Only a Teacher

DawnI’ve become that teacher.

The one who believes that my experience somehow legitimizes my opinion of who has the right to comment on education.  The one who judges, evaluates and ultimately, I’m finding, dismisses as irrelevant and unworthy any educated human being lacking a teaching license talking about experience in the classroom.

Where did that come from, anyway?  I used to be open-minded about folks who wanted to teach. “Come and see what we do, ” I thought.  It was a good way for non-educators to see what we do every day – to breathe the air we breathe and experience school with all five senses.  I thought that they would get it, tell the world, and then somehow teaching would be lauded in all of the ways it should be.

Silly me.  What happens instead is that people are appalled, and then chaos ensues.

The chaos is what frustrates me.  I don’t doubt that people would be appalled – it can be jarring being in a school (especially middle and high schools) when the last time you were in school was when you were attending it.  However, the approach I would prefer is to humbly observe, and then work with the folks who are in the trenches (teachers) to see why things are the way they are.  After those respectful discussions, a community effort could be undertaken to target issues and solve them in support of children and teachers.

Unfortunately, no one asked me how to proceed.  I hear more about non-teachers dissecting the system, usually explaining that teachers are the issue.  Ok, yes, we all can (secretly, of course) point to teachers we’ve known that are issues in and of themselves (never us, of course).  Teachers aren’t always the issue, though.  There are issues of building climate (literally and figuratively), administration, state and federal testing and standards, money…

It’s rare that I’ve heard respect for education come from non-educators.  It’s a whole lot of criticism from folks who have never “been there,” or who have “been there” in an unproductive spirit.  You can’t walk into a school and start talking about changing things if you haven’t walked in the shoes of the folks who can do the changing.  As a teacher, I wouldn’t dare walk into Microsoft, a mining company or a government office and critique systems, people and philosophy, and then expect them to change immediately – I have never worked for Microsoft, a mining company or a government office.  I understand that public funding needs public accountability, but at the expense of support, resources and inevitably, highly motivated educators who will help shape our society in the future?  (Beth Lewis wrote a fantastic article about the lack of understanding from non-teachers – you can read it here.)

I just discovered a series on PBS that I find intriguing…it’s called Only a Teacher (check it out here).  It looks interesting in all of the ways to which I would naturally be drawn – portraits of teachers who have paved the way and continue to inspire, historical aspects of education, and fantastic stories of the role education plays in our society.  One of the interviews is from Frank McCourt, who is famous for Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and more recently, a memoir of his 30+ years in the classroom, Teacher Man. I LOVED what McCourt has to say about teaching in this interview about his experience as a NYC English teacher.  No credentials, yet complete respect.

Tony Danza of Taxi and Who’s the Boss fame recently participated in a reality show from A&E called Teach: Tony Danza in which he taught high school English.  He does not have a teaching license (he was accompanied by an instructional coach every day in class), and shows nothing but reverence for educators in his interview with NEA.

I just want the world to know how difficult and wonderful it is to be a teacher, and it really does take someone special to do this amazing job.  The critique shouldn’t stop, but it would be good to have a civilized dialogue about the issues facing education and teachers today.  Our students deserve that, certainly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – am I off my rocker?  Am I asking too much?  Chime in, folks.  If there’s civility in the air right now, there’s no reason that teachers shouldn’t also be allowed to breathe it in.


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One Response to Only a Teacher

  1. Tom says:

    Usually when I tell people what I do I get a dose of respect…maybe because it’s Special Ed or they just don’t want to disparage the system to my face. Still, it’s not hard to hear the anti-teacher buzz that can lurk like an undercurrent especially when it comes to funding. And it draws a parallel to a person with no children telling a mom or dad how to raise their kids, doesn’t it?

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