Teacher Professionalism: Pedagogy and Politics
This was a featured speech at the NCTE Convention in Orlando, Florida, November 20, 2010.
First I'd like to explain the scarf I'm wearing. I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York and it jumped out at me. The design on the scarf is baed on a 13th century scroll at the Met. Yelu Chucai, a prominent statesman under the Mongol Khans. "Poem of Farewell to Liu Man," 1240, pleads for humanitarian rule and ends with these words: "Despotic officials and shyster underofficials, may they feel ashamed."
I'm going to start where I ended with the Bank Street talk. I've told this story many times, but it bears repeating. It comes from the Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times, where every Monday they offer human interest anecdotes about life in the City. After making an (illegal) right turn on a red light, a woman was pulled over by a traffic cop. He handed back her papers, advising her to drive carefully. She blurted out, "Aren't you going to give me a ticket?"
He looked at her. "You were my first grade teacher."
At Bank Street, there was a universal gasp; women clasped their hearts.
I told them I spent three days listing my students who probably would give me a ticket and those who wouldn't. Forget corporate/politico injunctions to prepare workers for the Global Economy. Teachers should look at every student as a probable future traffic cop.
A couple of nights ago I had a personal crisis, asking myself why I was spending all this money to come to Orlando to deliver a very angry speech that will upset everybody who comes to my session. I came very very close to canceling. I mean, I like telling heart-warming stories about my students, not ranting and railing about the professional organization that has meant so much to me for decades. But here I am-- because NCTE has meant so much to me throughout my professional career. And I'm here because I went to an independent bookstore two days ago and mentioned I might be coming here. The bookstore owner, a former librarian, said, "Give 'em hell!"
This time of year there's a lot of hoopla about turkey triage. The Butterball turkey talkline employs more than 50 professional trained home economists and nutritionists to respond to more than 100,000 questions each November and December. For me, the classic was the cook who called the hotline and revealed she'd put the turkey in the oven while still in the plastic wrap--and wondered why it was this funny purple color.
I think the teacher equivalent to the purple turkey might be the time when I went to the grocery store after school. With my cart half-full I had the terrible realization that I'd left Bobby, the kid who sometimes gave himself a timeout, in the cloakroom. I raced back to school and found Bobby asleep--and took him home.
Here are a few other turkey crises:
According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is statistically the day that sees the most home fires in the US.
I'm not going to provide my classroom equivalent for each turkey disaster--but I assure you, I could. I think NCTE needs to establish a Teacher Hotline. Teachers need to know that they are not alone, that professional advice and comfort--and support--is available.
Sticking to the food theme for a moment, Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich offer important information in Notes on Cooking:
Modest Proposal: Why Doesn't NCTE issue an equivalent statement for teaching? I fear we can find the answer in Martin Luther King, Jr's words:
Right now, NCTE leadership is too worried about finding a seat at the corporate/politico table and not worried enough about the survival of the people who pay its dues.
Central Office at NCTE seems to be dancing with our jailers. You remember "Dancing with our jailers" from Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi says, "The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality."
While NCTE Central Office encourages us to dance with our jailers, editors of NCTE journals continue to stand tall, publishing subversive articles.
Example: "What is a teacher to do? Subversion or victimhood." —Edgar Schuster, English Journal, Nov. 2004
Ed ends with the declaration that a teacher's choice is subversion or victimhood. I think by now it may be revolution or death. Certainly death of the profession.
And the children.
My own "On Assessment, Accountability, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night," Language Arts, May 2009, is very critical of NCTE. I think it is to the editors' credit that they would publish an article containing strong criticism of the organization (of which I'm a longtime member). I doubt the article would have gotten a vote of approval from the NCTE Executive Committee.
We teachers have to ask ourselves the very difficult question: "Who bears more responsibility: the people who produce the high stakes tests and scripted curricula, the people who demand they be inflicted on children, or the people who use them day in and day out?"
All I know is if teachers remain silent, they are going to lose their profession. In many cases, the profession is dead: when you're reading a script, you are not a professional. When you engage in test prep, you are not a professional.
