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The trials of teaching

Posted: 2008-10-25

from the Dallas Morning News, Oct. 23,

After a few years working in the public schools,

I sense a number of teachers suffer from a kind

of battered wife's syndrome.

They feel unappreciated, depressed and worn down

trying to appease the state, administrators,

parents and kids. Yet they would never think of

leaving. They love what they do for a living.

Like many a battered wife, these good-hearted

teachers are thinking of the children. Maybe,

too, they are afraid they wouldn't survive in the

non-school world. After all, teaching is all

they've ever known.

They are selling themselves short.

To be a teacher is to face constant scrutiny,

from the public to the students. Some teachers

walk on eggshells, careful to follow new goals,

rules and state mandates. Some lose their sense

of humor amid endless paperwork. Others do well

to incorporate the latest theory in discipline

management, lesson planning and effective


The art of teaching is lost to the reality of

budgets and expectations like producing

educational miracles in a society that places

money and fame above an education.

When I was in college in the 1980s, teachers were

under scrutiny for reasons I didn't understand ΓΆ€“

and still don't. Teachers were thought of as


My mother was a teacher, and she was always

reading books and correcting my speech. Every

night she graded stacks of papers and still found

time to read new books with my brother and me

when we were little.

But the general public and legislators were

unconvinced teachers were intelligent. They

wanted to know "Why can't Johnny read?" Kids were

passed from grade to grade, graduating from high

school but illiterate. Johnny's parents were

never questioned.

So teachers were tested in reading and writing.

The vast majority passed.

Then aspiring teachers in college were tested in

math, reading and writing before we could pursue

the education track. As we approached graduation,

we had to take more tests, one in our fields and

one in education to ensure we had knowledge of

our subjects and could teach students of various

ages, diverse backgrounds, socioeconomic levels,

cultures and abilities.

In recent years, the state arranged for anyone

with a college degree to become a teacher. The

thought was that a successful business person

could offer real-world experience in math and

other subjects to teach students in a way a

career teacher could not. But not everybody can

teach, let alone face, a class of adolescents. I

would have never set foot in a classroom without

40 hours of education courses including student


Today teachers are scrutinized for a different

reason altogether. Recently I joined my teacher

colleagues across the state as required by law to

be fingerprinted and photographed ΓΆ€“ as if booked

for a crime. After all, why would an adult want

to hang out with kids all day? Hardly anybody

wants to be a teacher, even though summers off

and other perks are enviable.

Maybe that's the reason teachers are suspect:

They don't come across as true professionals,

unlike the traditional career person driven to

work 70-hour weeks with only a two-week vacation.

Teachers may appear unwilling to accept layoffs,

downsizing and restructuring, as does everyone

else in the real work world.

As someone who changed careers before becoming a

teacher, I was not surprised to find my teaching

colleagues to be, first and foremost,

professionals. They are dedicated to helping

students learn. The really good ones are

motivating, demanding, organized, flexible and

compassionate. Still, they may be trapped in a

bad situation they did nothing to deserve.

For some, no doubt, being "riffed" will be the

best thing that could have happened to them.

Cherie Bell is the choir director at A.W. Spence

Middle Learning Center and TAG Academy in the

DISD. She is also a Teacher Voices volunteer

columnist. Her e-mail address is


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