I just read yet another piece about the ills of the teaching profession right now: A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher. I don’t think what is depicted in that piece is necessarily inaccurate, but it is yet one more picture of how our schools are failing. One more voice to add to the dominate narrative about public schools in America. A narrative that suggests we need something to save us, that we are weak and helpless, that there is nothing we can do to fight the forces that seek to take over our schools for profit and to tell teachers what to do.
I am grateful to know that we are stronger than that.
Having just returned from NCTE 2013 in Boston, I’m reminded of the amazing work that is going on all over this country toward the goal of authentic reading and writing experiences for students in schools. This is not to say that there are not places where teachers are unable to deliver those experiences for students due to forces beyond their control–but why aren’t there more stories out there from the places where it is working? How will we ever be able to convince the powers that be that we can handle this on our own without their testing mandates and scripted curriculum if the only story that they see from the outside looking in is one of failure?
We must tell our own stories, and not just the ones that show how the system is failing our students, but the ones where we are succeeding despite that, to show the world that we are professional educators and they need to back off.
Despite the national rhetoric about how terrible our schools are, I am grateful to show up to school every day where I have colleagues who are fiercely dedicated to what is best for our students. They make me better than I am on my own.
Despite the media’s picture of teenagers as unthinking, lazy, and not trustworthy, I am grateful to get to teach an unbelievable group of adolescents, whom I trust implicitly with the future of our country. They are witty and wise, hard-working and kind. They teach me every day.
Despite the impending national tests and everyone’s uncertainty about how they will affect the daily lives of students and teachers in school, I’m grateful for a school that isn’t freaking out and instead is keeping focused on the best practices of teaching that will serve our students well no matter what kind of test that they have to take.
Despite all the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS, who wrote them, whose interests they represent, and what is missing from them, I am grateful to work with people who keep those standards in perspective, leveraging them to advocate for what we know best serves our students and the range of skills they’ll need to build their futures.
Despite our new state law that mandates evaluations for every teacher every year and that ties half of my worth as a teacher each year to my ability to show student growth (i.e. test scores), I’m grateful for a district that is taking its time to figure out how to roll this out meaningfully, in a way that best serves our students and teachers.
Despite the stories of heavy-handed school and district administration across the country creating an us-versus-them mentality, I’m grateful that my administration values the expertise of teachers and seeks to work together with teachers to solve problems.
Despite the abysmal school funding of my state, I’m grateful that mostly I have the resources to do my job. Could things be better? Of course. And I will keep fighting for the resources I need. But I know things could also be far worse.
Despite the fact that I mostly disagree with the choices my state has made toward education policy, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be at the table for conversations about standards and assessment at the state level. And even though I continue to disagree, the department of education continues to ask my opinion.
Despite the national stories about students struggling and slipping through the cracks, I am grateful that I work in a building that does absolutely everything it can to insure success of all of our students, no matter what they bring with them to school each day. The dropout rate at my school last year was nearly zero. One student didn’t make it, and he came back this year. I am consistently impressed by the creative strategies my school uses to show individual students that they can indeed be successful by their own volition.
I am lucky. I work in a community that values education and many (not all) of our students come in the school each day ready to do school. I am not unaware of the relative privilege of my teaching situation. But I am also aware of how different things could be if we threw up our hands at the weight of the pressures coming at us from outside.
Instead we work on relationships. And this is intentional. Any time I have the opportunity to be at the table talking through decisions that affect the experiences of my students in school, I go. This means several district committees. And time that I really don’t have. But if we don’t participate in these conversations, decisions will be made for us by people who don’t understand what our students need.
The thing is that one-size-fits-all reform doesn’t work to meet the needs of the unique ecosystems of each of our schools and classrooms. But all these stories of failure in our nation’s consciousness create the impression that we can’t handle this, that we need people from outside of education to swoop in and fix the things that they think have escaped our control. There ARE some things that have escaped our control–growing poverty, a shrinking middle class… huge problems that we all need to work together to solve.
But only individual schools and teachers know what best serves an individual community’s students. We must fight for the empowerment to do this work. And one way to do this is to tell our own stories of success, those moments when we are serving our students and their futures well despite all the challenges before us.
I’m not saying all is well in schooling in America.
But if you believed the dominant narrative about it, you would believe that America’s schools are in tremendous trouble and that America’s teachers are powerless to do anything about it.
The truth is that we, America’s teachers, continue to work doggedly for our students. And we are finding success despite what that dominant narrative wants you to believe.
Today, and every day, I am grateful to be a teacher.