Sunday, June 18, 2006

Working in the Real World

I’ve spent the past two weeks as librarian in residence for a curriculum writing team. I t has been great fun but very intense. I ’m not used to sitting and thinking from 7-4:30 every day!

And it’s given me a taste for what work is like for the rest of the world. I’ve spent all my working life in either public libraries or schools in one public service position or another.
I arrive at work at 6:50 and the kids hit the library doors at 7am. They are in and out all day and once they leave we still have teachers popping in and out for one thing or another. The day is pretty much spent being at the beck and call of someone else. It doesn’t bother me, it’s the nature of the beast when one works in a library.

This summer project has been totally the opposite. There is time for a cup of coffee upon arrival, I can take a break whenever I want and we have many opportunities to toss ideas back and forth. We can actually go out for lunch like grownups – no 20 minute meal snatched in between a bathroom break, a quick phone call and an unsuccessful battle with the copy machine.

The teachers I’m working with are a hand picked group, the best of the best. They teach because they love it, it’s all they have ever wanted to do and they are masters of their craft.

Teaching is a funny biz. Many women (and it’s almost always women) go into the profession for all the wrong reasons. Despite all the advances of the past quarter century you still hear “teaching is a good job for a woman”. Women become teachers because they think it will dovetail with plans for a family. They teach till the baby comes and then drop out, with plans to go back when the youngest starts school. They teach because they “love children”. Actually, the best teachers are those who like children and can inspire them to do better than they ever thought they could. Others become teachers because they can't phantom what to do with a degree in English or Art or General Studies.

Those who really do excell have the inborn passion to teach – and you can’t “teach” that – it’s apparent from day one who is gifted and who is not. Classroom management can be learned, as can pedagogy skills but only someone who is born to the profession can make learning come alive and their classroom a welcome and nurturing place.

This is the caliber of the teachers I’ve been working with. Somehow they manage to look beyond the endless forms and paperwork, the ever increasing mandatory state testing and the salaries, hours and working conditions that would incite rebellion in any other profession.

It’s been a pleasure and a joy to work with these teachers. I’ve learned so much and I’m in awe at what they accomplish in their classrooms. The United States needs to attract and more importantly keep these kind of people in the classrooms. Otherwise we’ll never keep our place in the sun.


Julie said...

So true about that inborn passion. Both of my kids had new teachers this year (one in her first and one in her second year of teaching). My son's teacher had that passion and my daughter's didn't. The difference between the two was painful.

Kim said...

Thanks for this great definition of what makes a great teacher! I don't know about NCLB's "highly qualified," but I know this "je ne sais quois," this passion and creativity and inquiry are essential in making a great teacher.

Mike said...

But wait! If only some teachers can aspire to the highest performance in the profession--the inborn passion--if you will, how can we justify NCLB and 100% attainment rates for standards? Are children inherently superior to teachers in intellectual acheivement?

I do, by the way, agree with you. Some people simply have the genetic endowment and motivation to be excellent teachers. Most do not. We accept this without question. We do not, however, pay them more, support them, or in any other meaningful way, give much of a damn about them.

Danielle said...

You describe the perfect teacher. I agree with you about great teachers having the innate passion to teach children. Teacher's need to be in the profession for the right reasons so that all children can thrive and grow intellectually. I often hear how "easy" teachers have it because the teach half a day and have summers off but little do they know how involved and dedicated one has to be in order to be effective in the classroom. It's hard work BUT and extremely rewarding profession.