Have You Thanked Your Child’s Teacher Recently?
I’ve recently returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher, and what I observed would make most high drama and action reality tv shows look boring. In my one day of substitute teaching in an elementary magnet school in St. Paul, I encountered a tiny kindergartener heaving the entire contents of her stomach to an audience of amazed and stunned peers, a fourth grader sprawled on her science class floor while screaming and crying about her “aching head,” and kids so bountiful with energy and playfulness they seemed determined to run a 5k race around the periphery of their classroom. I witnessed kids with such hutzpah that dealing with their daily behaviors would drive any parent to drink or gladly admit themselves to the nearest mental hospital.
On a positive note, I saw teachers with such dedication, verve, and patience doing their best to make the kids’ day a beneficial one for learning. I saw active collaboration by teachers, specialists, and administration to minimize disruptions. I was dumfounded when the most disruptive and belligerent kindergartner retrieved a paper towel for his sick classmate while everyone else just froze. I saw most children engaged in doing whatever task was at hand despite the hutzpah and shenanigans going on around them. I was blown away by some 3rd grade African American males impromptu drumming with their own hands and accompanying lyrical, rhythmic, and poetic wrap. I saw some really great teaching strategies focusing on incentives and rewards to mold positive student behavior.
I’ve always admired teachers and the teaching profession, having changed jobs several times in my 20’s, returning to school to become a teacher, and having worked as a high school social studies teacher. Being in the trenches with 25 plus teenagers rotating through my doors every 50 minutes I discovered that teaching was the hardest, most gratifying, and most exasperating job I’ve ever had. The major challenges, rewards, frustrations, and disappointments I experienced on an hourly basis left me with the most lasting impressions and gave me the utmost of respect for the people who devote themselves to doing this profession well.
Much has changed since I was a classroom teacher in the late 1990’s making teachers work even more toilsome. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, teachers have an added difficult dimension to their jobs. The mandated federal testing of students to ensure 100% proficiency in reading and math standards by the year 2014 has increased their administrative workloads, decreased quality instructional time in order to teach kids how to take tests, and left many teachers utterly demoralized about a profession they once enjoyed. In many educators views NCLB has not only demeaned their profession, it has failed to improve our public schools. Most damagingly, it has had a very detrimental effect on the lives of our children.
The focus on passing these tests has stripped our already resource challenged schools of the needed funds and personnel to adequately educate our children. As noted educational historian Dianne Ravitch summarized in her address to the MEA’s 2012 Professional Conference, the aim of schools today shouldn’t be about producing competitive workers for our global economy, it should be about developing citizens who are caring and thinking individuals.
So much of what really engages children in school and provides a strong foundation for them to learn and become well-rounded individuals has been lost in this era of government mandated testing and school reform. The arts and physical education have been cut to the bone. Some of the most meaningful contexts through which we truly learn have been decimated in the schools. Gone are the days when kids had gym, art, drama and music on a consistent basis. Gone are the days when learning was fun and children got to engage in pure discovery, inquiry, and creativity in lieu of learning how to pass a test. Gone are the days when character development was just as important as learning the “3 Rs.”
Likewise, the losses for teachers are just as steep. Gone are the days when schools could devote most of their resources to the total development of the child. Gone are the days when teachers could devote more of their precious time and energy on fostering a love of learning, a sense of caring for ourselves, our communities, and our planet. Gone are the days when the ideal and the reality that kids would be physically, emotionally and cognitively ready to meet every new school day wasn’t a false hope. Gone are the days when parents weren’t so busy or financially strapped that they could be more actively involved in their children’s schools.
I give praise to teachers who work tirelessly day in and day out nurturing our children’s burgeoning minds, often working 24/7 out of their sheer dedication and professionalism. I admire teachers because they have one of the toughest and most important jobs, but often receive little appreciation and recognition for the hard work they do. I admire teachers because they truly care for our children when most of us are constantly challenged and many times aggravated by the hardest job in the world of parenting. Have you thanked your child’s teacher recently?