Saturday, September 4, 2010

Some random thoughts on teaching and teachers

There was once an old man who lived in upper New Hampshire in a very small town of Sugar Hill.  He lived across the street from the Crapo Elementary School,  a four classroom school with a basement multipurpose room and a kitchen.  The old man cleaned the school everyday after the kids went home in the afternoon.  It was a hard job.

Although he lived across the street from the school he did have to go down the hill to the store and get food and supplies from time to time and during the extreme winters in northern New Hampshire, this became difficult at times getting his car out of the garage in the back of his property.  So he would hire a person with a four wheel drive truck with plow to clear his driveway after each snow storm.  Being old and grumpy he complained to the driveway plower that he didn't do a good enough job and the plowman said, "Fine, go find someone else to do the job." 

So the old man did just that and got someone else to clear his driveway.  But that person too did not do a good enough job for the old man and he complained once again.  And once again, the second plowman said, "Tough! Go find yourself someone else to plow your driveway."  But there were no one else left in the small community to do the job.  And pretty soon the old man who couldn't get his food and supplies got weak and couldn't clean the school anymore.

No, there is not a moral to the story-- but it is a true story.  But the reason I told you the story is that I am beginning to wonder about young college age student electing or not electing to become education majors who want to go into teaching. They read about how some school districts are firing all their teachers, even hiring some people without education degrees--then these young folks are looking at the salaries and comparing with other majors and deciding not to go into teaching.  Could we have a teacher shortage?  I don't know.  I don't know.  

If school administrators start evaluating and getting rid of teachers, who will take their place?  At the moment there are enough teachers to fill in the blank spaces but I am also hearing from mature and valuable teachers who are wondering if this is worth the fight.  Several teachers that I know have "retired" and tell me that they would not go back whatsoever.  So in one school district we are losing a few of our most valuable teachers.  Sad.

But will the young teachers of tomorrow elect to become education majors of today?  I wonder.  At my old university, education majors were for the most part the cream of the crop, top flight students that worked hard, were very intelligent and WANTED to be a teacher.  I'm not sure I'm seeing that as much and it wouldn't surprise me if they were going into other majors.  Several of the young kids that I have talked to recently have said they are going into business, political science (to go further into law), and engineering.  A few have said they were searching in the medical profession to see what they could do.  But teaching was not a focal point for these young people.  To be sure I have not talked to many students and I may have gotten a biased view--I do hope I am wrong.

But like that grumpy old man in New Hampshire, the grumpy superintendents and other administrators who want to fire all the teachers they don't like need to check to see if there is someone in the wings that can do the job.  Just because there are many in the unemployment lines does not mean there are many people available that can teach.  

We in the college ranks use to weed out those that probably would not make a good teacher.  I know that more then once I have counseled an education student to change his/her major.  It will be interesting how the school districts fill those positions that have been vacated.

There was a comment from a teacher in Connecticut that had been fired in May along with all his colleagues and has recently been rehired under more difficult circumstances and he has said that the situation is very unsettling and he is looking elsewhere.  He further said it was difficult to teach children who were not always there--they went back to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic or....  But they just weren't there all the time.  "If I could teach the student all the time I could make a difference but when they are not here, there is little I can do."

I'd like to thank the Seattle Teachers Association for forging ahead and getting a contract for their teachers.  Nice job.  And to all those teachers worrying about the future but still wanting to teach the kids--you're cool.  Thank you.  Have you thanked a teacher recently?

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