It broke my heart this week to read an editorial about teaching from Huffington Post. The article was entitled “A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher.” Ironically, the article was actually written by a teacher. At first, my eyes widened and my jaw practically dropped, and it seemed I was going through the first of the five stages of grief: utter denial. No, this can’t be true, I thought. Why would a fellow teacher publish something like this on the Internet? For thousands to read?
Among the support for this claim was loss of pension, evaluations being tied to test scores, and a lack of management due to a lack of support in administration. As I read, I felt myself go through the other stages, in no specific order: I felt angry because administrations and politicians, many of whom do not really know what it is like (in today’s society) to work in a classroom, were mandating assessments and best practices; I felt depressed and hopeless, like I didn’t have much to look forward to in my future years of being an educator. In fact, as I read more, I reached acceptance. Yes, a great deal of this is not much more than a dismal truth.
However, there is one part of this article that I feel to be wholly inaccurate and only adding to the negativity behind education. I refuse to accept this as a plausible attitude of a fellow teacher and feel compelled to combat it:
“Teachers are being told over and over again that their job is not to teach, but to guide students to learning on their own. While I am fully in favor of students taking control of their learning, I also remember a long list of teachers whose knowledge and experience helped me to become a better student and a better person. They encouraged me to learn on my own, and I did, but they also taught me many things. In these days when virtual learning is being force-fed to public schools by those who will financially benefit, the classroom teacher is being increasingly devalued. The concept being pushed upon us is not of a teacher teaching, but one of who babysits while the thoroughly engaged students magically learn on their own.”
Personally, I’ve never been told my job is not to teach, but I have been told that our job is to guide students to learning on their own. In fact, I think that a good principal or administrator should be spreading this mantra, that students should be learning on their own. I think this author has wildly misinterpreted student ownership of learning and the use of technology to do so.
When students own their learning, they are applying the skills and strategies that you’ve taught in order to explore self-selected topics. For instance, we are in the midst of a persuasive unit, where the students will be applying their summarizing and researching skills in order to learn more about a topic of their choice. I have also referred to other instances this year where I have posed questions related to topics that we are supposed to learn in fourth grade
. The children have, once again, use previously taught skills in order to answer this question, through reading, questioning, making connections, researching, and synthesizing information. I think the error in his logic lies within the definition of student ownership of learning. Student ownership does not only mean the kids simply learn whatever they want. Rather, it means that students should be applying grade level skills to learn new things independently. Hopefully, in the future, this transfers to an attitude in which students learn on their own in their free time.
Furthermore, this is not the purpose of technology. As a teacher in a 1:1 classroom, it is utterly blasphemous to say that students are “magically” learning on their own when using iPads. Instead, once again, as a teacher in a 1:1 classroom, my students are learning more efficiently and in a more differentiated manner due to the use of the iPads. However, all of this learning is still facilitated by me, it is still grounded in learning outcomes, but it does provide the opportunity to customize learning more so than ever before. Students are able to write on topics of their choice, and they have a limitless resource through which to conduct their research. However, this does not stray from the curriculum because they are applying the researching, summarizing, and other literacy skills that they have learned earlier in the year.
Oh… and did I mention that I’m a teacher in a 1:1 classroom?
If you truly think about what administrators and principals are telling us, to help students own their learning, it actually is a reason to become a teacher. The idea of being a mentor to students as they pursue their passions and goals, and to know that I had a part in the cultivation of such excitement for learning, motivates me to continue doing my job. It motivates me to continue helping children, the reason I went into the profession when I was 19.
The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Become a Teacher
While I disagree with this one major point, I think this author has some other verifiable arguments. Our financial future is dismal and unpredictable. We are, perhaps, one of the most under appreciated groups of professionals in the whole country. Because of this, we face extra challenges. We must work extra hard to prove ourselves, our accountability, and reliability in order to quell parents’ preconceptions of teachers, and unfortunately, we must take on an extra job or superfluous responsibilities to earn some extra money.
However, those aren’t reasons to not become a teacher. No one has ever gone into teaching for the money–let’s be honest. I knew teachers were paid shit from the time I was a little kid. The real reason to not become a teacher, at least right now, is because you will be entering into a field filled with hypocrisy.
Yes, administrators currently encourage us to help students own their learning, and they also encourage us to differentiate our instruction. In fact, I completely agree with these practices. Schools should be differentiated and student-centered, because no two humans are the same. In addition, they are encouraging higher-order thinking skills, in an effort to build critical thinkers and thoughtful problem-solvers. This is, yet, another philosophy that I am 100% on board with. Creating responsible and critical citizens is integral to a successful future.
However, the manner in which this is being evaluated and the manner in which teachers are being held accountable is through multiple-choice testing, which in their minds, is linked teacher effectiveness and student growth. Multiple-choice testing does not, by any means, align with the philosophies in which we are expected to teach. When students are critical and own their learning, it does not mean they only use deductive reasoning to solve a problem. Rather, it means they use their background knowledge as well as presented information to make a claim and prove an argument. It does NOT mean they choose from four choices and move onto the next “problem.”
In education, we are assessing our effectiveness based on these test scores, but we are being asked to teach in a more authentic and integrated manner. This is wholly hypocritical and contradictory. When learning is authentic and integrated, students respond to thought-provoking questions, students create their own responses based on topics they’ve learned about, and they push their thinking further by creating–not by simply regurgitating information or choosing from four choices.
Our country is currently in a time of great change. In fact, despite the recent upswing in the economy, I believe it still could go either way. In order for the future of our country, and our world, for that matter, to remain intact, our philosophies on education need to align with the needs of our society. The most innovative thinkers in our world would not respond well when given four choices. In fact, most problems in our world today do not come with four choices. They simply come with the problem, about which people have create solutions for. They have to solve the problem or answer the question using their experiences coupled with the knowledge they already have.
So, if you’d like to say you shouldn’t go into teaching because of the money, that’s fine, but you probably didn’t want to be a teacher enough in the first place. You can also claim that we’re a bit under-appreciated but once again, if you really went into teaching for the correct reasons, you would be able to work through that and gain the parents’ trust regardless. If there is one reason, however, to not go into teaching, it is because of the conflicting philosophies around curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Once those align, I think our educational system will be much more successful, cohesive, interdependent… and it will work.
Please follow if you like! I welcome challenges and opposing thoughts. Please share!