Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Communication and the joys of teaching

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A little while back, after posting about a conversation I had with a friend about writing, someone asked, "Have you ever considered teaching?" And yes, actually I have. In fact, my college courses were taken with an emphasis on education and teaching. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, it's up for debate) I chose a school that did not have a B.A. in Education and after two unsuccessful attempts to get into the Masters program, I gave up.

But I never lost my passion for teaching, and for years did tutoring, mentoring, and classroom volunteering. I would joke around with my friends that I would start my own school, but for a few years I stayed a little bitter that I was not able to get a teaching certificate. I have family that have been life-long educators, and some of my friends are teachers. When I first decided I wanted to go for my teaching certificate, almost every single one of them immediately asked "Why?!"

It was a legitimate question. Every one of my educator friends and family loved what they did, loved the children they taught, and loved the process of teaching. But they didn't love the long hours, the minimal pay, the politics, and the occasional thankless parent. So why would I want to be a part of that world? Being a teacher burns you out. It starts off exciting and challenging, but many teachers end up counting the years to retirement and do minimal work to keep their students at grade level.

I gave up on becoming a teacher because in the end I felt Education didn't want me. There were a lot of hoops to jump through, and a lot more money to throw at certification. If it was this hard to become a teacher, and the rewards for becoming one were so small, then the field of Education wasn't looking for someone like me - someone who wanted to just jump into the classroom with the knowledge that I had and get students as excited as I was about learning. No, Education was looking for someone who could conform to standardized testing, deliver on metrics, and deal with "poor learners" without any form of support.
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And since I no longer wanted to become a teacher, when my son entered school I made it a point to make sure his own teachers were not distilling his education to a bunch of test scores. Fortunately he has had good teachers, some better than others. But I've still had to jump in and advocate for him from time to time because apparently social learning drops to the bottom of the learning pit after kindergarten, and not all teachers seem to know how to properly teach social skills (or even realize that a child's social interactions can greatly affect their academic learning).

But despite head-butting with school admins and long talks with teachers on ways to improve my son's learning experience, I have always been thankful that every teacher he's had has been responsive to and encouraging of his education. It is hard being a teacher. It's hard being underpaid and under-appreciated. It's hard going into the classroom every day knowing that another assessment test is around the corner. It's hard to balance not-enough-parent-commitment with overbearing-it's-your-fault-my-child-isn't-learning-parent-involvement. It's so hard that I make it a point to thank teachers every chance I get to make sure they know SOMEONE cares about what they do; the sacrifices they make for our kids.

It is important to communicate with your child's teachers at every opportunity. Next to family, a teacher spends the most time with your child, but has to split his or her attention between 20+ other students. By being an involved parent, you help your child and the teacher have a better learning experience. You will know before any assessment test where your child excels and where your child needs help. Be a parent helper in the class to keep the teacher from becoming overwhelmed by the stapling, collating, laminating, and grading that takes time away from focusing on students. The more you have conversations with teachers, the more your child will see that education is something to take seriously. But be careful not to be confrontational or "too helpful" to the point that you interfere with a teacher's ability to be effective in the classroom.

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So for all you parents out there with school-aged children, please thank your teachers. Even if you think there is more they could do, let them know you appreciate what they are doing. Because, like me, they could have chosen not to teach, and our world would have had one less person who, at one point at least, believed that he or she could make a difference in a child's life.

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