Thursday, November 8, 2012
Teaching Ate Me Alive
The title of this linked article, Teaching Ate Me Alive, caught my eye. As I read it I was reminded of my college advisor’s book, 900 Shows a Year (Stuart Palonsky). I read it as a college junior and loved it. It is an ethnography of Dr. Palonsky’s year teaching in a school in New York. As a college student I was inspired by it. He made teaching sound like a blast – never boring, filled with humor and challenge, engaging intellectual possibilities, and non-stop action. While I had classmates who read it and promptly chose other career paths, I found myself only more excited about getting in the classroom. Then I got my first job in a very challenging inner-city high school, and in a few short years found myself actively seeking work outside of schools. As my search ramped up a school recruited me to move to a much better environment. Almost 20 years later, I am still a teacher. About 5 years ago I re-read Dr. Palonsky’s book. I found myself thinking like some of those classmates from college. What was I thinking? What sort of career have I chosen? This job is nuts! I realized that I was wonderfully fortunate to work in a great school in a great community with the best colleagues a teacher could ask for.
As I read Hirzel’s article today I wonder just how crazy a proposition it is to be a great teacher. It is a great career. It is truly never boring. The humor and the challenges are awesome. The intellectual engagement required really does keep me sharp. But the responsibility and expectations are huge with relatively little reward. The turn-over rate illustrates this in communities across America. This is a phenomenally hard job. Hirzel’s article captures in gory detail the challenges many teachers face. We have a lot of work to do to make teaching a more attractive career for our best and brightest. But we must. Our nation depends on it.