I would just add it's past time for NCTE to declare that teaching is much more like a Chinese lyric painting than a bus schedule.
Consider these elements of teacher triage in terms of the policy and practice of NCTE, the policy and practice of the US Department of Education, the policy and practice of the unions, state departments of education and so on.
If NCTE recognized teacher professionalism as being on the edge of catastrophe and if NCTE engaged in triage, what could they do?
I would remind you that even if you can do only a little, it is no excuse to do nothing. I offer a few examples.
This is not a polemic. It is a straightforward explanation of NCLB. We hoped it would be made available for free in grocery stores, doctors' offices, and other people parents frequent.
5132 W. Berteau Avenue
Chicago, IL 60641
Where's the NCTE booklet explaining
Whining is not the same thing as doing something. Whining is whining. Action is something else.
Speaking at the NCTE Annual Convention in Nashville in 2006, Richard Allington offered a brilliant strategy of resistance. Dick recommended that every teacher examine the state code of ethics for teachers. Then, when ordered to read a script or to stop reading aloud or to commit some other abusive practice, teachers should say, "Please put it in writing that you want me to violate the state code of professional ethics."
Put it in writing.
Four words that could change the world.
Bill Gates and Arne Duncan & Barack Obama and the Business Roundtable are systematically destroying the profession of teaching, and our professional organization must help us stand up for who we are.
Duncan and Gates are wrong: The 'best and the brightest' are not the people we need in our schools: We need the savvy, rock steady, dependable, loving, forgiving people who have an enormous capacity for wait time and the psychological equilibrium to be able to enter the classroom every day not holding a grudge for what happened the day before.
Lest you doubt the triage metaphor, consider Vicki Phillips' recent remarks to the National PTA. Phillips is the Education Director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Consider how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks echo those of the Gates Foundation officer:
When Arne Duncan's mouthpiece Peter Cunningham showed up at the NCTE convention in Orlando on Nov. 20, 2010, I asked him if he agreed with the Gates Foundation declaration that master's degrees have almost no value, that certification doesn't matter, and that teacher experience doesn't matter, that after three years they don't get any better. Cunningham replied that he does NOT agree that teacher experience after three years doesn't matter. I asked him to repeat it. I asked him if I could quote him. Do you think he'll be getting a phonecall from Vicki?
Hillary Mantel writes in Wolf Hall, The king has given Wolsey a pardon, but if he was offended once, he can be offended again. If they could think up forty-four charges, then--if fantasy is unconstrained by truth--they can think up forty-four more." This is what teachers face: If they could think up forty-four charges, then--if fantasy is unconstrained by truth--they can think up forty-four more.
Teachers, You Need to Know This
As Richard Allington observed in Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum, "What seems to be under way is an attempt to portray teaching as a blue-collar job: No special skills are needed. Heck, even intellectual capacity doesn't really matter! Teacher education is portrayed as unnecessary--and even damaging."
For Duncan, echoing Bill Gates, if standardized test scores aren't the answer, you've asked the wrong question.
Military Maintenance Law: If it moves, oil it. If it doesn't move, paint it.
Duncan Reform Law: If it moves, test it. If it doesn't move, test it some more.
But you need to understand why this is happening: For a history of the Business Roundtable handshake on education policy with Republican and Democrat politicos, dating back to the late 1980ies, I'd recommend you read my book Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools. Race to the Top, like No Child Left Behind is part of this global project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation. . . . The thinking is that the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries. And they want to cut costs. They want to diminish the amount of money that's put into public education. And that means they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching.
In Lois Weiner's words on Democracy Now (9/2/2010), "They have to make teaching a revolving door, in which we're not going to pay teachers very much. They're not going to stay very long. We're going to credential them really fast. We're going to burn them up. They're going to leave in three, four, five years. And that's the model that they want."
