Therapeutic Tuesday: Teachers come Second

My wife and I were having a discussion this morning about the lack of teachers to fill positions in districts, and how schools in our area aren’t producing the same numbers of teachers that they used to flood districts with. This is something that I’ve thought about many times. Where are the teachers?

Quite simply? They are scared and tired. They are frustrated with a system that seeks to define them by how students perform on one snapshot of the school year. They are irate at systems that reduce what they do every day to a few days in April when everybody is tired and ready for a break. They are saddened at seeing students enter the year broken, and never receive the support at home to supplement the work done at school, so they remain broken even as they exit their classes. They are angry at politicians and lobbyists who have thrown their opinions and interests into school buildings around the country with personal agendas that have nothing to do with real learning, because teachers know that real learning has nothing to do with a policy or a mandate. It has to do with connection, and as connection is glossed over, learning does not work as well as it once did. And they despair that so many students just don’t care, and even with strategies and professional development, we can’t make them care.

Here’s the deal. My philosophy is that students come first. Simply. Always. There is no greater mandate than that we take care of our students. This is why I put greater emphasis on knowing them than teaching any curriculum. But what is getting lost in our desire to create better students for the 21st-century world is that our teachers need to come SECOND, not third. Not fourth. Not fifth. Not sixth. SECOND!! This might anger many people, but I’m going to say it anyway. Our world is broken when we look at teachers and say that the only way for them to “earn what they are worth is to prove that they are worth it by getting students to score high on standardized tests.” That makes no sense to me at all. Either you believe in teachers or you don’t. And if you do believe in them, pay them like you believe in them, regardless of how well their students perform. Now, I do believe strongly in teacher accountability and responsibility. We need to be evaluated rigorously, but so much weight cannot be given to just one area when we do so much more.

Why must teachers strike to be heard? Why even put them in the position where we must choose between being with the students that we love versus fighting for basic rights to not have to work 2 jobs when our jobs are already 5 jobs rolled into one? This is simple, people…take care of teachers and then give us the latitude to take care of our students. Set curriculums, yes. But if we are going to raise the next generation of creative collaborative leaders, then let us model that for them in ways that are authentic to ourselves, because teaching in an inauthentic way is a recipe for failure.

Teaching has become devalued, as evidenced by the drastically reduced numbers of education majors coming out of colleges and universities around the world. If we want people to care about teaching again, we need to show them the power of what education SHOULD be. Let teachers worry about teaching, and loving students. I believe that when we do that, the rest will work itself out. The arguments for student choice? So what? I see it like Darwin. The strongest will survive and suss out what is real and relevant, and also what really works.

I’m a student in a degree program trying to become a building leader, but I worry that one day I might not have a building to lead. Change has to come. And it has to come now.

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