I firmly believe that when the history of this age is written, that this time will be considered pivotal in the course of American education. A host of political, technological, and societal forces are all converging to reshape the entire landscape of what happens in schools across this country. In turbulent times such as these, it’s critical for those of us who believe in the value of education to reflect on why we are in this business. What are your non-negotiables in education? What drives you to keep heading back to the classroom or the office every day? And, more than anything else, what do you hold onto in the midst of the maelstrom? Does your reason inform your decision-making or are you a creature of faith?
Or perhaps you find yourself somewhere in the middle. I know I do. Most of us got into this job out of some sense of idealism. We were going to change the world, right? And then, after you realized that your teacher training didn’t prepare you, you went into survival mode and fumbled your way into a routine that worked for you. If you got past the “crisis” period of years 1-5, maybe you started getting into more professional development and learning from some colleagues in the field. Usually, this is when an educator often hits “the wall.” You begin to realize that the variables affecting your classroom practice are not limited to you and the students. Of course there’s parents and administrators as well, but the larger context starts to creep into your view in years 6 through 10 and the dawning realization comes to you that the variables with the greatest impact on your day to day are often completely beyond your influence and control.
This can be a moment of severe disillusionment for a young educator, when your ideals and your reality have a head-on collision. It’s not surprising that economic factors start to become paramount at this time in the lives of many teachers, because they are really just reevaluating the whole package. “Is all of this worth it?” becomes a popular refrain, and for schools that have a large population of teachers in this mental space, morale can a major, major issue. Your faith and hope in “the system” are being challenged by your cognitive reason that perceives obstacles in your way to getting the job done “right.” How many fights have you gotten into with peers or superiors over what you believed was best for the students, only to come away disheartened by the result of the confrontation? And do you let your heart or your head guide you in the perception of the outcome?
The idea that education and the pursuit of knowledge might not be a religion, but it is an article of faith. And faith can be tested! These are the days that try educators’ faith – and we respond to the challenge of this moment in history will have massive repercussions that will echo for generations to come. Policy is getting written on testing, assessment, teacher evaluation, textbooks, charter schools, vouchers, balancing technology with curricular content, NCLB, Common Core, and the very role of government in public square. And so much more.
Too often we as educators disengage from the conversation or settle for a defensive posture. We as a profession need to do more. We need to provide real policy alternatives to the ones getting thrown around that we see as a mismatch for our ideals. Maybe your faith has been challenged by what you’ve seen and encountered so far. Yet this moment of crisis is also one of great promise! Square your shoulders and muster your willpower – figuring out the best way to handle the issues of the day will require all of us to be at the top of our game. And we still need you with us.