And Henry Giroux on Truthout (May 25, 2010): "Almost all of Duncan's polices come from a market-driven business culture, made legitimate by measurement, efficiency and utility. They value hedge fund managers over teachers, privatization over the public good, management over leadership and training over education. These neoliberal corporate value give us high-stakes testing, charter schools, school-business alliances, merit pay, linking teacher pay to higher test scores, CEO-type school management, abolishing tenure, standardizing the curriculum defining the purpose of schooling as largely job training, the weakening of teacher unions and blaming teachers exclusively for the failure of public schooling.
And Richard Rothstein, NPR, Jan. 8, 2006: "The health doesn't matter. The housing doesn't matter. The dysfunctional communities don't matter. None of these things matter. The only thing that matters is whether teachers have high expectations of children. I don't think we can make social policy on the basis of a myth."
There's another telling line in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall: "If we do not know the procedure, I feel sure Thomas Cromwell has a note of it. Give him a year or two and we may all find ourselves superfluous."
That seems to be the Gates/Obama/Duncan plan: Give them a year or two and all teachers may find themselves superfluous.
In Homegrown Democrat, Garrison Keillor warns, "When you wage war on the public schools, you're attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You're not a conservative, you're a vandal."
Where's the professional organization rebuttal to all this? Instead of trying to get grants from Gates and to please the corporate/politicos, the function of a professional organization is to stand in opposition to the vandals and to protect its members.
When professional organizations think their purpose is to get a seat at the corporate-politico table, they become a parliament of whores. Whose good is being served when once-venerable professional organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English are now hawking corporate flimflam called 21st-century skills?
How is it that NCTE remains silent about Race to the Top and the Common Core while the United Church of Christ is on the forefront of resistance, as they were with NCLB.
I feel shame for the fact that the United Church of Christ speaks out while my professional organization keeps its silence.
Need to Know
The fact of the matter is that what you do every day matters more than what you do once-in-a-while. We need to know that we have our professional organization at our back every day.
Kids and their teachers need to know about General John E. Hull. He was in charge at the American Air Force base at Iwakuni, Japan.
Portrait of a Classroom in the Global Economy
Ed Schuster raised this issue in English Journal, Nov. 2004, in an essay titled “On the Necessity for Subversion.” He ends with the declaration that a teacher’s choice is subversion or victimhood. I think by now it may be revolution or death.
Certainly death of the profession.
And the intellectual and emotional development of the children
"What is shared by mass murderers, felony drunk drivers, starving children, head banging laboratory animals, anxious overworked students and all reptiles? . . . They don't play. What do most Nobel Laureates, historically renowned creative artists, successful multi-career entrepreneurs and animals of superior intelligence have in common? . . . They are full of play throughout their lives." —Dr. Stuart Brown, M. D., founder The Institute for Play
Think about the worksheet-filled, playless kindergarten we now offer children.
Remember Rose in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist? "Rose had a kitchen that was so completely alphabetized, you'd find the allspice next to the ant poison."
The first time it was reported that one child vomited on a high stakes test, there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred vomited. But when a thousand vomited, silence.
"When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer."
"Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. " —Russell Baker
My e-mail is filled with things like this: "This law has turned my sweet, happy classroom into a test-prep mill. " —Monica Hart-Nolan, Half Moon Bay teacher.
And this: "My son is in a 'good' kindergarten, but they are obsessed with skills. He works so hard at school (for five hours and 45 minutes) to "be good" that by the time he comes home he can't do anything but have temper tantrums!" —Chicago mother
It's a predictable shame when such when market-oriented policies are peddled by Republicans; it’s a tragedy when they're embraced by Democrats.
Remember this: The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.-—Joseph Heller
The enemy is anybody who hurts kids, no matter which side he’s on. . . or which professional organization he represents.
The guy from Nigeria who promises me millions. All I have to do is give him the number of my bank account. Arne Duncan promises value added. All we have to do is give him our souls.
The Gates Foundation paid millions for the development of the Common Core Standards and then paid PTA another million to tell everyone the Standards are a good thing. They paid $2 million to promote "Waiting for Superman."
The Gates Foundation is funding a program called Measures of Effective Teaching. Watch out.
The corporate-politico education policy called Common Core: The haunting fear that some child, somewhere, may be confident and happy and some teacher, somewhere, may be able to make decisions about what goes on in the classroom.
