Well, this is the first in a long time. I really can't remember the last time I created a personal blog post. I am going to work to turn this into a habit. For the record, I have never been a very good blogger, but my goal is to change that!
Last Thursday marked my 7 year anniversary in my current position. I probably wouldn't have remembered except for those kind souls who congratulated me. I can still say without hesitation that this was absolutely the right move for me and I love my job. I work with the best people around. People who are trying so hard to make a difference for teachers and students.
It seems like everything comes with a caveat though. The one to this story was reinforced to me this weekend as I watched a marvelous TED talk from the Science and Wonder event that was broadcast on PBS last week. The entire set of talks was great, but the first, given by Pixar Director of Photography and Lighting, Danielle Feinberg. She shared a couple of stories from events that shaped her. What she said at the end of her talk was what really got me though. She said, When all the pieces come together to create a world we can believe in. We used math, science, and code to create these amazing worlds. We used storytelling and art to bring them to life. This interweaving of science and are elevates the world to a place of wonder with a soul, a place that we can believe in. Where the things you imagine become real.
This struck me because of how unlike this is to our schools today, particularly our elementary schools. These schools should be places of wonder. Places where kids can imagine things as they learn. Places with soul. For the most part in my recent experience they are not. They are places of drudgery with little to no chance to be creative and imaginative. This is true for both teachers and students.
Teachers are given curriculum maps they are mandated to follow, there is little time left in a day for any type of creativity, imagination, or creation to take place. Teachers rarely feel they are really teaching, they are just following a map or script. They spend the entire year trying to make sure that students show progress on countless tests. Odious and confusing evaluation systems add to feelings of frustration. Is it any wonder that we are facing a teacher shortage, not only here in Utah, but around the country. Teachers leaving the profession after a few or in some cases many years because it is not teaching. Colleges of education struggling to find students who are wanting to take up the mantle of teaching. Why? Because we have taken the soul out of the profession.
When I began teaching 27 years ago, (man, I really am an old fart) the profession allowed it practitioners to be creative and come up with many engaging activities. They were allowed to teach. They invested themselves in the profession. Now much of what they have invested has been stripped away. The soul of what they have put into the profession damaged. When I started I worked with many teachers who were putting in 30+ years of teaching because of the joy they felt. Now they are putting in 30+ years because of the insurance.
For new teachers, where to they find their teaching soul? Certainly not in curriculum maps and scripted lessons. I believe that 99.9% of those who enter the profession do so to make a difference in student's lives. It certainly isn't for the money. It isn't because it's the easiest of jobs, in fact in light of socio-economic influences, it becomes harder and harder every year. The students come to us with more and more needs. So what do we give them, a pre-scripted diet of curriculum and tests that address reading and math and little else.
Don't get me wrong, I know how important reading and math and coding are, but we are leaving behind the storytelling, the art and all of the things that give each of us a soul.
I am not here with any answers to all of this, but I do know our current systems have to change. I find hope in some small ways here and there as I see teachers still trying to inject what passion and soul they can into their teaching, but it seems like so many are giving up.
I hope we are not too late to turn things around. I am sure they will turn around at some point, the pendulum always swings, I just hope I am around to see it and see the soul return to teaching and education.
I have really enjoyed reading the book, Reclaiming the Classroom, and listening to the accompanying podcast as they show me that there are those who have some idea of how to help fix this thing we call public education. (Disclaimer, the book and podcast are creations of a friend and mentor and I have been on the podcast, but that doesn't mean the points made aren't valid.) I would invite you to read the book or listen to the podcast to gain a little hope.