Saturday, January 10, 2015

WHY I TEACH (But not in a public school!)

   Teaching is one of the great joys of my life.  I don't make much money, but the chance to go to work every day and talk about a subject I love deeply with multiple groups of teenagers is something I truly enjoy.  From my funny little seventh graders to my quirky and eclectic Dual Credit U.S. History class full of Juniors, I have fun with each and every one of them.  Teaching them every year from the time they enter Junior High until they graduate, I get to watch my students grow up.
  I teach at a private Christian school, and I write my own curriculum guides and lesson plans.  I choose my textbooks, and having chosen them, I use or ignore them at my own discretion.  While I am periodically evaluated by my administrators, I am given a great amount of academic freedom.  If I want to spend a few extra days discussing the glories of Rome, and maybe a bit less time on the Byzantine Empire - or vice versa - I am free to do that. If I want to make the observation that Abraham Lincoln was a great and compassionate human being and that Andrew Johnson was a total tool, I can do that too.  Best of all, I can talk about my faith openly with my students, and encourage their own spiritual growth in the process.  If a "teachable moment" happens and we get to spend an entire class day talking about something that's not part of the lesson plan because someone asked a really good question and created that opportunity, I can roll with it and seize the moment.   Best of all, I do not have to spend an entire school year grooming and prepping children for a state-administered standardized test which our school's entire funding for the year will be based on.  We do voluntarily administer the PSAT test to our high school students, but we don't shape our curriculum to the test questions.  And you know what?  95% of our graduates go on to college.  Not only that, colleges fight over them!  Our remarkable class of 2014 had around a million dollars in scholarship offers - for a total of 13 students!
    I have enormous respect for those who teach in public schools.  My wife is one of them, and my hat is off to them every day for the work they do, and for the horrific levels of bureaucracy and micromanagement they put up with.  Here in Texas, it's all about the STARR test.  Every class, every grade, every subject spends the year grilling the students over this state-designed test.  If a class is lagging behind, they may be required to abandon the curriculum altogether to spend six weeks boning up for one section of the test - I saw this happen to a friend of mine, who was informed in mid-unit that her sophomore world history class would be studying U.S. TEAKS (Texas Educational Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) for the next eight weeks - even though U.S. history is supposed to be taught in eighth and eleventh grades!  Uniformity is demanded; academic liberty virtually non-existent, and virtually every classroom activity is scripted by someone other than the teacher.  All teachers of the same grade level are expected to teach the same lesson, on the same day, and give the same homework!  One of my friends, a high school world history teacher, was told by her administrator a few years back that the principal should be able to walk from one classroom to the other and hear the teacher's finishing each other's sentences!  If this is what the State of Texas wants education to look like, why not just eliminate classroom teachers altogether and put a bunch of robots in front of the room, spouting cookie-cutter lessons generated by a committee of bureaucrats in Austin?  Then pesky things like teacher specialization, life experience, compassion, enthusiasm, and "teachable moments" can be eliminated and the apparent goal of universal student boredom can be achieved!


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