The Digital Transformation in Education
Arne Duncan's remarks at the State Educational Technology Directors Association Education Forum, Nov. 9, 2010
Appendix (a) (3)-A of PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) application for the federal grant to align K-12 assessment system with the Common Core State Standards includes this item:
When he finally stopped laughing, my husband (Ph.D Physics, Princeton) said, "No undergraduate student in physics anywhere in the country can answer this question." I dug up the Scientific American article that hapless students were supposed to read to answer this question. I confess: I could not understand it.
No matter what happens, just keep shopping.
--the corporate-politico economic policy
No matter what happens, just keep testing.
--the corporate-politico education plan
The Clean Underwear Theory of Curriculum
Although Dave Barry insists that the Giant Underground Weirdness Magnet is buried somewhere in South Florida, I think evidence indicates it's alive and well on the 7th floor at 1016 16th Street NW, Washington D. C. the headquarters of the Common Core Mapping Project. They take the Common Cores Standards and make lesson plans.
P. J. O'Rourke once wrote, "Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." This seems to be the purpose of the Common Core standards on literature: to ensure that a teacher will look good if he should die in the middle of a lesson. This is a variant on the best justification I ever heard for forcing a teacher to have a set of basal readers in her room was given by an administrator: "In case you drop dead. The substitute will need them."
Common Core Mapping Project-European Literature: Nineteenth Century—unit 5 poetry memorization
This is part of a four-week unit in which 12th graders "will read fiction, drama, poetry, biography, and autobiography from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, with particular attention to the relationship between man and nature."
Isn't it fascinating that with so much worry about Global Warming, the imperative from the Common Core Mapping Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and designed to implement the Common Core Standards, also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is for students to memorize verse from Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, William Blake, John Keats, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Not to mention read Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, The Vicar of Wakefield, Emma, and The Sufferings of Young Werther. Informational text [sic] in the unit includes The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, and Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads.
Don't you think that NCTE should take a position on such insanity? Voltaire reminded us that "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."
Again, though, we hear from an NCTE Journal:
The popular ETS Praxis II test offers extensive testing of literary works by British and American males writing prior to 1950 and grammatical terms that connote a nostalgic charm to today's writers and educators. . . . If tests like the current ETS Praxis II test of literature, language, and composition have the expected impact on curriculum, tomorrow's teachers will be perfectly trained for schools of the nineteenth century.
We even hear from a senior official at Educational Test Service:
An official with ETS can speak out, but NCTE feels it must maintain its silence. The Norton Anthology of English Literature is seventeen hundred pages long. It's a fat and heavy book. It will stop a bullet, but it won't cover your nakedness."
—Castle Freeman, Jr. My Life and Adventures
There's worse. Here the official statement from the Common Core:
Either someone at Achieve and/or the US Department of Education and/or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is lying or. . . NCTE has a lot to answer for.
I put this up on Twitter: Common Core literacy standards will seriously damage the 15,783,462 high schoolers who have no inclination to become English majors. I rather enjoy the discipline of Twitter, compressing a tendency to verboseness into 140 characters.
Despite the fact that I hate Facebook, I will be eternally grateful. I have a Facebook page that someone arm-twisted me to put up. And one day it produced a miracle. I've written a lot about Leslie, the deaf child to whom I gave more of my heart than to anyone else. And she returned it in full. Not long ago, she found me on Facebook. She was in my class 29 years ago. And she found me. And the miraculous thin is Leslie remembers our class the same way I do. I mean, she talks about what was important to her--and it's exactly what was important to me.
We can only teach who we are. The best thing you can offer students stares back at you from the mirror every morning. Truth is
We don't give a damn what the teacher thinks, what the teacher feels. On the teachers' own time they can hate it. We don't care, as long as they do it.
—Seigfried (Zig) Engelmann, author Direct Instruction materials. I used to cite Englemann's words as outrageous; now this is government policy.
Don't spent your time worrying about Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Rise up against the underlying corporate power structure
The promotion of the data managed school is the truly great swindle of our time. Please consider that classroom management differs from stockyard control or sizing eggs.
