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A nice piece over at Stop Me before I Vote Again, emailed in by Michael Hureaux Perez.

I've often thought that in my 40's, I might enter the public school teaching profession. While I'm not entirely sure I could pull it off, as I'm pretentious as hell - and would probably be better suited to academia - I actually feel that if I were to do the most service in teaching, it would be the younger and less privileged I should teach. While those populating the schools any academic ambition would eventually take me to need lots of help, I think a shrink would be better fitted for the job.

Many things give me pause, however, as exemplified in this article. Curricula are rigid, 'state' standards for teachers are often completely antithetical to the idea of education, and the certification tests, while I could pass them without an ounce of study in English, Social Studies, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Theater and Music - in every state - are indicative of the deterioration of the idea of education. Teaching is about something more... hence these beautiful graphs in the piece:

The living theater work that Augusto Boal has pioneered in Brazil is an excellent example of what I think of as quality teacher education, or certification, if you must, because the participant in such a process has to learn from the jump how to listen, how to hit the ground running, how to adjust, and how to check his or her categories at the door.

Boal uses the term "joker". The "joker" is not necessarily a humorist, sometimes that person is serious as a heart attack. But the challenge of the "joker" is the avoidance of monologue. A "joker", or a good teacher, is someone who knows how to facilitate questions and follow up questions across disciplines and technique, with the aim of establishing an internal quest for academic rigor among each of one’s charges.

Questions are the process wherein people not only learn, but figure out what their own reasons are for embracing any given discipline. Such a process can keep all educators and students engaged in the actual world, where the students we deal with, both young people and adult, rarely fit the schematics or the theory offered up in the materials distributed by the "standards" groupies.

Teaching anything is about stimulating questions. And that is precisely what we lack in our current model. I have said before, that if I were growing up in our current system, I would have been a High School dropout - as opposed to the valedictorian. When I was still in school, there were teachers who gave us academic freedom - who inspired it. We weren't treated like chattel with no rights. We could make mistakes, and most of the time they weren't even discovered - sometimes even protected by teachers. And I was already on the tail of the failure of the US public education system.

Education should be revitalized - by actually teaching again; By treating kids with respect - and asking more of them - asking them to think; Challenging them to question why they believe what they believe, and defend it; Asking them to solve problems with multiple solutions.

It should be done in every discipline.

Still debating whether or not I can do that though...

Originally posted to lucid on Wed May 06, 2009 at 11:55 PM PDT.


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Comment Preferences

  •  The irony... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, wu ming, Gareth, lucid, crystal eyes

    ...right now is that we are producing the best young teachers we ever have, for our teacher-training programs, once laughing-stocks, have become dynamic incubators of real teachers.

    Teachers who, when they finally go out and get jobs, are told they cannot use the skills so carefully and lovingly developed.  Instead, they are strait-jacketed by just the situation you describe.

    How sad!

    •  Defintely read the linked article (6+ / 0-)

      My mother was a public school teacher for years - and cataloged for me how it got impossible over the course of the '90's. From what I read the 2000's were even worse.

      If what you say is true, there is hope, but I have many friends that pulled back from 'education programs' in the '90's precisely because of the issues brought up. Maybe it is different now [although given the atrocious legislation and cultural crap over the last decade I can only imagine it's gotten worse]. I've never been in the public school world, and turned my back on academia because the internal politics were so horrible.

      But I still can't help having a bit of teacher in me...

      •  Because of the Situation... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RonV, Gareth, lucid our schools, these great young teachers don't last.

        I'm not sure what the accurate statistics are, but (from what I understand) the average time people are now staying in the profession is five years or so.

        After all that training, leaving after five years?

        You'd have to be sorely disappointed in what you found.

        As to academia... I returned to it a few years ago, having left (except for the occasional course taught as an adjunct) on finishing my doctorate--because (as you say) the "politics were so horrible."  I am back, and the politics are still horrible, but I love my students (I teach in a public, inner-city college) and love the research and writing the teaching allows.

  •  Find a classroom where you can volunteer (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, lucid, AaronBa, Simplify, luckylizard

    So you can experience the public school climate.  The reality of shrinking school budgets, larger class sizes and the pressure to cover only the curriculum measured on THE TEST all contribute to a high stress environment.  Most of the teachers I know are perpetually frazzled and look forward to being retired.  

