Sunday, December 10, 2006

This Is Why I Teach

For every teacher that complains to their spouse, their boss, their coworkers there is a reason we are here. Among the gauntlet of testing and accountability, what we are supposed to be doing is filling young minds and giving them in incentive to test the waters, explore the horizons and move beyond the limits of conventional wisdom. Teaching is a hard job. It requires a backbone of steel and a skin of titanium. Now more than ever, teachers are regarded as mere workers by the public rather than professionals. Some of this is the result of the smudges of unionization and some of this is really more about PAC's organized using the money from teachers' organizations than the actual abilities of the classroom teachers themselves.

I have quit teaching once. I had been a teacher at a well respected high school. I had a student who was highly valued as an athlete and he never showed up for class. I gave him the lowest grade my district would allow. They never investigated my repeated claims that he was skipping class. Imagine my surprise when he came in THANKING ME FOR PASSING HIM. I was appalled and when I went to the counselors office to see where this glitch in the system occurred I was told that "it was a better reflection on the school and district if this student graduated and recieved a four year scholarship to 'Presitgious State School' than to fail him." I quit that summer. Looking back, I was young and idealistic. I still don't agree with the decision, but it did reinforce some ideas that I have about education and the Art of Teaching.

I must admit, I used a great deal of my teaching expertise as a stay at home mom. I think my kids' benefited down the line. They were often better prepared and much of the time they had a valid sounding board for their ideas. When I returned to the classroom, I had been a parent for 14 years. I think parenting gives you insight that a mere education class cannot achieve. That's not to say that you must be a parent to teach, but a parent who teaches brings with them experience and motivation that non-parents don't understand. One of the key teaching guidelines I have undertaken it that every teacher MUST teach the WHOLE CHILD. This means that you can't expect them to learn when they are hungry, scared or worried. And those issues can take up huge loads of situations.

Kids who are hungry simply cannot concentrate on anything other than their hunger. I often kept granola bars in my desk for just such a situation. And these kids aren't necessarily needy, just too rushed or too crammed with activities to stop and care for their own needs. They have to learn to do this, but often cannot due to inordinate pressures to succeed. And sometimes they aren't hungry for food, but for attention, for positive words, for kindness. A kind word can go a long way in helping a kid make it through the day, yet too often I see people who would rather drag kids down than build them up. Kids who are scared may be scared of gangs or bullies, or their parents, or the situation. I know of kids who panic in classes because of a personal history of failure. If you allow a child to fail enough they don't push themselves to succeed, but instead become the worst example. If that's the only way they can get attention, they can and they will resort to this type of negative behavior. Being an art teacher, I get alot of these kids. They come in expecting to disrupt. I tolerate enough, but draw the line at threats and violence. While I have had kids who were menacing, they were able to talk to me, because I didn't talk to the image-I talked to the person. I find we have a large number of kids who worry. They worry to the point of neurosis. The worry so much that they sometimes don't even try because they are fearful of failure.

What kind of backgrounds do these kids have that they are afraid to put their own emotions in writing, in drawing, in painting, in performance? Have we taught our children to stifle their opinions in the desire to fit in? Have we limited them by telling them to stick to the books and not look for the meanings behind the words? Have we cut them off from questioning, debating, or doubting in the name of political correctness, respect or other inane philosophical reasons? We, as teachers, must return to the true vocation of teaching. By that I mean, we must start teaching children where they are and bring them to where they can go on their own. We must stop trying to punch children into molds and cease expecting every child to hit the same mark. There must be room for kids who are potential Einsteins as well as those who are workers on the assembly line. And we must value them all the same because we aren't here to judge, we are here to teach.

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