. For ineffective and unmotivated teachers to be booted out, and teachers who love their students and care about their progress in learning be moved in. You won’t find too many teachers who don’t agree with me.
In the meantime, let’s remember that the vast majority of teachers, from elementary to middle to high school, all deserve a thanks for taking the time to get to know this next generation. We spend our days questioning their ways of thinking, searching for ways to motivate their progress, re-teaching skills they didn’t pick up last year, and writing them encouraging notes on their essays. We spend our evenings planning how to best teach to the needs of each student, learning how to best guide their developing knowledge and skills, and assessing how to best move forward after everyone has shown that they “get it.”
I pray for my students every day, multiple times per day. That they’d believe in themselves, that they’d believe that they are loved, that they are cared are for, that they are smart, that they are beautiful and special, and that somehow I could show them Christ’s love to the fullest. And I have quite a few friends who do the same.
So what’s my point in all of this? Parents of kids who are in the upper levels of our education: support your child’s learning. Don’t let them get away with anything less than their best. Don’t let them believe that school is unimportant or that learning is not cool. Do your best to get their brains and bodies active. Communicate openly with their teachers about your concerns. We want to get to know you and your unique family, too! Don’t let the “bad” apples sour your view of the entire teaching profession.”