Growing up, I never wanted to be a teacher. I thought it was out of the question for me, an impatient introvert with questionable planning and time-management skills. Teachers are born, are they not? Some people are just naturals.
My senior year of college, I realized that, natural or not, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted that environment of constant, intentional learning, and I wanted to share the ideas I loved with others.
Yet, I was also certain that were I to find that I was not a natural, I would look for another career. I’ve had enough teachers who shouldn’t have been in a classroom, and I have too much respect for education to be one of them.
My personal fears have been reinforced by the rhetoric surrounding education and the recent slew of teacher’s strikes, especially in Chicago. In an interesting ideological switch, liberal politicians and media have mostly villainized teacher’s unions, calling them reactionary and resistant to any critique that blames them for our educational woes.
Teachers, it seems, are the problem. For the sake of simplification, let’s say that this is so, that the blame lies only a little with overpopulated classrooms, lack of resources, and unstable family structures.* If that’s so, then teachers must also be the solution.
How, then, do you teach teachers how to teach? The message, from both liberals and conservatives, teachers and administrators, is decidedly mixed.
Recent research shows that teachers with MAs deliver no better results than those with a BA. This dovetails with what I’ve heard about education programs. Courses that teach teachers how to teach are, by and large, a complete waste of time. It’s about classroom experience more than anything else.
Yet, I’ve had teachers who had been in classrooms for 20 years, teaching next to nothing for all 20 of them. And unions are criticized precisely for protecting tenured teachers.
And then there are programs like Teach for America, frequently hand-picking smart, motivated college graduates with absolutely no experience, providing very little instruction, and throwing them into a classroom to sink or swim. There, the swimmers tend to produce higher than average results.
So, experience means nothing, but neither can good teaching be taught, supporting the idea that teachers are born, not made. That’s the rhetoric. And it’s a rhetoric that, after only a month of teaching at Nativity, I no longer believe.
But more on that later.
*If anything, simplification is the problem. Even the best, most natural teacher cannot fill the place a parent fills, cannot give individual attention to 40 students, cannot teach students how to succeed in a technology-driven world without computers. It’s easier to place the blame on the “other” than imagine a total cultural and systemic restructuring that would affect us all.