Not a week goes by without a national news story proclaiming the latest sins of a public school teacher. People love to like, share, and comment on any story that exposes even the smallest wrongdoing on the part of an educator.
I get it, I do. “Teacher Gives Own Time and Money to Buy Supplies for Students” lacks the sensationalism that most media outlets prefer.
“Teacher Spends Hours Each Evening Planning Lessons and Grading Papers” wouldn’t garner many readers.
And “Teacher Voluntarily Supports Students at Sporting Events” would be downright laughable.
With so much negativity out there — including all the comments of “we need more teachers like this” on any story that manages to show educators in a positive light — there are a few things parents should know about the people who spend so much time with their children.
1. I believe in what I teach. School is not, despite what you may have heard, an endless parade of textbooks and worksheets and lectures. We prepare these kids for life, as best we can at least, considering our somewhat reluctant audience. And I can promise you that I know my curriculum, inside out and backwards, and I’m passionate about its ability to make your child a better adult.
2. I understand the system is broken. I know that public schools, as a rule, are overcrowded and underfunded. Student-to-teacher ratios are rising at an embarrassing rate, as are drop-out numbers. If your child is gifted, he’s likely doing fine, but the same probably can’t be said if he has unique learning needs.
If that’s the case, chances are you and your student both feel forgotten and unimportant. I’m just as frustrated as you are, maybe even more so, because I see your concerns magnified across an entire student body. I see all of these flaws, and more, and I wish I could fix them. I even have a few ideas about that, not that anyone is asking.
3. I love this job. The days can be long. The students can be moody and argumentative. The administration can be inconsistent and short-sighted. There are dark moments, moments when I wonder if I’m doing my job well, if my passion for the curriculum is evident.
Sometimes I run out of patience and snap at a student. Sometimes my personal life gets in the way and I don’t start the school day as prepared as I could be. Sometimes I’m rooting for that snow day just as much as your child is.
Even on days when I question my ability to teach effectively, when all I can do is close my eyes, breathe deep, and pray for patience, I can’t imagine doing anything else, being anywhere else.
4. I love your child. Yes, even yours. The one who never remembers to raise his hand in class. The one who spends more time chatting with her classmates than participating in discussions. The one who rolls his eyes at every other word I speak.
I love them all. Sometimes I lie awake at night, worrying about the girl with a history of self-harming. Wondering if that activity we did in class had an impact on the quiet one in the back. Hoping that boy’s failed test was a one-off and not a sign of bigger issues.
I want every single one of my students to succeed, because I see huge potential in all of them.
5. I need your help. I think you need mine, too. We both want your child to grow into a responsible adult, making his or her unique contribution to society. You know your child better than anyone, but can I share something I’ve learned from experience?
Coddling her isn’t what’s best for her. Making excuses, transferring blame, hand-holding. I know you do those things because you love her, and because the world is harsh and why not protect her from that for as long as possible?
But an inward-focused teenager will grow into an entitled adult. The kind of person to whom regular rules don’t apply. The kind of person who doesn’t get along with others, but it’s never her fault. The kind of person you wouldn’t want as a coworker or as a friend.
So, while I know it’s tempting to smooth her ruffled feathers, please consider a different tactic. Consider urging her to work even harder on that group project, even though the other members are mean to her. Consider encouraging her to work extra hard in that class, even though she doesn’t mesh with the teacher.
She might be angry, and it might be hard, but you’ll be raising a child who possesses the kind of qualities we educators just can’t teach.
6. I think the media has it wrong. If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be that. If they had it their way, news outlets would have you believe that public schools are full of harried burnouts who couldn’t cut it at a real job.
That’s simply not true.
Your public school has some of the brightest, most patient people you’ll ever meet, in education or elsewhere. It has employees who could be working somewhere else, making a lot more money and facing a lot less criticism, but who stay because they believe in what they do and in the students they teach.
I know this because I work in a school full of teachers like that. I know this because I wonder every day if I’m doing all I can to be one.