    That said, I have taught for thirty years and I treasure my memories of those many hours spent helping children learn.

    I have learned to be very selective in finding a school that supports my educational philosophy. There are settings where I thrive and others where I feel oppressed.  

    I hope you can find a place to ask those questions.
    God knows we need more of them in our public school system.

    If cats could blog.... they wouldn't.

    by crystal eyes on Thu May 07, 2009 at 12:38:56 AM PDT

    •  I'm in NYC (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, Reino, AaronBa, luckylizard

      And I won't leave - except maybe to emigrate to western Europe.

      So I'd be stuck with the system here. But in this city there are many types of schools - at risk ones where you get paid extra to teach, up to cream of the crop public schools filtered for the better students. Just jumping in, one never knows where they'd end up, though not being in the profession previously, I'm sure I'd end up somewhere in between, unless I chose an at risk school.

      I already have an MA, so it would just be a matter of me taking the certification courses and passing the tests.

      Question is, what can I teach that wouldn't immediately get me kicked out? Mathematics is the only one I can think of... but I don't really want to be a math teacher.

      •  Have You Looked Into... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RonV, lucid, luckylizard

        ...that program that sends you to school for certification (and an additional MA) for free while you teach in NYC?  I taught one of the classes for such teachers at Brooklyn College a few years ago.  The students (the public-school teachers in the program) were wonderful.  I hope they are still teaching!

        •  Yes I have (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RonV, AaronBa

          And it would be one that I would consider. It is the quickest way to be placed from the private to public sector.

          But if I teach history, I'm going to teach history... If I teach English and literature, I will do that as well... same with the sciences. While I can teach something like algebra, geometry or calculus within a curriculum, I'm not sure about other subjects. Lower Math is value neutral - none of the others are.

          •  Do Some Research (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RonV, lucid, AaronBa

            Talk to some teachers and administrators in a few nearby schools and find out how they react to your ideas. (If nothing else, it should be easy to email some teachers.) Though the unfortunate trend is away from what you want to do, there is a wide variety of ways that different schools and administrators have reacted to that trend, and you might find that teachers are doing what you want to do.

            "I call on all governments to join with the United States all acts of torture." GW Bush

            by Reino on Thu May 07, 2009 at 03:57:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  It can be done... (6+ / 0-)

        but it's not easy.  Teaching effectively AND teaching the test seem to be opposite goals but it isn't impossible.  You need to be incredibly motivated, and it doesn't hurt to have unlimited time to devote to constructing that balancing act.  

        Subject knowledge is important but not the main ingredient.  Experience is the thing that will enable you to really teach while dealing with the tests.  It also doesn't hurt to have the "gift."  

        That gift is the innate art of relating what you know to the kids you want to teach.  Some of it can be learned but you have to have a some of it to begin with.  If you love learning and kids see that you are excited about what you're doing, that goes a long way.  You'll be part actor, part parent, even part child.  My students know that I am not happy if I'm not learning something new all the time.  They go out searching for things that make me think and bring them to class to share.  

        Finally, there is nothing more challenging or more rewarding than teaching poor kids.  The best experience I ever had was the two years I spent in an inner city school.  I never had to pull any punches with them.  I could get right in their face and be honest, and they responded with respect - and hard work.  In addition to the normal curriculum, we learned some Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  They learned how to speak well and their writing improved.  I still hear from some of them about how no one can touch them in vocabulary :-)

        If you're willing to be more frustrated than you have ever been in any job, and feel more fulfilled when you drop exhausted at the end of a very long day, teaching is the thing for you!

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Thu May 07, 2009 at 01:23:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Teaching is all about interest enticement (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AaronBa, elropsych

    as long the student finds it interesting, the student will remember.

    It's all about interest.

    "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

    by yuriwho on Thu May 07, 2009 at 01:15:49 AM PDT

  •  Thanks but, we don't need any more pretentious (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moose67, elropsych

    people who think they know everything. Kids hate that. People who come in to the profession with that attitude never last. They think they are too smart to teach and kids are too dumb to learn. Meh!

