Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Day of School: Where Are You?

Today is the first day of school in NYC, which always brings back a flood of memories for me.  But today it's making me think about something a little different.

I left the classroom.  I left the classroom for a number of reasons, but near the top is that my experiences there were horrible.  In the end, even if I wanted to, I just couldn't stand the thought of teaching for the next 30 or so years.  In the end, I was too weak to make it.

And yet, I now find myself up in the ivory tower consorting with others who regularly cast stones at the lowly teachers (who simply need to put up or shut up if we ever want to fix our disaster of an educational system).  And you know what?  Most of them couldn't hack it in the classroom either.

There's a lot of lip service from us non-teachers about how important teachers are, but I'd say there's even more disrespect.  Whether anybody wants to admit it or not, the word "teacher" is said with at least some amount of disdain in many policy circles.

And that troubles me.  Not because there aren't bad teachers out there, but because most people not only couldn't do much better, they don't even have the courage to try.  No amount of money could convince me to go back and teach in the Bronx permanently.  I shudder even thinking about it.

I still remember my last day of teaching and the conversation I had with another teacher.  He was a former business executive twice my age, but had been a teaching fellow just like me.  "Worst two of years of my life," he said.  "Mine too," I said (which he scoffed at because of our age differential).

Today's the first day of school (in NYC, here in TN some schools started a month ago).  Where are you?  Are you in the classroom?  If not, why?  And how should that make you feel about those who are?

Teachers catch a lot of flak for resisting change (among other things).  But to everyone else out there who couldn't hack it in the classroom (or doesn't want to try), I ask you this: shouldn't those who actually show up in a classroom every day be at least a little wary of what we say?

If you were a teacher, would you want somebody who can't or won't teach telling you what to do?  I'm not arguing that those of us outside the classroom never have anything valuable to suggest, just that we're usually arrogant in the way we suggest it.  If we can't hack it in the classroom, we can at least mind our p's and q's when talking to, or about, those who can.

To all you teachers out there who are still doing what I couldn't, I tip my hat to you.  Today I acknowledge that, in many ways, you are better than I.  Today I acknowledge that you are far more important to our educational system than anybody wearing a fancy suit or carrying fancy credentials.  And, as such, today I acknowledge that my role as a researcher should be to help you.  I'll do my best.  I trust you'll do the same.


ms-teacher said...

Thank you! Right now, I'm out of the classroom while I serve my second year of a two year term as president of my local association.

I've been asked to consider working for my state association when my term is up. This is something that I considered this past year, but this summer, I have come to the conclusion that I miss being in the classroom with my students. Simply put, I belong on a campus working with kids!

So while I enjoy the politics of my position and learning about policy and being a leader, I don't envy you your job and appreciate the fact that you acknowledge how tough teaching is!

Anonymous said...

That's certainly a humble approach, and I appreciate that.

How can you help? Your profile says you are here for the conversation, not to take sides. But if that conversation includes retention, that's my side.

The bad guys are implementing policies that force an ever-increasing rate of teacher turnover. Even without them, conditions in our poorer schools, largely but not exclusively urban, also force many teachers out quickly. Physical conditions of buildings are bad, there is violence and physical insecurity. But there are also impossible mandates, test prep, bad curricula, no way to remediate... There is uncertainty from school closings, and bad policies implemented under threat of closing. In some areas there are abusive administrators and routine disciplinary sanctions. And, self reinforcing, stability in more stable areas usually comes with a more stable teaching corps, but in high-turnover areas a new teacher is likely to be surrounded by new and newer teachers.

This is the start of my 14th year in the Bronx. Change of career. I see this in the schools around me. What can we do to address retention?

Hmm. Who will the "we" be? I'm thinking, teachers. But who else is concerned about increasing retention?