I changed careers almost 4 ½ years ago, but I didn’t change vocations. When I left behind a 17 year Fortune 100 sales career, I answered what I considered a calling into education. I followed the same call my grandmother answered who had a teaching career spanning almost 3 decades and the call my mom answered who had a career of similar length. The call I answered also brought me in touch with the career my wife is in and was training for when we met in college. Though I’ve been surrounded by amazing teachers and I have three children in the public school system, I, like the Huff Post Ed blogger wrote in http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/ never really knew what teachers do.
I followed recommendations to volunteer in schools as a Junior Achievement volunteer and to substitute teach before taking the plunge. I also read several books and memoirs by teachers, but you just don’t know until you walk in the teacher’s shoes. Four and a half years into the career, I find that the job description, the career toolbox and my educational philosophy (http://wp.me/p4cYuu-8t) continue to grow!
Four and a half years into the career, people ask me what keeps me going. You see there is a drop-out rate that is not being discussed often enough-the dropout rate of new teachers. Some reports suggest it is near 50% for U.S. teachers within the first three years of teaching. How does this impact the system? How does this impact students? What can/should be done about it? What keeps me going? -a passion for learning, creating learning environments/cultures for my students, and seeing students’ lives changed through learning are the drives that I awake with each day and that ignite my engines.
Often, though, even a passionate vision like this is not enough to keep teachers in the profession, for there are powerful bureaucratic pressures and deep cultural divides that can snuff out even the brightest flames. The language of learning, growth and change is not commonly spoken in many U.S. schools and districts. Replaced with a focus on learning are conversations about VAM scores, lack of resources, poor leadership, vilifications of teachers, increased demands on teachers coupled with lessened student responsibility for learning and more and more standardized testing to name but a few. More than conversations, these are the realities of teaching in the 21st century in many schools.
Teachers, do more with less. Do more with more students in your classroom (35 students/class has been the standard for me for the past two years). Deliver a 21st century education with 20th century infrastructure. Don’t teach to the test. We are adding more tests. We are buying more computers. The computers are unavailable for the next 4 weeks due to state-mandated testing.
[Some U.S. districts are creating sweeping changes to reality. One such story here: http://t.co/8agLmOUGIT ].
I wrote these paragraphs almost a month ago and before closing on what has probably been one of the toughest weeks of my teaching career…a week that left me questioning why I’m working for significantly less pay than I made my first year after graduating from college in the early 90’s and after a week of continued wrangling, political maneuvering, and propaganda-filled emails from our district and teachers’ union over a non-ratified contract and delayed pay raise.
I was once again faced with the question: “Why do you keep doing this?” What came to mind this morning was a phrase often attributed to P.T. Barnum, but actually a phrase most historians now attribute to one of Barnum’s competitor’s: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. When it comes to this passionate call to the profession, I must confess…
I am a sucker.
I’m a sucker for…
- The look in a student’s eyes when she finally “gets it”.
- Introducing students to new books through the classic read aloud.
- Having student-initiated conversations about the learning as they enter or leave class or reading students’ insights sent to me in an email.
- The thrill of being asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student you know is the right fit for the “job” and hand-delivering it to the recipient to give my vote of confidence in person.
- Fighting the battle for literacy and authentic learning.
- Fighting the battle against the effects of inequality of educational opportunity that manifests with reading levels well below grade level for many of my high school students.
- Working with colleagues who share a passion for making a difference.
- The exertion of physical, mental, and spiritual effort as my runners collapse into the finish line.
- The excitement of a runners’ new personal best.
- The quiet beginnings of a summer practice before the sun rises.
- The power of the PLN (professional learning network) through connections made on #satchat, #nT2t, #satchatwc, #nbtchat, #learningfrontiers and more!
- Hearing about my student’s progress on her blog and the historical fiction book she is writing.
- Hearing: “Mr. Hines, the note you wrote me really motivated me to prepare for this exam” after a student earns his highest score of the year.
- Being visited by one of my runners yesterday to show me his design for this year’s recruiting poster for our 2014 Cross Country season.
- Hearing my name enthusiastically called out by a student in the middle of Target after a tough day.
- Hearing a student playing and singing one of his original compositions at the beginning of class one day.
- Hearing and seeing my assistant coach playing and singing on guitar with our athletes on road trips to and from our competitions.
- The predawn bus boarding each fall Saturday morning as we head off to a meet.
- Seeing my boys come together as teammates on and off the field working with each other academically and athletically.
- Helping my students explore their innate talents and gifts and encouraging them to discover and pursue those talents and gifts as a lifestyle.
- Discussing a student’s current read (Lao Tzu) with a student who has class across the hallway and hearing his meaningful responses to the book he is reading for pleasure.
- The joy of learning for the sake of learning.
- Those days when things “just click” in the classroom.
A sucker…that’s what we all are. If we are in this profession as a calling and working on our visions each day to impact the lives of our students, we are suckers.
Passionate, mission oriented, dedicated, moving with vision, moving against the status quo, fighting for learning in the face of all that pushes against!
To my fellow suckers, I say: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Let’s GO!