I’ve always had the greatest respect in the world for teachers long before I ended up working on my current 9-5. But having been fortunate to become an educator in my own right, it has really given me a deeper respect for the modern-day teacher and why the kids still do matter.
On my 9-5 I am a youth developer at a free clinic in NYC. I do a fair amount of connection young people to resources and helping them build skills surrounding pregnancy prevention, communication and decision-making. I’m often in the community running workshops and small groups in either classroom settings, after school program sites or hosting various groups at the clinic. Sometimes the work is tiring, there are days like with anyone else where things get frustrating, but I enjoy working with the youth because the NEED IS THERE.
One thing I noticed that has changed as we move along in society – I have seen this as I grew up in Jamaica and continue to see it manifest in the lives of the youth I work with – the parent/teacher partnership is dynamically different. When I was growing up, everything was old school. Parents and teachers seem to have the same vested interest in a child’s development. While no parent is perfect and no teacher’s words are gospel, there was healthy respect and a passing of the baton – kinda like “teachers do the work of learning in the day and parents picked things up once the kids got home”. But as I made my way through high school, I go to see a different side of teachers that I never saw before…a stressed out, more human side.
Many teachers in this economy are no different from other professionals – they worry about their jobs and job security like everyone else. Administrators are focused on measuring performance in a quantitative way that many of the hands on things teachers do to make a qualitative impact just cannot be quantified by the number of student who passes any city, State, national or global examination. How can you really quantify that moment in the student when you know THEY’VE GOT IT!?
Let’s add to the fact that somewhere along the line the support teachers got from parents became different. So instead of parents working hand in hand with teachers to secure the child’s future, some parents have taken the check and balance approach like administrators to make sure that their child “passes the class”. I cannot tell you how many horror stories I hear from teachers now about how nasty some parents are. Parents and students have made false accusations and gotten teachers fired, and whenever the occasional story about teachers crossing the line with inappropriate. This sort of behavior has gotten some terrified to the point where they rather play it safe and mark the kids work and not put in the true one on one needed to build the child up.
All the makes for are more stressed out teachers about the hazards of the job, rather than the rewards of watching youth grow and strive.
Two stories on this train of thought stood out to me the most . One was from the experience of seeing an older cousin who was a teacher that taught me (I took extra lessons from her at my folks’ insistence) shake her head one day after school. I used to visit her a lot, like many of her former students did from time to time. She had an open door policy where some of her former students would come in to talk to current students as examples of motivation. She mentioned she cut that out after a while because “these new kids now just don’t get it. They don’t care! Parents are too quick to defend their kids now – you word doesn’t matter. So why should they listen to the teacher if they can tell their parent anything and the parents come in ready fight you or threaten your job?” These are words from a 35 year veteran in her last few years of teaching how looked more stressed in 3 years than she did the first 32 on the job!
Another that I work with on a weekly basis in a middle school has told me recently: “you have NO idea how bad I cannot wait to retire”. Teachers back in the day would NEVER talk like this; you would almost have to bury them at their desks! One of my old high school principals was like this: he only stopped teaching because he gravely became ill. What has happened to our teachers?
People often marvel at the fact that I work with youth. They say, “Them kids is bad, I couldn’t deal with them”. While there may be “some” inherent truth in that, every generation was “BAD” at some point. Many of the roughest, toughest kids out there are still kids at heart – you can reach them but you have to know how to get them to listen, which is one key component to the ART of teaching, and the art of parenting for that matter.
Have we failed our kids? I don’t know, as the jury is still out on that one. Still, somebody has to teach them, and if the parents don’t help teachers pull their weight, what becomes of our future leaders? Many teachers still care, they just cannot learn for the kids and do their work without help from the parents and community at large. Maybe we all need to go back to school and have the teachers fill us in what we need to do to get us back on track.