I think we can all agree that as parents we want our children to have the best teachers possible. Teachers who have the ability to see them not only as they are but what they can become. Teachers who have the ability to inspire our children to see the world differently and think about life differently. We want teachers who have the ability to serve as catalysts of new ideas, imaginative discoveries and hopeful aspirations for our children. In fact, as I think about the role of a great teacher, is it any different than that of the great actor’s and actresses whose performances have served as cultural paradigm shifts in the way we see and act in the world?
Both inspire. Both have the responsibility to capture the audience. For the actor, the stage is the theatre. For the teacher it is the classroom. Yet while the actor is still given the creativity to act in their space, the same cannot be said for the great teacher. In the current climate of education in America where standardization, corporate takeovers, testing, the draconian evaluations have become the norm, can we really say the classroom is still the stage for the great teacher?
I have, as both parent and educator, thought about this long and hard. Yet it was the CNN Interview of educator Nancie Atwell, the awardee of the first “Nobel Prize” of teaching by the Varkie Foundation, that inspired me to write this post today. As she speaks about her life as an educator, like a great actor, you can hear in her voice the need to connect with those watching her. She delves and weaves into her craft like a great artist creating a magnificent picture. If she was an actress we’d pay top dollar to see her perform. As a teacher we would pay the same to have her educate our children. That said, there is nothing more striking than what she says in the last 30 seconds in the 2 min and 23 second interview.
When she is asked what she would advise those who aspire to go into teaching, the interviewers are taken aback when her recommendation is for the aspiring teacher to go another path and into the private sector. Her rationale is that the ability for the teacher to have the space to create an environment and space that allows one to inspire children is being replaced by rigid (not rigor) standardization which restrains the teacher from having control over the room. That is to say the once great actor and actress who owned the stage is rapidly becoming nothing more than a mere puppet controlled by others in a tragically comical show that was once known as education.
It would be great to say she is nothing more than an outlier in her thoughts and opinions. The truth is she is not. 2014 top teacher of the year Stacie Starr of Ohio announced that she was quitting the profession because she could no longer “drill and kill” students. NPR published a story on how teacher prep programs in the nations best colleges have seen an alarmingly steep decline like in California which has seen a 53% percent drop. Even for myself, a teacher of over 18 years and coming from a family of educators, do I find increasingly more difficult to encourage my students to join these ranks. How can I say to a young person come teach though you have no control over your classroom? Would a great actor ever tell an aspiring one to join the stage and allow others to direct every move they make? No.
Truth is this is not new. This profession has always been one that has never been popular to the masses. Nor should it ever have been. It is a profession born to those with the unique skill and ability to connect, inspire and motivate children to follow their life’s purpose. Not something that every person, like becoming a great actor, can do. But unfortunately, in this current climate, the future great ones from the already small pool of aspirants are going elsewhere and leaving the stage to be taken by b-list actors and understudy’s not ready for prime time leaving our kids and their kids to feel the impact. Leaving the classrooms, like a depressed audience, unmotivated and uninspired.
And yet I cannot blame them.