“Are you a good trumpet player?”
“Does putting down the kid next to you affect your skill in any way?”
A look of realization spread slowly across my 6th grade trumpet player’s face. This kid was smart and talented. He knew it, and enjoyed lording it over his counterparts. The classic teacher response is, “Put-downs are not acceptable in this class.” For whatever reason, I saw the chance to intrinsically motivate this kid, instead of lording my authority over him and watching him like a hawk, waiting for him to slip up again.
That’s “good preachin,'” as I sometimes like to say, for any age. When someone ticks me off and I get on my soapbox and start ranting about people, it doesn’t change anything about me. It doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t make me smarter or more talented.
I noticed a change in this kid afterwards. He wasn’t a saint, but I think it was worth it – taking a few minutes to help him realize that his skills and talents are independent of other people. There’s freedom in that.
One of my Facebook friends recently posted a cell phone video taken by a student of another student telling off their teacher. This kid told her he wasn’t coming to school every day to sit at a desk and fill out worksheets, and that she needed to get up off her butt and get inspired and do some actual teaching, because the future of America was sitting in the classroom. My stomach churned watching it. I could feel the pain of both the students and the teacher. I don’t know if the event was staged or not, but regardless, the kid was right.
Not for the reason we all think he was, though.
Teaching is hard. Just the educational component — preparing 5 hours of inspiring curriculum to engage and develop your students on a daily basis — is a job in itself. But pile on top of that managing the behavior of a group of inmates. (Yes, inmates. I’ve always suspected that kids in school are basically hostages, but my suspicions were confirmed after talking to a friend who manages the commons area in a prison. His description of his job was nearly identical to teaching on any given day.)
The state recognizes something is wrong and piles on more hoops for teachers to jump through, thinking that will appease the public and maybe improve the problem. It won’t, because all it does is divert still more of a teacher’s time and energy to something other than educating.
Now it’s time to call a spade a spade: Teacher prep programs suck. That’s where the problem lies. That’s where the state should be spending its millions to improve teachers’ chances at succeeding in the classroom. Preventive medicine is always better than remedial intervention, yet I’ve never met a teacher who said their degree program adequately prepared them to enter the field.
Teaching should be taught like a vocation. All these positions open for educational assistants and paraprofessionals? Let’s fill them with ed majors. Let’s have these students spend part of the week in an actual classroom learning about the realities of education and absorbing professional demeanor while providing assistance to a teacher who needs it. The other part of the week, they’ll be studying educational psychology and their content area. They’ll meet in cohorts to discuss real classroom events with a mentor, applying coursework concepts to solve problems they see in the classroom. Let’s combine a little old school teacher training (a la Laura Ingalls Wilder) with knowledge of our latest discoveries and best practices in the field of education.
No one goes into teaching thinking they’ll be an uninspiring lump collecting a paycheck, counting down the days until the next break, or retirement. We can do so much better for both students and teachers. I hope I’ll be around to see that day come.