That is the Question

(J. Durham photo)

In January’s Bay View Compass, I reflect a little bit on what it means to be a teacher at this moment in history…

Two years ago in this space, I wrote a column I remain quite proud of—a letter to the student teacher I hosted that semester in my classroom. [. . .]

He now makes his living tending bar.

This fact, among many, many others, has led me to reconsider that letter from two years ago [. . .] the imagined conversation between the Me of Today and College Me, the one just starting his own student teaching—whether the Me of Today shouldn’t have just screamed, “Run away!”

Perhaps predictably, I get to the end of the column and, screwing up my courage, decide to stay in the classroom.  As much as Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” monologue is for show, so too is my little “To teach or not to teach” moment.  Since I was twelve years old all I’ve wanted to do was teach, and, wow, look at me now, living the dream.

But I wrote the column based on real, observable phenomena.  In that column I reference Bill Henk, Dean of the Marquette School of Education, whose October blog post about this very question set me on the course of eventually writing that column.  Henk said that not only was enrollment down for Marquette’s education program, but for every school of education in the region.  “Perhaps it’s too simplistic of an explanation,” Henk wrote, “but generally the group surmised that the adverse political climate for teachers in Wisconsin (and other states) this past spring had dissuaded significant numbers of young people from entering the teaching profession.”

Ya think?

Indeed, Henk draws up a list of 20 solid reasons to either leave the profession or avoid entering it entirely. I would pick one or two to highlight here, but every last one of them is equally true, equally weighty, and you should just read them all.

Clearly, not all of Henk’s list applies to all teachers at all times, and much of the list has nothing to do with The Recent Unpleasantness that is America’s new-found love of bashing teachers. But any one of the items is enough to make a talented young student–or older person thinking about a second career–pause before getting into teaching.

I used to identify several students a year who I thought should teach and steer them in that direction as they planned for college, but I haven’t done that in a couple of years now.  In fact, last spring I spent a lot of time trying to convince one bright young woman bent on teaching to think about what else she could do instead.

This for me starts to feel like maybe reason number 21: It’s bad enough that I can’t, in good conscience, recommend my own bright students for the profession.

I don’t have any great solution to this. If we all agree that, as the title of this great new website suggest, school matters, then it should also matter who is leading and staffing our schools. Driving good teachers away before they even start seems like terrible waste.

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