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The trials of teaching

Publication Date: 2008-10-25

from the Dallas Morning News, Oct. 23,
2008


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
teaching.

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
incompetent.

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
teaching.

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
cheriebell69@hotmail.com.


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