Monday, June 06, 2011

Fast Food Education?

Caution:  The following post may rant, rave, or otherwise inflict strong opinions upon the reader.

The week before I graduated from college, looking forward to working on my Master's degree and beginning a career as a teacher, I was treated to dinner out with my parents.  Though I embraced my calling  whole-heartedly, graduation still brought out the jitters and uncertainty of my impending "adult" life.  My parents apparently felt it their duty to add to the butterflies in my stomach by choosing that night to question my plans and denigrate what I thought of as a noble and intellectually fulfilling field of work.  They wanted me to be a lawyer or even a doctor, not a teacher.  Teaching would be an abominable waste of my talents.

As I sat there with my jaw hanging open and my stomach in knots, two things came to me.  First, I realized that my parents had no idea who I really was or what talents I possessed.  Second, I realized that these two people, with their college degrees and their white-collar jobs had already forgotten who had led them to that place of success and who had prepared the daughter sitting in front of them go out and blaze her own trail and quit sponging off them.  They may believe both their own success and my impending launch into independence was all of their own making, but anyone who knows my family dynamics would laugh out loud at either supposition.  By some miracle, I left their doubts and denigration in the dust and pursued my own dream anyway. After 20 years of teaching, raising my own children, and writing, I wouldn't change a thing.

Sadly, my parents' cynical and demeaning attitude towards teaching continues to infect our culture and ultimately tear down the once high standards and respect that used to be and should always be associated with teachers.  This morning, I saw this story on the Today Show:

Believe me, I know what it is to face such malice, and what makes it worse is this infuriating notion that because we teach "children" we are no longer human beings with the right to protect our own safety. I emphasize the word "children" because it's obvious that high school students like the one in the video are not those helpless, wide-eyed little creatures we like to think of when we say that word.  This guy was physically a man.  At 5'2 and 100 lbs, I certainly would have felt threatened.  In fact, our 6'1 male band director was assaulted by a student with a hammer and sent to the hospital one year.  Another was jumped by 3 male students after school and beaten severely...all because one of the boys was told to spit out his gum 3 times before he was sent to the hall for mouthing off.

What struck me most about Mrs. Hadsock's plight was this general attitude about teaching in the United States.  Have we become no more than babysitters?  Are we simply custodians or surrogate disciplinarians for parents who don't have the time or inclination to actually raise the children they spawn for whatever reason? (modifier purposely ambiguous there).  If a kid acts out to the point that he endangers someone else's safety, why does a teacher get both blamed for the kid's actions and punished for protecting herself and her students? A student does not get a "get out jail free" card just because he is chronological still considered a kid, nor do the parents.

Our government has passed laws that require us to educate our children to a certain age to protect those children from the kind of industrial age slave labor and mistreatment we can find in any Charles Dickens novel.  Why?  Because we should care that our children grow up healthy, happy, and educated and become responsible adults who continue to make our country financially, politically, and morally strong.  Otherwise, why not leave them in the sweat shops and blacking factories and corn fields?

I chose to teach because I love literature, learning, and writing.  But even more, there is a certain magic that happens when a kid discovers something new, both for the kid and for the teacher.  It's a physical sensation as much as it is an intellectual one.  That tingle that makes you feel strong and smart and capable of anything.  It's intoxicating and completely addictive.  What's more, I know how priceless the ability to learn is and what teachers sacrifice to share that with their students.

Teaching is not a cushy job that gives you lots of holidays and the summers off.  Most of us work practically non-stop.  A teacher never stops looking for inspiration, for those little connections that may spark magic in the classroom.  We think about ways to reach our students even in our sleep.  Never mind all the grading and paperwork and preparation we have to do. We come to our mission with awe for the sheer impact it can have on a single life.  But for a growing number of parents and kids, teachers are like those frozen burritos you can buy 4 for a dollar at the Quick-E-Mart:  cheap, convenient, and filling the most basic purpose.  There is no respect, no sense of honor, no reverence for the deliverer of the most crucial survival skill a kid can master—learning.

I know there are some lemon teachers out there, more and more every year precisely because of this attitude.  We give education majors more hoops to jump through instead of higher standards and greater inspiration.  We demand our teachers teach to a flawed test instead of teach our kids how to learn.  We lower our standards so we can raise our numbers.  It's no wonder this generation is filled with a false sense of entitlement and false self-esteem.  It's all based on nothing.  Their advancement, their diploma, their sense of self-worth.  Show up and get a medal.  Actual participation is optional.

To Mrs. Hadsock, I say thank you for caring, thank you for inspiring, thank you for demanding that you get the respect you deserve.  For those who consider teachers to be nothing more than convenience food, shame on you.


  1. Totally love these thoughts! I have had so many mixed emotions about sending Mara to kg in 2 months! She's a bright little girl but is one who tests the limits. I am afraid either she'll get swallowed up in a school with tons of rules and "too much" structure or distract from other kids' learning.

    Thanks for being a great teacher! (and p.s. I remember the horrifying hammer incident.)

  2. Thank you, Nicole! You are an awesome parent, so no matter what school turns out to be, I know Mara will do well. I can't believe she's ready for school already!


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