    There happen to be a lot of very good teachers all over this country and they aren't straight-jacketed. They are going beyond state mandated standards and making content relevent, teaching kids to question, to think critically and deeply, and to try to master concepts that might not be "fun" but allow scaffolding to higher levels of cognition. They are doing the hard work of educating the whole child and expanding horizons.

    If you truly love children and have solid pedagological knowledge, you can be an effective force in the classroom and touch lives.
    Get into a classroom and see what is really going on.

    •  OK, But... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, lucid

      ...have you been in a classroom recently?

      If so, your comment does carry weight.  If not, well...

      That said, teaching does require having confidence in one's knowledge (by way of disclosure: I teach college now, but have taught high school).  What one needs, as well (and as you imply), is enthusiasm for imparting that knowledge to others and belief in the ability of students to gain that knowledge.

      Teachers, thanks to No Child Left Behind, most certainly are straitjacketed (which, by the way, is the correct spelling).  The very concept of a standardized test requires this.  Some are able to escape and do more with their students, but few of us are Houdinis--miraculous escapes should not be required!

  •  Depending on what state, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    there may not be any jobs.   State budgets are hurting and schools funded with state funds are getting their budgets cut.  

    Wages for teachers have never been the best; but once upon a time, they had job security, pensions, good benefits, and summers off.  As they kill jobs in America and redistribute the money away from the taxpaying middle class, teachers are losing their benefits, taking pay cuts, and in danger of being privatized.

    Add all of this to the kids with problems, parents with problems, and building politics, and I think you need your head examined.  

    They're asking for another four years -- in a just world, they'd get 10 to 20 ~~ Dennis Kucinich

    by dkmich on Thu May 07, 2009 at 03:32:02 AM PDT

  •  There are options (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, AaronBa, Ms Citizen

    You could teach in a non-public school; if math is your thing, for instance, you could look at math circle

  •  You're right, you're too pretentious (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And you read too many education bitch diaries and articles.  Teaching is more than just asking questions, no matter how brilliant.  the idea that all those young and underprivilaged children will just swoon at the opportunity to learn at your knee is entertaining at best. maybe you can pass all those tests and get all those certifications  without turning a page but you have a lot more research to do on children and the class room today before you can be an effective teacher.  This is one of those, "Thats easy, I can do that" ideas that needs more thought than you've given it.  I would only ask, "Why would you consider a career of which you are so dismissive?"

    Always grateful to wake up alive.

    by Subo03 on Thu May 07, 2009 at 03:57:23 AM PDT

    •  Good Point and Question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      However, I think the dismissive attitude simply masks an interest in teaching that should not be discouraged.  We often start out that way, circling towards something warily... just ask any teacher (we've all see it often).

    •  No, I wouldn't. Which is why I'm not dismissive. (0+ / 0-)

      You are, in your comment. This is something I'm seriously considering for the future, but I have issues with the future of public education and what it will look like.

      Me admitting to pretension has nothing to do with whether or not I can teach... and the death of Augusto Boal, just this past few days has been mourned among many in the teaching community.

      You obviously didn't read the diary.

  •  The dilemma of decision. (0+ / 0-)

    Our children are in desperate need of highly qualified, caring, professional and knowledgeable teachers.  We don't have nearly enough in enough schools to turn our sorrowful public education system around.  The bad news is that the public, school boards at all levels and lousy parents all do things that drive the kind of person described about away from teaching.  We are rapidly going the way of Rome by ignoring subsequent generations.

    "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

    by dolfin66 on Thu May 07, 2009 at 07:03:48 AM PDT

  •  Pretentious just won't work.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    kids have a way of seeing a phoney immediately. People don't go into teaching to be a "sage on the the stage" to a bunch of kids just yearning to learn.  It's hard work, long hours, low pay and little respect.  You become a teacher because you care about kids and want to help them. Much of the day is spent listening to their problems, giving them suggestions, being a model of a calm, problem solver. And some days, you can actually accomplish a worthwhile lesson or lab and they "get it."  If you can't deal with all the warts, don't even consider it.

    "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." - JFK

    by moose67 on Thu May 07, 2009 at 08:24:53 AM PDT

    •  But my most earth moving teachers (0+ / 0-)

      were precisely the ones who were 'pretentious'... who not only exposed their students to new ideas, but encouraged questions and new ideas within them...

      Those are the ones I still hold near and dear to my heart.

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