Tuesday, October 6, 2009
A Teacher Speaks Out
I cannot help but to think of the latest Ken Burn’s documentary about our National Parks when I reflect upon the current changes to teacher certification proposed by the Indiana Department of Education. The documentary focuses on the heroic efforts of John Muir as he tried desperately to conserve America’s frontier from the dangers of industrialization and greed. While I in no way equate myself to Muir, I do see the struggle facing Indiana Education today on par with the one in which Muir engaged. Make no mistake that the changes proposed would have lasting effects, changing the landscape of Indiana education for generations to come. I wonder if those who have proposed these changes truly have the foresight to see how dangerous they are. The cynic in me says that they have, but they simply do not care. Their motivations cannot be about helping all students succeed and therefore must be driven by politics and ideology. While this is pure speculation on my part, what is true is that the changes they propose are not motivated by facts and research for the reasons they give are unfounded and weak. Just as Muir feared for all that he held sacred, I fear for the children of Indiana.
My own experience speaks very well to the changes being put forth. I was a person who came to teaching later in life. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Theatre and when I graduated, teaching high school was the furthest thing from my mind. However, in the often-bent path that life can sometimes take, I found myself wanting to teach. In order to do so I had to go back to school to receive my teaching license. The process would take two years because there were not any expedited programs in the field of my choice, theatre. In the beginning, I questioned the validity of such an undertaking. I felt that I had all the knowledge I needed to teach. As my graduate level education classes started, I soon learned that I was ignorant of so much. Classes ranged from the extremely practical, such as a technology course on how to use it effectively in the classroom, to those who’s practicality was not apparent at first, but who’s worth was found as I started teaching. Those classes have stayed with me to this day. My Secondary Curriculum professor had a profound influence on how I saw and continue to see education. Through his class I was able to see teaching past the context of the content of my major and through a larger lens. It was here that I first realized I was teaching students about so much more than theatre; I was preparing them for the rest of their lives.
My first day of teaching was eye opening to say the least. Because I was eager to start and because the school that hired me was desperate to fill their need, I started midway through the year without any formal student teaching experience. My first day of class was my first day of student teaching. After two days I was openly questioning whether or not I had made a good choice. In those first weeks I leaned heavily on my content knowledge and it was failing me. My students didn’t seem to care about my extensive education within theatre. It was then that I reached out to Kipchoge Kirkland, my Secondary Curriculum professor. He came to my classes, and with his help I was able to effectively use those things I had learned in my education classes but had abandoned. I found my passion to teach. That passion sustained me for five more years and fueled my desire to pursue a higher degree in education so that I might instill that same passion in others.
The passion that I found in those education classes will die under these new proposals. Why would we want passionless teachers? Why would we want ineffectual teachers? I am not here to say that teacher certification in the state of Indiana should not be evaluated and changed but not in the way that others are proposing. I am past the point of being equitable in my critique of these changes. I am past the point of trying to show them real data that clearly refutes their ideas. They are not listening. These people are wrong. Superintendent Bennett is wrong. Governor Daniels is wrong. They are wrong, and the changes they propose will devastate the future of this state. Imagine a place where there aren’t any places of higher learning dedicated to improve teaching and education. A place where teachers are ill-equipped to face the challenges that students with disabilities and students from low income families present. Imagine a place where teachers teach the same for each student without regard to their needs or abilities. A place where teachers are not life long learners themselves thereby losing out on the newest techniques and innovations that educational research has to offer. A place where teachers become frustrated because they do not have the tools to reach their students effectively and they leave the profession at a higher rate than they do now. Imagine an education system so broken that it is beyond repair. When we find ourselves in that place, we will wonder why we didn’t do more to stop these proposed changes.
It is a reoccurring nightmare for me. It is one that I fear, not only for all children of Indiana, but my own daughter. Will she have the teachers she deserves? Will they be teachers with strong content knowledge AND an extensive background in how to teach? Will they be properly equipped to inspire her? Will they be able to tailor their teaching to her needs? Or will my daughter find herself in the broken education system I fear? As John Muir feared what men might do to his beloved trees, I fear what these men will do to the future of our children.