Some Thoughts on Teaching

Time magazine’s cover story this week is “The Life of the American Teacher.” (Shown is one of the three cover photos.)  Since teaching is my third and current career, this issue got my immediate attention. While I haven’t had time to read it yet, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my own thoughts.

I decided to become a teacher after chaperoning my neighbor’s kids on three trips to Europe, organized by their middle school-social studies teacher.  I found I really enjoyed being around the students, and I have some life experiences that would be useful to pass to the next generation.  So I completed the University of Dayton’s teacher licensure program, including student teaching… but couldn’t get hired.  I attribute this to three factors — my advanced age (I was 57 at that time); I had a master’s degree (which had nothing to do with teaching, but they would’ve had to pay me more because of it); and I wanted to teach social studies, which is not a subject in high demand.

But since my philosophy is “pursue your dreams, but have a backup plan,” I fell back on substitute teaching.  I’m now into my 14th year of subbing, and have accumulated six years of experience credit, teaching almost every subject imaginable at every level and in every situation.  Yes, I have stories, but those will be for another time.  Today these thoughts are about the profession in general.

This country does not have a commitment to education.  If we did, we’d have better schools.  Period.  The school district where I did my student teaching had a bond issue voted down seven straight times.  It wasn’t until sports and transportation were about to be cancelled that the community finally supported their schools.

Teaching works best as a calling.  It’s a profession like the clergy, medicine, or public safety.  Definitely not an ordinary 9-to-5 job.  You really have to enjoy what you’re doing, and really care about the kids, or you won’t last more than a couple of years.

There are no easy solutions to education.  I’m convinced one of the procedural problems we have in this country is we’re always looking for the easy way out, and that includes education.  We talk about charter schools, privatization, different testing methods….  Nothing will really change until parents start reading to their kids.

Teaching (at least the right way) is even harder than you think.  When I was a student teacher, I spent my weekends planning lessons and the weekday evenings grading papers (my cooperating teacher wanted at least 20 grades per student every quarter, and I had about 145 students in six classes, so that’s a lot of papers to grade).  It gets easier with a couple of years’ experience, but it still takes a lot of extra time.  And people tend to focus on the benefit of the school year’s vacation time, but summers are frequently used for additional training.  Plus it’s more than teaching — you’ll be assigned other duties, like coaching a sport or advising a club.

Teachers are dedicated.  One note of hope — in my 13+ years teaching in four districts, I have met cynical teachers, frustrated teachers, and teachers who did have outside jobs (selling real estate is popular).  But I’ve yet to meet a teacher who I thought was unqualified or who seemed uncaring.

It’s just the nature of the profession.


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