This post is an excerpt from An End to the Quiet War, by APT’s Matt Daly. Preview and explore by clicking the following links. 

Introduction

For the month of August, we will be publishing excerpts of Matt’s upcoming book, “An End to the Quiet War.” The book covers a wide range of issues teachers face nationally in education, both in terms of perception, as well as our ability to do our jobs effectively and ethically. At the end of the month, the book will be released on the Kindle Format. We are incredibly excited to generate discussion on these topics, and hope you enjoy the selections as they are released.  

Dinner

There’s a ton of static out there, trust me, I know. Between the realities of the job, the public persona we fight against, the needs of the students, parents and admins, and underneath it all, the constant fear and uncertainty created by these nebulous standardized tests.

Anxiety is part of the job, if you’re doing it well.

We’ll get into some of that noise in a bit, but first and foremost, I want to explore what your responsibilities are, what they are really.

When most teachers sitting at a dinner table are asked why they do what they do, we may contemplate some deep, heartfelt answer, a story about how we were molded into the person that decided to dedicate our lives to this peculiar and masochistic lifestyle.

But mostly, we say we do it for the kids.

Simple. Seemingly self-explanatory, right? It feels good, helping someone else. It’s a necessary feeling for teachers.

It’s also mostly BS in the worst way possible.

Many of us are simply sick of the question.  We’re done having to explain to a person who really doesn’t understand why we do what we do, ask us the questions behind that question:

“What’s wrong with you?”

“How can you deal with a job like that?”

“Why would you sacrifice all that school for a fake career?”

So the stock response is mostly to get the person to stop asking questions.  To get them to stop asking us to justify our chosen career.  And so, the conversations typically ends, with a slight smile, and a sip of beer.

But there’s a really big problem with all this: The answer is designed to end the conversation, but it is the right answer.  Not only that, but the answer itself has very real consequences for kids, and the way we should be teaching.

For the Kids

As a teacher, your job includes handing in lesson plans, attending professional development, updating  your Learning Management Software, emailing parents and administrators, following Individualized Education Programs, monitoring 504’s, administering high stakes, potentially tenure-destroying tests, recertifying yourself in CPR and AED procedures, and staying up-to-date on school and state government mandates.

Oh, right, you are also supposed to teach.

The problem with the situation in the previous chapter is that above all else, and you will do well to remember this, your job is to teach those kids.

The most important thing to remember as we move forward as professionals is this simple creed.  Your job is to teach kids.

I’ve been searching now for a while to find some sort of Hippocratic Oath for teachers, some sort of professional guide that transcends the different circumstances teachers find themselves in.

If there’s one thing that should be at the top of that list, it’s that your fundamental operating and decision-making criteria needs to be whether it helps kids learn.

In practice, this is probably the most difficult aspect of your job, if you are doing it well.  This is not simply because teaching a person is hard, it is, but also because of all the things we are asked to do that actively get in the way of this.

You are teaching an English course.  You give a diagnostic test that reveals the vast majority of your students have entered the year drastically below grade level.  You go to your supervisor, who is visibly twitching all the time because her supervisor has been told that test scores need to come up.  You explain that because of the low reading level of the class, and because you went to school and studied to help students become better readers, you think you should skip teaching Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and find a book that is more accessible to your students.

You invoke the concept of the ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development, which rationalizes that if students are given tasks that are too difficult (or too easy) it may not optimize their learning. Think of it as the Goldilocks Rule, not too hot or cold, but just right.

The supervisor looks back at you, and two warring impulses are desperately fighting against one another inside her head.  The first, hopefully, is that she herself remembers being a teacher, and wanting to do what is best for the kids we are given.  The second, more insidious impulse, is a flashback to getting reamed out by her supervisor that the only way to get kids to do better on the tests is to increase the text complexities that students are given, and that these have been provided in the curriculum.

She defaults to the books that have been selected, and you are sent back to your class, forced to do something that is not only questionable in terms of ethics, but that borders on a not so subtle form of oppression for your students.

If we are going to continue doing what we love, and are going to keep doing it “for the kids,” there are some hard conversations that need to be had.  And the first is around not only why you are working, but who you are working for.

HOW about you?

Are there scenarios in which you find yourself defending or explaining the role of the teacher?

About Matt

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO

Matt Daly has been teaching and coaching for over 15 years. He is an Instructional Leader, Educational Consultant, Writer, and Speaker. He holds degrees in English and Secondary Education from Providence College, an MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry, and has Supervisory Certification in Instruction. Matt lives in New Jersey with his wife, also a teacher, and his three daughters.

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