In social settings the topic of discussion will frequently turn to public education. Soon, acquaintances will discuss teacher compensation, class size, academic apathy, non-stop standardized assessments, or inadequate resources. Almost invariably, some arm-chair educator will admonish even the most-committed, career educator by observing, “Well, you knew what you were getting into when you became a teacher!”
Nothing could be farther from the truth!
A wide chasm yawns between the heartfelt desire to teach and actually learning what it means to be a teacher. Prior to entering the profession, few teachers ever anticipate the travails they will confront. That knowledge must arise from cumulative experience.
In methodology class, teacher candidates will learn that meaningful homework is critical for reinforcing recently-introduced academic skills. In real life, after scolding a student for not having his assignment, they might discover that he has been living in a van with his family for months.
A professor of pedagogy might warn that future students will face self-esteem issues and that “praise of desired behaviors” is a critical part of the instructional program. In no way does that prepare for the day you notice the multiple scars of self-inflicted mutilation on your first “cutter”.
Most teachers are simply looking to “pay it forward” for a teacher that changed their lives, but the glow of altruism fades a little with each report of suspected bruising, peer bullying, neglect, altered-consciousness, or sexual abuse, especially when followed by the realization that that sufficient resources to intervene effectively on behalf of every child will not be forthcoming.
The blogger, Alan Kazdin, recently opined, “When someone is drowning, that is not the time to teach them to swim.” It may not be time, either, to expect them to pass a swimming test.
One thing is clear. The pandemic of disenchantment with careers in public education is the direct outcome of the hopes of practitioners not meshing with the reality they encounter.
[The original version of this commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on January 30, 2014.]