Monday, July 02, 2012

We're headed for a breakdown

The last school year - It was the hardest 9 months of my life.

There were times I came as close to quitting as anyone possibly could. Emotionally, physically (working 80 hours a week wears you down), and mentally - the grind of trying to motivate, inspire, correct and yes teach was exhausting.

The pay is laughable. Praise or encouragement is hard to come by. The system is set up to beat you down, not build you up. Don't believe me? One of the best teachers I have ever seen did not receive a "Highly Effective" rating because she didn't preempt a student's misbehavior during an evaluation. Oh she dealt with it, but to he highly effective she needs some version of that "Inception" scope. Others reported that on one visit what they did was rated unsatisfactory and on another the same techniques were rated effective. Teachers who had taught for years effectively were genuinely concerned they might be let go. It's a new system and I know it'll get better, but it was tough.

Coming from outside and knowing nothing about what teaching really was, I got through by prayers - my own and those of others for me, by my wife's unconditional support, and by help from my colleagues.

Some of that help came from two veterans - Edie Smith, a gentle soul who taught 4th grade Math and Science, and Hal Tihart, who was the only other male classroom teacher (he taught third grade). I went to them for insight, for understanding, for direction. And each in their own way was a huge help. Both went out of their way to try to get a first year teacher through the crucible. They have my thanks, and my undying respect for what they gave to me, and what they have given to hundreds of students.

They both retired last week, victims of the changes that have come to the classroom. Neither would have left on their own. I know that because I heard it from them firsthand.

Between them they had decades of experience. And they loved teaching kids.

We're losing people in droves who remember what education really is. 

There's a breakdown coming.

Don't misunderstand me. I love teaching and am leaning forward as the winds of change blow. In many ways I'm running out front of the changes to use today's tools to help today's kids learn and grow.

But we need people who have seen these winds come and go and know what will work and what won't. We need folks who have the essence of teaching down so well that they can go where the needs are and teach whatever they need to teach. Who love the classroom and focus on seeing kids becoming what they were created to be. Who aren't interested in looking cool or being the kids' friends.

We need people who consider teaching a calling, not a job.

My fear is that they will be replaced by people on their way somewhere else. Who'll see teaching as a step on the way to other goals. Who aren't interested in investing decades of their lives to change society one child at a time.

I'll be praying I'm wrong. Please pray for those who teach.

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