One of my favorite parts of having written Shades of Gray is that occasionally I get to visit colleges and talk with education majors. The classes are filled with young, enthusiastic almost-teachers. I see myself in many of them, particularly because I still see myself as young. This does not mean I have lost my passion for teaching, even having been out of the public schools for some time. My flame to bring a sense of zeal and ingenuity into the classroom has not died. That is why I meet with these college students and do my best to stir the pot of excitement over one of the most necessary and amazing jobs a person can do. My flickering fervor has, however, been doused with a few too many buckets of water over the years. I think of myself as one of those trick candles that continues to relight no matter how hard one blows.
Almost daily I speak with my sister, a seasoned teacher, and am saddened by the stories she shares. I often ask her how it is possible to keep inventiveness and innovation in one’s lessons when the administration seems to loom and paperwork is at the heart of teaching these days. Somehow, I am happy to say, I feel confident that my sister manages to maintain the one thing that we agree is the basis of good teaching – not being afraid to bring a little love into the classroom.
I understand that when something is broken it should be fixed and I will be the first to admit that our overall education system is pretty much near dilapidated. The thing is not all of it is bad. Why are we trying so hard to fix even the parts that still work? Can’t the bureaucrats that feel the need to revamp even the portions that don’t need repairing see that in their feeble attempt to reinvent the wheel, all they are doing is discouraging new and old teachers from bringing the energy and love that caused them to want to be teachers in the first place into their practice? Everyone is so busy creating checklists and tests that I wonder when they get to see the students as actual learners; as children – all with individual needs.
I read this as part of a recent NY Times article, “We need to return to a focus on the enrichment and creativity that make learning as well as teaching worthwhile.” As I slammed my fist hailing Dave Tomar’s insight I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad over the truths that back this statement. Is it not enough that we severely underpay teachers, yet expect them to educate our children? Can anyone truly stand up and say that our children are not our future; therefore their education shouldn’t matter? I thought not, so you may stay seated while I will reignite my fire and hope that we don’t lose out on the next few rounds of eager and caring teachers who may be willing to take a vow of poverty, but not necessarily the abuse that red tape seems to be creating in our schools today.