"If you want to get people to believe something really, really stupid, just stick a number on it. Even the silliest absurdities seem plausible the moment that they're expressed in numerical terms."
--Charles Seife: Proofiness: Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception
If a pediatrician can’t measure your child's height accurately, what do you suppose the chances are of a standardized test maker measuring his reading skill accurately?
The New York Times reported on a study finding that only 30 percent
of height measurements taken in primary care practices were accurate.
Trained nurses visited 55 pediatric and family practices and compared
their measurements of 307 children with those taken during regular
--John O'Neil, "Evaluations: Measuring the Squirming Baby," New York Times, 2004-05-11
Medicos recognize this problem. Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, physicians have called for a major overhaul of medical education. They say that medical students are buried under an avalanche of data, with not enough time to apply it to the needs of individual patients.
While watching a review of David Berliner's book on C-span, April 28, 2007, I heard this wonderful exchange:
We need to follow Berliner's example and insist on telling our stories.
We need to heed Kurt Vonnegut's warning:
Remember the premise of this Vonnegut book as you read on. Recap: In The Piano Player a tiny group of wealthy and powerful managers and engineers run things. Most people, stripped of good jobs, are powerless menials.
Stephen Krashen observes that the next step is to force farmers like Mr. Haycox to get PhDs. He could write a dissertation on, for example, "The symbolism of dairy farming in Thomas Hardy's Tess: Was Angel Clare a lacto-vegetarian?"
Now here's a news item from the New York Times:
Get that? "Some college," the President Obama/Arne Duncan mantra, is not enough. The fact of the matter is that no matter what today's worker does, it will never be enough.
That's how the elites have planned it.
Remember: 'Beyond entry-level training and on-the-job training, 70% of United States jobs do not require more than a high school education, 20% require a college education, and only 10% require technical training."
--Richard Rothstein, CATO Unbound, April 7, 2008.
But, as I showed in my article in Extra!, the press refuses to cite Rothstein. Who gets to speaks about what schools need? Race to the Top and the Bill Gates Connection, September 2010.
David Berliner describes the real problem in "Rational Responses to High-Stakes Testing and the Special Case of Narrowing the Curriculum":
But as I found in my close reading of 700 articles, looking for who the press cites as experts on Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards, David Berliner isn't quoted either. Who gets cited as an expert on education policy? Leaders of the Fordham Institute, leaders of the Democrats for Education Reform political PAC, hedge fund operatives promoting charter schools, the head of education at the American Enterprise Institute.
"T]he rush to get more information faster almost forces people to avoid the act of thinking. Why stop and try to make sense of the information we’ve obtained when we can click on that icon and get still more data? And more."
--Raphael Kasper, physicist, Super Collider Laboratory Diversion
Here's a really important truth: "[The] demand for 'standards and accountability' has been a diversion from a campaign for economic and social justice for the children of the poor."
--George Schmidt, editor, Substance
Here's Stephen Krashen:
"Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."
--Huey Long (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935)
"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it." --Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom
"When children's bodies are invaded, we call it statutory rape. Do we have a tidier phrase for the invasion of their minds?"
--Penny Coleman, AlterNet, Dec. 19, 2008
"Closing the school would be better than breaking their hearts."
--Father O'Malley in Bells of St. Mary's
I won't support compulsory attendance until schools adopt a Happiness Index. A caring index. How about rating helpfulness, perseverance, patience, ingenuity? Where's the curriculum of caring?
A favorite Standardisto metaphor is School as a race. How about school as a beehive? A song? A handshake? Possibilities abound.
School as a Race
In Earthly Pleasures science writer and maple-syrup maker Roger Swain tells us that even where the sap flows best "the drops form one at a time." They also fall one at a time. Even in our present circumstance of instant everything, you can't hurry maple syrup--or third graders. Neither is a project for the impatient. Swain goes on to say that in boiling the sap as well, "the change from colorless sap to a light amber syrup is impressively slow." So, too, the change from an intransigent reluctant reader, the child who only scowls at books, to the boy who insists on copying Peter Rabbit in longhand because he likes "the feel of the words." It doesn't happen overnight or even upon completion of 1,682 workbook pages. We must recognize that children make great intuitive leaps but in-between times things often seem impressively slow.
