A few thoughts on the first day of school…
My daughter, 6, told me on Saturday that she didn’t want to start school. Having to get up and get dressed on time, and back to homework, etc. Yesterday, she told me she was excited about starting school again. The difference? She found out that she has the same teacher her brother had two years ago, a young, enthusiastic, nice teacher. Here’s to all those who teach with passion and skill!
I was talking with my students, and one opined that there were a lot of “junk teachers”. I don’t really believe that; while there probably are a few who are just looking for a sinecure (I’ve known some :), I think that there are a number of other explanations why all our teachers aren’t passionate and skilled. It’s not a highly valued profession, despite the fact that I can think of few others who have a greater influence on our future. The government puts them under ridiculous pressure to have students pass tests, despite the evidence that that doesn’t lead to useful skills. There aren’t enough of them with skills (I’ve met so many ex-teachers), their administrative support is idiosyncratic at best, they’re under-resourced, the list goes on.
And there’s a societal component as well. Sayings like “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach”, and our unfortunate tendency to belittle smarts (and lionize those who succeed financially, despite potentially suspect methods), both are at odds with teachers being successful. I’d like to suggest that any society that values lawyers more than teachers has it’s priorities wrong. Not that I have anything against lawyers (despite jokes to the contrary), but I think the eastern veneration of scholars and teachers has much to be commended. The reason I’m in learning is I think it’s the most likely way to address societal ills.
I remember a post-doc who’s wife was doing a sociology PhD. It turns out that doctors re-engineered their status in society around the 1920s, creating their medical school process (still used, with many negatives in terms of learning outcomes) and changing their public perception from ‘sawbones’ and ‘quacks’ to their almost un-questioned authority through most of the subsequent years. Her thesis was that teachers should do something similar. I’m all for it, frankly, or any other way we can get societal support back behind effective teaching and learning, not as advanced baby-sitting and rote learning. Ideas?