Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why I Stay

Earlier this month, the Huffington Post published another letter from an educator who was just too tired of it all to stay in the classroom another moment. Educators know what "it all" is. The reform of public education coming from the corporate centers and the government entities under their indirect or in some cases, direct lobbying control. It's Smarter Balance. It's PARCC. It's the efforts of Common Core to create an educational marketplace for publishers. It's Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates. It's Super PACs donating to local school board races. It's taxpayers announcing that they are the bosses of teachers. It's attacks on collective bargaining and the right to due process. Educators know that this is out there. We know that it's out there and it's banging on the door every day trying to get in and beat down our spirit. And in some cases, it's successful.

For instance, at the time of this writing, in the state of New Jersey, teachers have just finished scrambling to make sure that their student growth objective (SGO) data have been compiled and analyzed. These data are being used to help determine just how effective a teacher is. For many teachers, this SGO will be combined with an SGP (student growth percentile) and the observations made by administration and a total proficiency number will generated. The number generated by this effectiveness rating will ultimately be used to determine whether or not a teacher keeps his or her certification. Not just their current job is in jeopardy. Their teaching license is up for grabs.


I recently fell in with a collection of educators from across the country. We have conversations in #slowchated that span a full week about issues that confront all aspects of schools. An offshoot of that conversation developed something weird. Or something weird came out of this. Or there was something weird in it. (#weirded is one of those.) A smaller group of educators began to have conversations about improving the experiences of students in the classrooms for which we are responsible. These conversations center on fighting. Not fighting the power. Not fighting the symptoms of any struggles faced by students. We don't talk about what we fight against. We talk about what we fight for. We talk about fighting for students. We talk about ensuring that the 11, 20, 35, 135, or 1200 students that you are responsible for get the best of you. We talk about what makes teaching worthwhile - the students and their futures.

The futures of students are incredibly exciting things. They are the future. That's not hyperbole or symbol or dramatic. Their futures are literally in the future. I think back to when I was in the fourth grade. On picture day, I had lasers in the background. (That's a fact. Call my mom. It's still up in her living room.) I now have a laser in my bag at all times. It's on my presentation clicker remote. That's right. I have my own laser. No big deal. You can have one too. And my fifth grade phone calls to my girlfriend? Made on a rotary phone with it's very own stretchy curly cord. My current calls to my wife? Hold on, my pants pocket is ringing. I'm never away from my phone. (Except for that time you tried to call, Grandma. My phone was charging. Far away.) So what will today's fourth and fifth graders see when they are my age?  I have no idea! And they have no idea! It really might not even exist yet! What an amazing opportunity!


So? Fair reader, what does this all mean? What is the point? Educators work in a profession that's pretty easy to define. Because everyone goes to school, everyone feels they have a pretty good grasp of what goes on there. You're a teacher? You work 6-7 hours a day, you have summers off, and you couldn't really hack it in the private sector. After all, "Those who can do..." Educators don't even have to deal with adults. They deal with kids. Kids! How hard can it be to get a group of kids to color in the lines? The economy is down? It really must have to do with those educators with their swanky guaranteed jobs and high end benefits packages.

Teaching is hard. Educating young minds is hard. Students walk into a school building from as many different story lines as one can imagine. They come to us with empty bellies, full bellies, glasses, a need for glasses but none to be found, 2 parents, single parents, same sex marriage parents, dead parents, grandparents, physical limitations, special needs because they're so far behind, and special needs because they're so far ahead. The one thing that they all have in common is that they come to us with hope. The hope that the people they meet in those buildings will lead them to become the best possible person they can be. We owe it to them to live up to that hope.

And that's why I stay. Because the hardships that I face are not more important than the hopes of the young faces that will one day stand where I am. They will need to lead, and they will need to remember that despite the challenges, they cannot waver in the commitment to be there for those who need them most. And maybe, just maybe, when they stand in our places, they will remember how we fought for them in the face of the challenges, and they will have the strength to do the same.


  1. Well said. Fight the good fight for the kids.

    1. Thanks, Jay. I appreciate the feedback!