When you see a car hurtling toward your child, you push him out of the way before you engage in conversation about Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Until we stop the abusive standardized testing in elementary schools, I refuse to talk about a better kind of test. We must stop harming the children presently in our care. Right now. Today.
"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
"If you were in an open field with an angry rhinoceros about to charge at you, the silliest thing you could do would be to imagine you were a rhinoceros too. The outcome would be obvious. What can you do, faced with a rhinoceros, to get the better of it eventually and come away unharmed? What is the only thing; in this case, that is more powerful than a rhinoceros? Why, a swarm of mosquitoes."
--Manfred Max-Neef, Economy, Humanism and Neoliberalism
NCTE could marshal a very powerful swarm of mosquitoes. Or how about spiders. Remember the Ethipian proverb: When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion.
"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963
What the education world needs is a few strong administrators and teachers and parents to join together, proclaiming, "Enough is enough"-- people who know how to say, "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to do this any more."
Consider Kroptkin's comment on the Russian Revolution: "The hopelesss don't revolt, because revolution is an act of hope." The Latino parents in Chicago offer the hopeful metaphor of our time.
These parents maintained a 43-day-and-night vigil at La Casita, a school building the Chicago Board of Education planned to demolish. They refused to leave until the board of education promised to build them a school library.
Consider this: These parents didn't go to their local aldermen, begging for a seat at his table. They made the politicos come to them—-to their vigil at the school site. AND they made one alderman rewrite his letter to the school board voicing his support of their library request four times--until he got it right.
NCTE could have/should have issued a statement of support to La Casita. They could have/should have teachers and parents from across the country and sent a box of books:
Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip. —George Orwell
Learn to say 'No'; it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin."
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon
At least once in your lifetime, take a risk for a principle you believe in--even if it brings you up against your bosses."
--Daniel Schorr, reflecting, on his 87th birthday, on his life in journalism
Don't mourn, organize.
A teacher wrote a poem of advice to students,
Revolution for the Tested, which begins:
I challenge teachers to write their own version, Revolution for the Teacher. here's mine:
Now, since Walt Whitman is on the Common Core Standards, I'll give him the last word. The Standardistos want students to read "O Captain! My Captain!" I'd like to see a substitution of the preface from Leaves of Grass.
Finally, I'd like to close with the lesson I learned from a 9th grader in my first class. It was the most important pedagogical lesson I ever learned. I'd answered an ad in the New York Times. The New York City Board of Education was offering emergency credentials to high school English teachers. So I applied. I had a master's degree in medieval literature and 12 units in education courses. No student teaching. To get the emergency credential I had to pass written and oral exams. The oral exam consisted of delivering a lecture on the difference between comedy and tragedy to the examiner sitting across the table for me.
I entered teaching in October--quite literally in the middle of someone else's lesson plan. And I had a hard time. I also had a great department chairman who observed my class for a few minutes each week and then offered some suggestions for improvement. When it came time for me to deliver the official show-and-tell lesson for write-up in my personnel folder, he told me I'd done a good job, delivering a lesson on "Julius Caesar."
"But I was bothered by that girl reading the newspaper in the back of the room. I leaned across the aisle and said to her, 'Don't you think you should put down that paper and listen to your teacher?'
"She said, 'Who the hell are you? If she wants me to put down the paper, let her tell me.'"
I took a deep breath and said, "Well, when you think about it, who are you? You come into the class carrying your briefcase. I made a mistake by not introducing you. So you sit there writing notes. They don't know who you are. But more important, you don't know who they are. That girl was truant all first semester. She comes to class now to read The Daily News that I buy for her. I don't plan to leave her only with The Daily News, but it's a place to start."
I'm proud of the instincts of that young teacher. I'm proud that she had the instincts to stand up for what's important. May we all go forward and say
Who the hell are you?
To be a teacher,
You have to decide who you're
willing to obey
And who you're willing to kill.
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