San Diego voters were polled recently on their interest in the mayor’s office potential involvement in city schools. The results surprised me consider political and media messages about the state of education. I know that education provides a polarizing and influential position from which politicians can draw votes. Saying schools or teachers are failing I usually put up with. Students failing? I draw a line there – when politicians start discouraging our kids I worry about the message being sent to my students. Controlled for poverty (at least according to comments on Middle School Matters) our students are not failing compared to other nations. Still these political gambits have an impact.
In recent years political talk about schools, policies, and accountability drained much of my enthusiasm for discussing my job with people. Typically, due to media portrayals and rumors, friends and family ask questions that have very little to do with what I do on a day-to-day basis. Questions about good vs bad teachers and what I think of performance based compensation devolve into accusations about how I am personally responsible for the loss of jobs to some call center in another country. Only some time spent listening to Taylor Mali helps put these rants into perspective. I know family and friends mean well – it is just how distorted all the messages end up becoming and for whatever reason the positive messages end up lost.
These experiences wear you out when you just finished a long day of calling individual students in an attempt to develop a strong connect and hopefully influence higher hand in rates after teaching all day. Or worse – on a Saturday after taking your “day off” to read through the prescriptive curriculum you are required to use. (And the reason for taking the day to read through this material? because you have no time during the week and you are tired of students blaming you for all the curriculum developer’s grammatical and spelling mistakes – and also because it was written five years ago and the software for the computer science class no longer matches the tutorials).
This is why I am sure my family complains that I retreat behind my computer. Behind the safety of my screen I am unlikely to grumble angrily at them about non-education professionals interfering in my chosen career.
Not that I would ever give this up. Working with students brings the greatest joy I have ever known. I used to think that seeing students get a concept was the source of this joy. Those times seem fleeting to me. What truly makes teaching worthwhile is developing the relationship that allows everyone to learn. Creating a classroom environment – cooperatively with my students – makes me giddy. Sure there are times where there are struggles. Those struggles actually make it all the better. When everyone in the classroom feels safe enough to struggle publicly with difficult concepts or disagree with each other I just want to smile. When this occurs I feel like we have reached a zen-like state where students, the community, and teachers have unlimited potential to change the world. I think the same thing occurs with any team (work, sport, or school). When you are on an awesome team – even if you are developing something mundane – there is joy in the interaction.
Due to this the linked article I am sharing gives me hope and joy. This poll’s findings remind me that our communities still believe in education. Political wrangling aside – things are still good in our communities and education is still an awesome career.