There is always chatter about teaching as a profession and how, in the view of some, teaching isn’t treated like one. “You get the whole summer off!” yells one side. “We work 50+ hours per week the rest of the year!” says the other side. Some worry about Khan Academy taking over teaching while others beg for online classes to get here faster.
I don’t want to discuss that right now. Mostly because it’s lunch and I don’t have the next 20 hours free. Instead, I want to talk about how I hear other teachers talking about teaching by using a real life example.
Recently I was at a committee meeting looking over textbooks my district might be adopting and found myself listening to the conversation a table over a small group was having as they looked through the books. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the point one of them was making was that they wanted a clear textbook with a listed objective, multiple examples, and practice problems for the kids so that “anyone could come in and teach the lesson.”
The day someone can come off the street and replace me is the day I need to be fired. I’m all for user friendly textbooks (actually, I kinda dislike textbooks overall), but that statement rubbed me wrong in every direction. That’s like a professional baker wanting clear enough cookbooks so that anyone could come in and do what they do. I think anyone who is a good enough baker to have their own store would be horribly offended by the thought of someone coming in, reading a few instructions, and then recreating what the actual baker does at the same level of awesomeness.
Earlier today Keith Devlin posted a new article about the recent Khan Academy bit on 60 minutes. While I’m going to stay neutral on KA, the line that struck me the most was the following:
“Changing the way a human mind works, which is what teaching amounts to, is a difficult task.”
Any teacher not able to accept that that is what they are being asked to do as a professional needs to think hard about staying. Same as lifeguards need to accept that they are in charge of saving lives and they better take that job seriously (disclaimer: I was a lifeguard for over 4 years–my fellow guards often worried me more than the patrons).
How does any teacher expect teaching to be accepted as a professional job requiring advanced training that is far more nuanced than ‘babysitting’ in today’s politicized climate when some of our own verbally treat it as such? While I recognize that there is so much negative language built up around dismissing the teaching profession that it’s hard to escape. How often do we allow the ‘summers off’ bit to slide by? How often do we settle for whining about grading when the real terror is that we are ‘changing the way the human mind works’ and all that implies?
I get twitchy when I think about some of the long-standing implications of what I do could have on these kids. It’s the same sort of twitchy I felt on those summer days at the pool when 300+ kids were crowded in the water and it was my responsibility to spot the ones in danger. Thank goodness I have found collagues around the nation (and world!) who do treat teaching like a profession and who want to get better and are so generous with their time and words. I’m grateful to not be the only lifeguard watching the pool.