Those Who Can, Teach
As an assistant professor, I find the downspin of K–12 education particularly frustrating. I made the difficult decision to leave teaching in public schools several years ago to earn my doctoral degree and focus on preparing future teachers. I feel consistently rewarded by my current career and find the commitment, passion, and motivation of my students admirable. Because of that, it offends me that a growing number of individuals view the field of education (and the teachers who service it) so negatively.
I have heard people state that those who can, do and those who can't, teach. What these nonteachers fail to realize is that teaching is doing; it is doing a multitude of challenging tasks every day. I continually remind my students of that, and I reward their effort and commend their perseverance. I believe that my students could find success in many other career paths, but they choose to teach. They choose this amid the current downspin; they choose this path because of their desire to become effective educators.
Through all of the adversity that public education has faced in the past few years, I am extremely impressed with how my students contend with these challenges. They maintain a positive outlook and continue to remain enthusiastic about their career choice.
In one of my classes each week, I take time to discuss a current news topic connected to the field of education. Needless to say, many of these topics relate to budget cuts, lack of resources, teacher burnout, and so forth. However, I believe that it is important for future teachers to discuss and evaluate the current conditions in the education field and remain abreast of the issues.
Students enjoy this activity, and I am impressed by their maturity as they discuss how these changes will affect public education. Even amid difficult conversations about salary cuts, benefit losses, and lack of respect, the preservice teachers I have worked with continually come back to their main concern: the influence these issues will have on their students.
Stopping the Downspin of Education
I believe there are two key steps to stopping the downspin of education and returning it to the level of respect it deserves.
First, we must educate the public about the role of teachers as professionals. This includes making sure that our preservice teachers are actively involved in community functions and that they assume membership or leadership roles in service organizations. Through these opportunities, future teachers can increase their skills while demonstrating their commitment to improving the lives of children and enhancing their communities.
Second, existing teachers need to have access to effective and appropriate professional development to help ensure that they're meeting their goal of providing meaningful learning experiences to all students. As times change, so do the accepted methodologies and best practices in education. School districts need to provide teachers with access to this information to keep them informed and inspire them to provide effective instruction.
It is disturbing that the job of a teacher has taken on such a negative connotation. There was a time when teachers were respected and appreciated for their skills and contributions to society. I truly believe that this era of understanding and respect can return. However, it will take a commitment on the part of all teachers to excel in the face of adversity and continue to hold fast to their belief that they are making a difference through their instructional practices.
Angela Dalhoe is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 8. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.