March 22 , 2024 /

WHY WE TEACH PART II

“as the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.” Neil Postman

* Photo Courtesy of Kenny Eliason

INTRODUCTION:  I have been working on a draft for a post off and on for about a week and when it came time, which is today, to put up a new one, on my erratic and unpredictable schedule, I decided the same as I did last week, to postpone the current draft in favor of what follows.

 

The reason I did this is that I looked back and saw I had posted “Why We Write” and  instantly another “Why” as a follow on popped into my mind . It is one I addressed a few years ago and IMNSHO it is still relevant and timely. The crises in education and in the ranks of teachers today need more attention and action as well ss redesigning and funding.    I don’t know that I can encourage or convert any who are a little later in life, accomplished folks, to consider a teaching gig but if anyone is so inclined, let me know and I can give you some suggestions and help.  Call it a new career consideration instead of retirement.

 

Here’s the story:

 

“Teaching may be the greatest of the arts because the medium is the human mind and spirit.”  John Steinbeck

The occasion for this piece was a gathering of thirty outstanding teachers from all over the United States.  They had been accorded that status by their district, county or state or in a few cases their own school.  They had been recognized as outstanding due to their achievements, their unflagging zeal and their commitments to the profession and to their students and colleagues.  They were star quality teachers.   They were each invited to come to Santa Fe, New Mexico, because I wanted to know why they were outstanding and why they, among so many, had been singled out for this special reward and publicity.

 

What these teachers told me was that they never gave up, that they believed they could always do and be better, that they worked hard. It was clear that they were conscientious, responsible, reliable and dependable and that they loved what they did.  It was also clear that they loved their students.   Here is what I told them.

 

We teach because we want to transcend that which holds us back…that and the sacred otherness of life are the most compelling reasons that we teach.  We all know the things that hold us back.  We have looked at and encountered some of the obstacles and barriers and they come in all forms, shapes and sizes.  Here is a partial list in no particular order: uncooperative or uninvolved parents; unrealistic and bureaucratic administrators; unmotivated and apathetic students; colleagues suffering from arteriosclerosis of the mind and heart; discouraging lack of progress as shown by where we are compared to other industrialized nations of the world; reading and writing proficiencies; math skills and general knowledge.

 

Realize that only one-third of eleventh graders in the United States could identify, on a multiple-choice test, in which half century the Civil War was fought, less than 40% could identify the purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation and fewer than two-thirds knew the significance of Brown versus the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.  Appalling? I think it is inexcusable, irresponsible and the result of years of cowardice and caving in trying to please everyone by making it easy, comfortable and appealing, and trying to find shortcuts to success.

 

The current great divide in the U.S. is between those with a college degree and those without.  We have failed to educate an entire generation of kids who are now adults and cannot or will not think for themselves. https://garygruber.com/a-failure-to-educate.

 

The following is a sample of high school graduates who were admitted to college and were interviewed on campus.  It explains a little more of why Texas ranks 41st in education.

 

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=video+of+Texas+Tech+students+who+did+not+know+who+won+the+civil+war%3F#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:6bbfe831,vid:yRZZpk_9k8E,st:0

 

I don’t mean to pick on Texas as there are other states even worse.  West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana are    the least educated states, according to a recent analysis. Other states at the bottom of the list include Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Nevada, Kentucky, New Mexico and Texas.  The full list can be viewed here:  https://wallethub.com/edu/e/most-educated-states/31075

You can draw your own conclusions about the impact of the results and the profiles of the populations in those states.

 

Real learning means that children inevitably find out that they are not the center of the universe, that they are not infallible or invincible and that pooled ignorance has no place in the classroom or a school, let along in our state and national governments.  Their group does not rule the ant hill and they will learn that their lives and ours, if lived honestly and with integrity, will be eked out in the valley of tears sometimes and that mastery of any academic subject demands hours, days and even years of hard work and a high degree of individual responsibility and accountability.

 

In one school where I worked we adopted our own three R’s, as we liked to call them, and while on the surface it sounds canned, like “Character Counts”, I think it went farther in terms of understanding the reasons and the values for adopting such a code of ethical behavior.  The three R’s were Respect, Responsibility and Restraint.  Most have often heard of the first two but seldom the last one, and all we need to do to know how much we need to exercise restraint before we speak is to sample some of the behavior of both children and adults in both the public and private domains.  Television, the movies and social media are filled with examples of the lack of restraint, often in the name of entertainment.  Who are the role models for our children today?  Fortunately for some of the students of these outstanding teachers, they served as models for their students.

 

 

One of those outstanding teachers said to me that one of the biggest rewards she had was a student coming to her and saying, “I want to be just like you.”  That student may not know entirely what “just like you” means and what that teacher has done and what she does all the time to be who she is.  But there is something about teachers that is extremely valuable that often reaches students at more than a cognitive level.  We teach because we care and because we want to make a difference.  We teach because we want to change schools and communities and the world. Another of the outstanding teachers from Mississippi wore a pin that said she was changing the world, one student at a time.  Mississippi needs more teachers like Ruby.

 

It is about growth and change.  And teaching is where we have this magnificent and wonderful opportunity to show kids the value of learning and knowing, of loving what you do, of being happy that we have been given a place where we can express the best that is within us.  We teach because we want our students to become active, lifelong learners, sharing ideas and experiences, telling stories and being affirmed and encouraged and supported to go on.

 

We want to challenge our students, lead and direct them and have them take on responsibility for their own learning and growth.  It’s why we like to see them graduate and continue their journey with whatever we have been able to add and contribute to the process.  We want them to be inspired by that which sustains life, that which enriches and makes it exciting, enjoyable and rewarding, that which makes it all worthwhile.  It is really an awesome and noble profession that you have chosen, or that has chosen you.

 

So, we teach, not because we can’t do something else but of all the things we could do, we chose this act of teaching, this commitment and dedication to kids and families and schools and communities.  And we help people to value themselves and others, and help them learn how to live productive, constructive, creative lives. This is what gives us all hope that the world will be better because we and they walked in it for awhile together.

 

I used to ask groups of teachers if there was a teacher whom they remember who had an impact on them and their learning.  Almost 100% said yes and then I said, “I bet you remember that teacher’s name.”

The answer was, “Yes!”  I asked what it was about that teacher that they still remembered. It usually had little to do with what the teacher taught, whether math, science, literature or history.  What it had to do with was the teacher’s enthusiasm and energy, their belief in their students’ capabilities and their care, concern and support for each student.  Those teachers inspired their students to want to learn more and to go beyond what was expected.  We need to see more of those kinds of results, instead of a continued watered-down weakened system for educating children.   In 1977 during his last speech, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

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