The most annoying aspect of teaching, to me, is the continual assumption, by almost everyone I come into contact with in and out of the world of education, that I’m not doing my job. It is a weird place to be. It is like I walk around with this dark shroud around my shoulders that hides from everyone the fact that what I do in my classroom just might be working. It is an assumption of worst intentions—not best.
This troubling undercurrent is also perpetuated by our own colleagues. Teachers are very, very skeptical of other teachers. If they are popular, they are thought to be too easy, or too close to the kids; if they are rigorous there is a sense that they have all the good kids, or that an AP schedule is much easier to teach; If you teach sheltered, low-performing students, you are looked at as a low-performing teacher (especially by testing standards) because your kids don’t perform well on anything. Teaching is a damned-if-you-show-up profession.
You can see this quite clearly in the attitudes of new teachers. Let me ask you a question: How do other lawyers treat a first year lawyer? How about on Wall Street, how do they treat the new guy? I’ll tell you how: they make him get them coffee and sandwiches and don’t listen to a word he says until he’s been there a few years. They tell the new guy to close his eyes, and when he does they spit on their fingers and jam them in his ears. They treat him like the scum of the earth. The reason being that the people who have been doing it for decades are assumed to be the experts and the newbies are barely worthy of being in their presence. This is not so in the teaching profession (not that I’m saying it should be so extreme, mind you).
When new teachers come into the profession, not only are the veterans supposed to welcome them as equals, but rarely are the veterans looked upon as repositories of knowledge by new teachers. Again, it is because everyone around here is assumed to NOT be doing their job.
There are so many odd things about being a teacher, but this is perhaps the most important because teaching as a profession suffers from a PR problem. Education is looked upon by the American public as being a failure. People have it in their heads that things couldn’t get any worse when in fact things might actually be better than they’ve ever been. That is what Diane Ravitch’s last book was about: We’re actually doing a better job of educating EVERYONE than at any point in human history.
Get it? This just might mean that when I say I am a teacher, what I mean is that if you walked into my room you would be amazed at how well everything is working.
The Washington Post reported this week that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students have been graduating at increased rates over the last three years. Their Wonkblog also shows that while graduation rates as a whole are also going up, it is especially pronounced amongst those groups. What that means is that the Achievement Gap, that ever-elusive Achilles Heel of education, is actually closing a little bit. Ed Week also reported that this is also true of “disadvantaged groups”, which means low-income and ELL students are increasing their graduation rates faster than the overall population—another positive sign that is very, very new.
We have to remember that things were worse in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In the ‘90s black people were being shot by police for no reason, but NOBODY was talking about it but black people. In the ‘90s we didn’t even know what an Achievement Gap was, did we? There certainly wasn’t the focus on our disadvantaged minority students like we see today. Today we are making real progress in that regard.
That brings me back to teachers. I go to many professional development seminars, and every seminar has a tone that feels like each presenter is saying this: “Clearly what you are doing isn’t working, here are things you need to do so that one day perhaps your students will be getting a proper education.” Keep in mind this is usually being delivered by someone who isn’t a teacher, or was once upon a time. You always get the feeling they are telling you that one day you’ll do your job the right way, but it’s obvious, because you’re a teacher, that is not going on right now.
I always feel like raising my hand and asking: “But what if everything I do works?”
Good doctors and lawyers know they are good. It is verified by the people they work with and the people they represent. Can’t teachers also admit they are good at what they do? Let me back up by saying that I am in no way under the assumption I am the savior of education. I can name a dozen teachers without even thinking who are much better teachers than I am. Can you admit that too? I think we all should be able to say that no matter what job we do. I’m not claiming to be the best, but I am claiming that I’m damn good at what I do and almost all of my students would agree.
So here is what this post is about: I want to put forward the CRAZY notion that for some of us, EVERTHING is going right. Kids are learning, kids are excited, kids are engaged, our pedagogy is thick, our students outcomes are amazing and can be verified by test scores and portfolios.
We are teaching and it is glorious.
To be honest, this is not something I thought I would ever have to point out, but I’ve been in this profession for so many years now that I continue to be amazed by how many people simply assume that no one is teaching anything.
I want to celebrate the work being done on the front lines, because that shit is breathtaking to behold. The real work in education is not done at our Universities. Those institutions, to nobody’s surprise, do nothing but perpetuate the cycle of affluence and inequality prevalent in this ridiculous oligarchy (the United States is not an actual democracy, remember). The real work is in our public schools, and I really believe that.
So what if everything you do as a teacher actually works? Tell people, show people, because right now we suffer from a PR problem, and we need more good teachers to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m rocking this job.”
Hell, I don’t even need you to believe EVERYTHING I do works, I just can’t have you assuming that NOTHING I do works just because I’m a teacher.