When I was younger and trying to decide on a profession, I remember people’s remarks about teachers. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” These belittling phrases made me feel that teaching was a profession that should be left to those who had no ability to actually make something of themselves.
However, when I could not deny it any longer, I decided to face the fact that I loved literature and what I knew was how to discuss and analyze books. Because Merrill Lynch and Key Bank do not offer careers in character analysis, I had to come to terms with the fact that people who said such disparaging comments did not understand passion. At 27, I went back to school and earned a Masters of Education so that I could teach.
The first few years were challenging. Sometimes, I would only be a couple of chapters ahead of my students. I would read critics, analyze sentence structure, and delve into the characters, making them my friends. Every day, I passionately delivered a lesson, discussed nuances with my students, and made them see that literature parallels life, and that we can all learn from the characters and plots in books. My love of literature was alive, and I was happy.
Then, somewhere around 2002, No Child Left Behind came into play, and high stakes testing became the norm. I was still able to teach my love of literature, but we were suddenly using computer programs and workbooks geared to getting kids to pass the test. Every year, my worry shifted a little. I went from trying to get my kids to craft creative stories to trying to get them to analyze vague test questions that always seemed to have two correct answers (even to me!).
Then, within the last few years, teachers became the enemy. If a child was not succeeding in class, it was the teacher’s fault. Teachers were suddenly under a microscope, and the public demanded that we prove we deserved our jobs. I actually heard a politician in Ohio say that no one should teach for more than five years because teachers get stale. After five years, let the new kids in and let the five-year veterans go get real jobs is what she intimated. Personally, at five years, I had not yet hit my stride. I still had not learned all of the techniques that would help me deliver content and get kids to want to learn. If I was to compare this idea about teachers to doctors, surely, I would want a brain surgeon who had been performing surgery for a number of years over the one who was a novice and green behind the ears.
Then, the past few years, we have been bombarded with change. The Core Curriculum has spread its spidery fingers and is strangling the education system in America. Next year, there will be even more testing that will affect my job, Each quarter there will be pre and post testing, and at the end of the year, an exam. None of these tests are to test what the students have learned in class, they are to test student progress and whether we as teachers are effectively doing our jobs. Of course, it is difficult to do a job when over fifteen days of the year are designed for arbitrary testing.
I am not alone when I say that being a teacher has become a profession I no longer like. I do not have time to get jazzed about bringing oranges to class and having my students free write before we read “Against Still Life” by Margaret Atwood. I could no longer lose a day to such a trivial, stimulating activity. Testing. Testing. Testing.
I spend many days actually thinking, What else could I do? I honestly do not think I can do this for twenty more years– not because of the kids– but because of the lack of trust in my abilities and my professionalism.
However, just when I am at my lowest point, something happens. I get a sign that what I do matters, that I make a difference, that no matter what any politician wants to say, I do my job well.
This message was on the end of an Honors 11 essay final.
Thank you for being an amazing teacher. Your class was easily the highlight of my junior year, and your love of writing is inspirational. I am so sad to not have you again as a teacher, but do expect many visits from Olivia and I. You are one of those teachers that I would regret not staying in contact with. I know that Olivia and I feel as though you’ve definitely made an impact on our high school experience, so thank you again for that. Sorry for the cheesiness of this! I hope we take an environmental club zoo trip this summer. Have an amazing summer, and thanks again. You Da Bomb!
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. How many of those who do get such gratification out of their jobs as I get knowing I made a difference in these girls’ lives.
Hannah and Olivia, if you read this, I expect we will stay in contact for a very long time. You grew as readers and thinkers, and I loved getting to know you as people.