My wife and I were at a party a while back, and I heard this guy ranting about how everything that's wrong with this country is the fault of the teachers! Kids can't read. The economy is tanking. It's all the teachers' fault.
I decided to compose myself and not say anything. Then the woman he was talking to said, "Maybe you should talk to Tom. He's a teacher." And then, just like in the movies, the room got silent and everyone turned to look at me. This guy said with a tone of disgust in his voice, "You a teacher?" (Notice the great grammar?)
I knew this was my one opportunity to either fall apart or slam this guy. Figuring, I had a captive audience whether I liked it or not. So, I went for the slam.
"Yeah, you know how it is," I started. "I was young in my 20's. I was stupid. I didn't listen to my parents. I went off to become a teacher. Just because they respect teachers in so many other countries, I thought maybe people might here, too. I've come to regret it, though. It seems like everyone around here who's ever been to school thinks they know how school should go, and that we're overpaid." He listened closely.
"But you know when you tell your patients how to take care of their teeth. I'm sure that some come back with cavities and other problems." He continued to listen. "They don't all do it, do they? I think dentists are overpaid, because they never really cure their patients, do they? But when I teach a child to read, he loves it and continues it forever!"
Roll the credits. The scene ended. The dentist didn't say anything. Everyone started talking to their friends again.
There are lots of changes today. It can be a tough time to be a teacher. Common Core, new evaluations, and changes in testing can make someone think twice before entering this field. Teaching is not for the faint of heart, especially these days. Everyone out there has an opinion about things ought to be. There are too many things we feel we don't have control of! We don't have control over what kids do when they go home, or what others think about this profession that is our calling.
However, there are plenty of things we do have control of! We have control of choices we make each day when we work with kids. We have a lot of professional knowledge based on the work of giants like Marie Clay, Richard Allington, Michael Fullan, Roland Barth, Madeline Hunter, Lee Cantor, Andrew Hargreaves, Donald Graves, Donald Murray, Howard Gardner, Marilyn Burns, Lucy Calkins, Sandra Wilde, Ralph Fletcher, Randy and Katherine Bomer, Mary Ehrenworth, Yetta Goodman, Jim Knight, and countless others, whose work we have read.
We stand on their shoulders like Isaac Newton tells us to. They sit on our shoulders and whisper to us about the good choices we have to make when confronted with the daily work of teaching and leading schools. We have our colleagues across the hall and across the country with whom we share ideas in the staff room and in national professional organizations like NCTE, NCTM, ASCD, and IRA. We have our own local institutes, coaching cohorts and principals' networks.
Like my friend Bob Price of the Northern Valley Curriculum Center in Demarest, New Jersey says, we have to be unafraid of Common Core, but in control of it through good teaching. We have to be unafraid of new testing, but in control of it through good teaching. We have to be unafraid of teacher and principal evaluation, but in control of it through good teaching. Take a sad song and make it better through good teaching!