Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vocation, all I ever wanted

I'm a teacher. I admit it. I go into classrooms every school day and try to transmit information which I believe is important: facts, skills and methods of understanding. I try to transmit it in a way which is interesting, engaging and which keeps in mind the mindset of a high school student. I work hard at it and take pride in what I do. That's why I get offended when people from outside the profession come around and try to tell me how to improve my field. Introduce technology, they say. Work towards standards, they insist. Increase relevance, they advise. The fact is, no one knows my students and what works for them any better than I do. And I will argue that "experts" WITHIN the education field are hard pressed to give me any advice.

Teacher education is like handing an archer a quiver with 100 different arrows. The archer has to know which one to choose in any given case. Others can suggest that he get more arrows, but no one can tell him that a particular one is the magic arrow that will work. I recall my first time being observed. The administrator criticized my class because I didn't use the board enough. Sure, I understand the value of writing key words, or addressing the visual learners, but the fact is, nothing I did necessitated using the board that day. Forcing a medium for the sake of saying I am using the medium is not the answer. Smartboards in the classroom are a resource, but not one that I need to use every day, week or month. The responsibility for transmitting the info rests on the teacher's shoulders.

So what makes a good teacher? I have written extensively about this elsewhere but I'll go on record here as saying "good teachers can be made; better teachers can be made; great teachers are born". Quality teaching is about that ever changing blend of content mastery, empathy and the temperament to connect with students. Can that be taught? Well, someone can tell me that to be a good doctor I have to tie a good knot and not faint at the sight of blood. I'll still faint. A good teacher can take 25 strangers, build trust, have them in rapt attention and begging for more and go home and not feel like their time was wasted. It isn't easy and the demands change day to day, but that's what makes teaching a profession and not a rote series of steps that anyone can do.

So to all the business people who think teaching is all the lawyers who think teaching is is. But good teaching is really tough, and which would you like for your kid: a teacher or a good teacher?

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