Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

In 2006, I had the unfortunate experience of escorting a friend out of the building. He reminds me of this event every time I see him. I was following orders from my boss. My friend had tendered his resignation and the principal told me to keep an eye on him until he left the building. I guess the administration felt he might steal some pencils or a ream of paper. In hindsight I know they just wanted to degrade him and test my loyalty. People understood that I was doing what I was told. People understood that as a young father, I was in no position to stand up for the man that I considered a friend and risk losing my job.

What makes me relate this story now is a series of blog posts from a gentleman that I follow regularly and generally respect, Bill Ferriter. These blog posts, here and here, talk about standardized testing and the value added portion of teacher evaluation In the first he details the fact that he “wasted” teaching time teaching real world and higher order thinking skills and allowing his students to be inquisitive. He explains that he will have to change the way he teaches to protect his job. In the second, he defends his position claiming that teachers shouldn’t be the scapegoats of poor education policies and that its not worthwhile to lose his job to do the right thing for children.

I wholeheartedly disagree. I know the pain of walking the moral tightrope. I know what it feels like to be the one who compromises their personal ethics to promote the educational policies of the higher ups. I quoted a blogger, Paul Thomas, this week on Twitter. Thomas says, “Now is the time for non-cooperation, not moratoriums, not compromise, and not civility on other people’s terms. Now is the time for non-cooperation so that teachers are not foreigners in their own profession and students are not foreigners in their own classrooms.” He doesn’t say be sure to swim with the other fish. He says to swim against the current.

That is speaking truth. If we are not the one’s to stand up to power than how do we expect our students to speak truth to power. It’s hard. It may have consequences. But wouldn’t you rather be right. Wouldn’t you rather know that when it is all over, you have given students what they need to be successful and not that you were good at following the party line. I know my thinking can be radical but we’ve got to stand up for ourselves and our students before it is too late. Waiting for someone else to stand up while education leaves a generation behind is both unethical and immoral. No paycheck is worth that sacrifice.

I for one will continue to support teachers who take risks, who teach 21st Century skills and who feel that their primary obligation is to children and families not politicians and billionaires.

Please Don’t Become a Teacher

I usually am one to encourage kids to become teachers.  I grimace when I hear teachers tell their own children not to become teachers.  If our best and brightest are discouraged from teaching, what will we be left with.  This is a departure for me.  A caveat to all the would-be teachers out there.  It ain’t as easy as it looks.

Please don’t become a teacher if you think that graduating from an accredited university makes you one.  You’ll never learn what it takes to be a teacher in a college classroom. A public school classroom – maybe.  A soup kitchen, bread line homeless shelter – more likely.

Please don’t become a teacher if you think the textbook has all the answers.  For the most part the textbook doesn’t even have all the questions.  In fact it doesn’t have near enough questions that matter.  The questions that spur creativity.  The questions that bring about more questions.  The questions that invoke passion.  You probably have to bring those with you.

Please don’t become a teacher if you think that the students in your class will be from the same kind of family you grew up in.  They don’t and they won’t.  To think that they do will be disheartening to you and to them.

Please don’t become a teacher if you aren’t passionate, compassionate, empathetic. If your only perspective is the one that got you through high school and into a good college and got you a pretty wife, a house with a two car garage, and 1.5 brilliant children, became a lawyer or a dentist.

Please don’t became a teacher and expect your students to play the game.  Most of your students don’t know the game.  Many of your students will question the game.  Some of your students will rebel against the game.  A few will be better at the game than you are.

Please don’t become a teacher if you think that your are powerful.  You will be weakened quickly.

You may become a teacher anyway and find that you did learn enough in college, that your textbooks are awesome, that all the students are just like you, that student do think you’re powerful, and that you are the best game player in the room.  If so, you will have the longest, most boring career in education.  You will teach the same year 35 times.