Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Teacher as Living Martyr

That's the idealized version of what we do, and this is a great piece going into chapter and verse as to why. Who hasn't seen Stand and Deliver and decided, wow, that's what a real teacher does. Of course, if you get into the story a little deeper, you learn that not everything was quite as the film portrayed. This program didn't, in fact, materialize out of thin air with a bunch of kids who didn't know arithmetic. And it didn't last once Jaime Escalante left the picture either.

It's true, I guess, that there have been children who sat and composed symphonies before they were ten years old. This notwithstanding, the fact that you haven't doesn't precisely suggest your life is a failure. I'm sure Escalante was exceptional. I'm not sure he was as exceptional as that film portrayed. What I'm absolutely sure of is that he's not someone I'd use as a role model.

You're not a criminal because you want a life. You're not a criminal because you want a family. Sure, you may love teaching, but that doesn't mean you need to neglect absolutely every other aspect of your life and do it 24/7. Now there are people who want to be like that, or who at least want to appear like that. 

Maybe you have a colleague who gets up in front of the PTA and tells them what awful jobs the teachers in your school do. Maybe this person is the principal's favorite. Finally someone who will get up there and say exactly how much the staff sucks, and tell what a great visionary the principal is. This is a valuable employee, so naturally there has to be some comp-time job doing who knows what, because how could you let a talent like that go to waste teaching?

Of course, people who walk around tossing their brothers and sisters under the bus are hardly role models. I wouldn't want them teaching my kids, or yours. Of course, they won't be for long. Folks like that are on the administrative track. After a few years, they can actually be paid for the great service of telling teachers how much they suck, and compete with their colleagues for bragging rates over who told the most teachers how badly they suck. Then they can become principals, maximize misery, and everyone will wonder why students are so unhappy as the bad vibes trickle down to where they're least needed.

In NYC, we have to walk through a minefield of cruel and incompetent supervision each and every day. We haven't got time to be martyrs. We're too busy trying to focus on kids while ignoring the, I'd say, 25-40% of supervisors who are batty as bedbugs.

I don't know about teachers on missions. I saw some movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as a teacher. I think she brought a gun to school and climbed out a classroom window or something. I don't recall exactly what fabulous and miraculous thing she did for the schoolchildren. I'm 100% sure, though, that she'd be fired if she did those things in any school I've ever worked in.

What about Jaime Escalante, demanding he teach calculus in a school that didn't want to offer it? I remember he offered to resign if he didn't get the program he wanted. What would happen if you or I demanded a program and said we'd quit if we didn't get it? I'm absolutely sure we'd be taking the next bus to the unemployment office. 

Look, I liked Rapunzel, but that doesn't mean I need to set up my daughter in a tower and make her grow her hair 50 feet long. I don't measure children against fairy tales. Truth be told, it's time for the public and press to stop measuring us against them too. We are working to help kids get through life. That's a great cause, and that's a great job. It's an important job. 

All these people who want miracles? Let them go take a class in Fairyland. Here on earth, we're doing the actual work. We do our best despite all the slings and arrows the press and public hurl at us. Take my word--that's more than our critics could do, and that's more than enough.

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