Another school year begins.
Last week, I was speaking to a veteran teacher of 35 years; an award-winning teacher. She’d recently retired. I asked her if she missed teaching. She didn’t miss a beat. “Not at all. Not since No Child Left Behind.” For her, teaching had become untenable. Her special education students, often immigrant children without English competency, were taking standardized tests that she described as nothing less than cruel.
Perhaps if these standardized tests were helping our children, she wouldn’t be so jaded and discouraged; but the irony is that there is little evidence that regular national standardized tests improve educational outcomes and much evidence that other educational approaches are far more successful.
It is a scary thing to imagine that we are driving out the very best teachers like her. It is deeply worrisome that veteran teachers are discouraging their own children from becoming professional teachers. It is truly terrifying that the Texas Republican Platform states:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
One can only imagine the sorts of teachers who will remain if Texas gets its way. Or the future in store for all of us when the children who’ve been taught to memorize, regurgitate and obey – but not think – grow up and take upon themselves the roles of professionals and citizens.
If we drive creative and brilliant minds away from teaching, the situation for our future really does become bleak. So this is a plea for those who care about our future; who are committed to deep, critical, and careful thought; who want to impart such skills to the next generation, and who love young people: please, please teach.
Above all else, education is the key to a better world. There is little hope that we will solve our pressing challenges without an educated populace that thinks deeply and innovatively to solve problems, and if those drawn to teaching stop (or never start) preparing those thinkers and change agents of the future, then who will do this great work? My hope is that teachers will fight with all their heart and soul to teach with their passion intact no matter what systems around them seem intractable; no matter what politicians demand; no matter how inadequate their salary; and no matter what the media dishes out. We need such teachers – our future needs them – now more than ever.
In college, a friend in medical school told me that he thought that medicine was the most noble profession. It was a strange statement, really, and quite provocative. I wondered at the time, can any profession be the most noble? I ruminated on it for a long time, and now, 30 years later, I feel ready to respond. If asked to name the most noble profession, I would not hesitate to say teaching.
Teachers are the agents of the future. Will our world be populated by people ready and able to meet that future as creative and critical thinkers; as wise, compassionate and knowledgeable citizens; as skilled and motivated solutionaries within their professions? The answer to this question lies with teachers. More than any other profession, teaching has the power to create a healthy, just and peaceful world (or not). It has the ability to seed our society with informed, caring and engaged citizens (or not). It has the capacity to inspire lifelong learning and a passion for knowledge, understanding, and innovation (or not). Is there anything more important than this?
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of nightthree via Creative Commons.