Why be a teacher?

Bird Droppings March 8, 2011
Why be a teacher

I was talking with students yesterday about going into teaching and one of the students actually wanted to be a teacher. Along that line the Georgia Legislator is considering various ways to cut funding for teachers and with many counties cutting back on budgets and jobs the teaching field is a difficult one to be going into. I tried to explain how while not bad pay for the hours and days there is more to it. I made the comment to this student that in 1996 I was making three times what I do now, out in industry. So think a bit before choosing teaching.
There are pros and cons, as I look back on it there are differing personal reasons as to what pros and cons there might be. I have been a fan of Parker Palmer since I first read one of his books suggested by an educational philosophy professor. The quotes this morning are from his book, “The Courage to Teach”.

“I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind–then teaching is the finest work I know.” Parker Palmer

There are times when an idea hits me and I wake up in the middle of the night to write it down or ponder further and develop it. Lately I have been working on a simple idea. In Special Education we work with deficits in various areas of learning. The students have disabilities that cause the deficits but we work with the deficits in most cases. As I thought about current trends in testing and evaluating students, for example using an end of course test and a graduation test for the measuring of learning. In Georgia now and in many states and across the nation in order to meet standards of (NCLB), No child left behind these type tests are common place. I wonder about the name of the law as thousands of students nation wide are being left behind by imposed standards.
I had a student tearfully tell me yesterday as soon as he says he has a special ed diploma he is turned down for work. I jokingly made a comment to a fellow teacher about what if, I lived in a land where everyone but me was seven foot tall and could dunk a basketball and that was a prerequisite for graduation from high school. I would never graduate; I have a deficit in dunking. The issue of being 5 foot eleven and a sixty one year old never came up.
A young man made a comment yesterday he knows he has an issue with reading and writing, a learning disability; he struggles daily and has been tutored many times in graduation test material. He has failed the GHSGT five times. What if there is somewhere in his neurological make up that prohibits processing of abstract terms that guide reading.
In South America the Zingu Indian tribe lives, and they can never learn to read. However they can hunt in the jungles and survive where even the best of the Survivor series would be goners in a day or two. This tribe is the Zingu Indians of the Brazilian jungles. The Zingu keep their children off the ground and in total darkness for three years. This is to keep them from evil spirits and other denizens of the jungles. However their imposed exile from light does cause their focal point to be about three feet away making reading nearly impossible. However distant vision is enhanced for shooting monkeys with blow guns and arrows from the canopy. This is a deficit in our world but essential in theirs.

“When you love your work that much–and many teachers do–the only way to get out of trouble is to go deeper in. We must enter, not evade the tangles of teaching so we can understand them better and negotiate them with more grace, not only to guard our own spirits but also to serve our students well.” Parker Palmer

So I raised the question of teaching to disabilities versus deficits. Seems we are not situated for that sort of effort. Logical as it may seem. Figuring out what is causing the deficit beyond simple academic terms can and could be difficult. It would be time consuming. In a re-evaluation meeting the other day I was made aware that a student’s father never learned to read, he tried but he could never learn. He had gone to reading tutoring and lessons and still could not learn. I look at this student who we try and teach reading and for twelve years it has been an uphill battle. Have we really looked at why at eighteen he doesn’t read? Could there be an issue physiologically and or neurologically?

“As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart–and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning and living, require.” Parker Palmer

I purchased several of the Harry Potter books on CD several years ago. I use the CD’s with students in conjunction with large print Harry Potter books and films. Interesting how a student who can not visually read can listen and answer any question you ask

“…when my teaching is authorized by the teacher within me, I need neither weapons nor armor to teach.” Parker Palmer

One of the sad issues is how Curriculum is established. Teachers have to use imposed curriculum, often established in and by administration and government officials and not by teachers or educators. So often simply to provide a frame work for passing the End of Course tests and Graduation tests. Teachers have to teach this bank of material in and on these specific days. This does not allow for really teaching or for imagination and creativity. Could this be why it is so easy to adapt to web lessons and internet learning for students. Over the weekend as I thought how silly is it we read about how students who practice standardized tests do better on those tests and I thought why not simply take the tests all school year and do great on tests and meet AYP. Learning has become a mote point it seems.
The process of eliminating the human factor is already in and on line. For years I have advocated for teacher testing, the performance evaluation testing of teachers and not using test scores of students in their classes at the end of a course. How about before and after tests to measure what was learned by students?

“A truly educational community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us until we establish a plumb line that measures teacher and students alike–as great things can do.” Parker Palmer

So many teachers are opposed to performance based evaluation. Teacher performance testing is used only in a few states. Teachers are paid on certifications, degrees, and years of experience. Recently a series of tests were given and results publicly announced. Several teachers had good ratings on the high side and a minimal percent failure rate. What was sad was that on that same test some very good teachers had a one hundred percent failure rate. That looks bad if that is the only statistic you have. However off those good teachers several were in Special Education and all the students had pre and post tests and degree of change was not equated which was significant, and or the ability levels of students to begin with was never considered. What about classes where students were constant repeaters and or honors classes?

“By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.” Parker Palmer

What about in the land of seven footers where a class of five footers all failed the dunk test

“… I remind myself that to teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced–that I need to spend less time filling the space with data and my own thoughts and more time opening a space where students can have a conversation with the subject and with each other.” Parker Palmer

Maybe we need more good teachers and less structured managed and mapped curriculum. Maybe we need to find out how to really teach and have less of the cookie cutter teacher templates and guidelines. Maybe we can influence kids?

“…we might revisit the metaphor of covering the field, which unconsciously portrays teaching as the act of drawing a tarp over a field of grass until no one can see what is under it and the grass dies and nothing new can grow.” Parker Palmer

I want to teach where I am in a green house and growing learning and students is about what we do. So many teachers fear, and in fearing keep that tarp pulled tight protecting what they have. For this type of teacher so little can grow educationally as they protect and try to attempt and only process the bits and pieces. I wonder as I sit pondering this morning. Rambling on about teaching and ideas that many will ignore; is there even a point? I was drawn to a fact yesterday at how we as a society have drawn the parameters. We find it distasteful that a teenage star in Hollywood gets hair extensions for her dog at a cost of twenty five hundred dollars a month, but we provide the means through our watching and listening to this people. We envelop the hedonism and embrace and ask how many pairs of such and such jeans do you have and what kind of cell phone and what kind of car and on and on.

“I suppose every old scholar has had the experience of reading something in a book which was significant to him, but which he could never find again. Sure he is that he read it there, but no one else ever read it, nor can he find it again, though he buy the book and ransack every page.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here I am an old scholar trying to find that spot in my book. Many times I have felt like that in frustration over how we educate students. But then each day I tread back in and try and find a way to reach and succeed. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

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