It’s not something you DO, it’s who you ARE.
Excited, idealistic, hopeful and nervous: Last May, I wrote about a new class of enthusiastic students graduating from the College of Education at Michigan State University. Not only were these men and women looking at a fifth-year teaching internship, they were walking into national edu-politics and a changing public consciousness of the role/merit of a traditional teacher.
A recent essay by Randy Turner in the Huffington Post seemed to encapsulate the pain of experienced educators caught in the current economic and political net, and went viral with the damning title “A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher”. An excerpt:
“…if I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher.
Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.
They have to listen to a long list of politicians who belittle their ability, blame them for every student whose grades do not reach arbitrary standards, and want to take away every fringe benefit they have — everything from the possibility of achieving tenure to receiving a decent pension.”
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the MSU Convocation of Detroit area student teachers – the same College of Ed students I witnessed walking the stage for their diplomas in East Lansing a year earlier. They had successfully completed a grueling 8 months of full-time classroom internships and graduate credit work, and if the school year had made them any less idealistic about their chosen profession it had also made them twice as determined to succeed as teachers – to do what they still loved, to make a difference in children’s lives.
Thankfully, these brand-new teacher ‘revolutionaries’, who had been placed in a variety of urban and suburban classrooms in Southeast Michigan, heard the “Don’t Become a Teacher” warning and chose to step UP rather than step AWAY.
Devon Orrin, a Michigan State University intern who taught at Hoover Elementary in Hazel Park during 2012-13, spoke eloquently to her intern colleagues, and to all of the family members, teacher mentors and school administrators attending the celebratory Convocation:
“On a cold night in January of my junior year at MSU, my typical anxious self was pacing around my apartment, in anticipation of the morning, when I would have an opportunity to meet my kindergarten child study student for TE301.
I was nervously rifling through a drawer in my apartment, looking for a folder to hold all of my materials, when 2 loose leaf pieces of paper fell out, with recognizable bubbly handwriting and flower doodles in the corner. It read: Dear Devon. This is 10 year old you writing. I am in the fifth grade at Wattles Elementary. I am 5 feet, 2 inches tall. What were the chances that in my terrified state of mind, I would find something both so special and so appropriate for the occasion? I kept reading.
It talked about how much homework I thought I would get in high school, and how much I wanted to work at either the local pool or Wendy’s when I was able. Near the end of the letter, something was written that made my heart flutter. It read I want to go to Michigan State University, and I want to be a teacher.
I found something interesting in the simplicity of these words, yet the powerful message that they carried. We encourage our students to use “fourth grade words” – words more expressive than happy and sad and go and be. Yet, I had said that I wanted to go to Michigan State (and I had, I went, there’s no arguing that) but I also said that I wanted to be a teacher. Be indicates something inherent, something inside of you, something you eat, sleep and breathe. Be is who you are. Not something that you do.
So here comes the formative assessment portion of my speech. You can respond by giving me a thumbs up if you agree, a thumbs down if you disagree, and a large shrug if you have no idea what I am talking about. How many of you walked into TE401 as a teacher? How many of you walked into your internship year as a teacher? See, in both of those cases, I recognized that I was learning how to teach. I was teaching, facilitating, leading, collaborating, yet I still did not identify myself as a teacher.
When friends and family asked me what I was doing, I was “in my student teaching year” or “student teaching” or “completing my year-long student teaching” or even “finishing my student teaching” when I was trying to sound more experienced. I used all verb phrases describing not who I was, but what I was doing. While some of us were busting out that teacher discount at Michaels before the time that we reached five years old, others of us, though we were playing teacher with our siblings and dolls, didn’t quite fit the part.
But somewhere in the introduction letters telling parents what we were doing in their child’s classroom, the 50 page math unit plans, the instances that we called students by the wrong name,
Somewhere in the nights we spent working on our portfolio, the sick days brought on by sheer exhaustion, the days we held back gagging when students threw up while we were teaching a lesson,
Somewhere in the words we stumbled over during parent teacher conferences, the I-AIM model we wrote and never implemented, the days we wish we could adopt our students,
Somewhere in the lessons that we differentiated because we wanted to, the wild nights out that we traded for grading nights in, the tired backs and feet from standing all day,
Somewhere in the panic we hid whenever there was a medical emergency in our classroom, the genuine pride we felt when our students would rush up to us and tell us that they moved up a level in reading, the money we didn’t have but happily spent around the holidays,
Somewhere in the “I love you’s” and “you’re the best” notes we’d find on our desks, the references to Spongebob, the days we laughed with the students, the times we accidentally said those awful words, “when I was your age,”
Somewhere in the days we got home raided the cupboards for chocolate, the success that we saw during interventions, the looks we got from strangers when we talked about our 25 “kids,”
Somewhere in the times we forgot to thank our parents, loved ones and mentor teachers for taking us in, and the countless repetitions of *clap clap–clap clap clap*…
Somewhere within all of these things, sometime this year, every single one of us grew up, became more emotional, learned from the best, became what we did. We became teachers.”
By choosing to “become teachers” they have become part of our education solution; these men and women (not the legislators or the corporate profiteers) are the front-line warriors for our children. They have Become Teachers despite little glory, misguided top-down education reform and warning articles in national online newspapers. In following their collective dream, they have become the strongest hope for our future.
Congratulations and Welcome, New Teachers.
Help Wanted: TEACHER WARRIORS! (May 2012)
A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher, Randy Turner, Huffington Post (4/9/13)
What I Wish I’d Known As A New Teacher, Elena Aguilar, Edutopia (10/20/14)
by Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools
Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000