What I have learned as a teacher

I have to admit, I’m glad to be back at work after a two week spring break. I have been so upset about the egregious action of the government regarding our contract, that I have wasted much of my life fretting. I’m not looking for pity. It’s just a fact. Since it was voted into power, the BC Liberal government has been systematically dismantling public education. Over the break, I couldn’t get to sleep over my anger, and I would wake up each morning with job action on my mind. I have become very cynical about the ability of the public to recognize the importance of public education. And if we can’t win hearts and minds, the government, which certainly doesn’t see the value of public education, has no reason to change course.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that few people see what I see – what teachers see. My own experience with K-12 education as a kid did not lead me to form wonderful relationships with teachers. I mean, I liked them, but I saw what they did as being rather easy. I didn’t understand the prep that was involved, and more than that, I didn’t understand what teachers went through to support students who were not me. As a kid, I didn’t have any awareness of the poverty of some of the students. I didn’t know that the kid who scared me was a kid who, but for school, would likely be out on the street committing crime. I didn’t know that the teachers were bending over backward to show that kid a better way. I didn’t know the amount of work that a teacher had to put in to preparing lessons that were able to flow at a reasonable pace, while at the same time keeping a large group of adolescents in a holding pattern of adaptive social behaviour. I didn’t know about the endless hours you can put into teaching, without ever feeling like you’ve done a good enough job. I know it now, but I didn’t know it then.

Had I not become a teacher, I would likely have had the same attitude about teaching that is evident in policy makers. The system worked for me, and would have worked had their been 60 kids in each of my classes. I knew how to get the help I needed, and the support structure created by my upper-middle class family provided me with the skill to advocate for myself. I didn’t need teachers to care for me. And in my youthful egocentricity, I assumed that all the other kids were the same. I was wrong.

It was kids like me that rose through ranks of society. We were the winners. We got to go to University because our upbringing led us to value achievement in education, and the importance of post secondary schooling which would allow us to live affluent lives. And of course, we could afford university. Many people simply can’t. Kids like me… kids who didn’t need teachers to care for us: we are the minority and we are in charge.

I started by saying I am back to work. In an ongoing protest of Bill 22, teachers have withdrawn extracurricular activities. I thought that this would be an easy way to protest, but I have found that it is the hardest of all protests for teachers. You see, I missed the kids over the break. I had them write about their spring break in journals and I found myself pouring over the journals – delighting in their tales of trips here or there. I made comments that hopefully encouraged them to write more. I guess with all the political strife around contract negotiations, I had forgotten how I felt about the kids, and I confess, I’ve been happier this week than I was for the two that I spent on break. And the more I think about withdrawing extra-curricular work, the more I hate the idea. I work in a school populated by many non-traditional learners. There are lots of kids who need me. And I know they appreciate what I do for them. I never expected this. They know I’m rooting for them. For them, school is a safe place – quite often a safer, more sane place than their homes. It’s a place where they are given boundaries. I didn’t used to understand why the kids would cross these boundaries – why they’d bite the hand that fed them (so to speak). I now know that they are testing the boundaries, because they are desperate to know that those boundaries are really, consistently there. It took me a long time to understand this.

But as I said, had I not become a teacher, I would not have known these things. I would likely have supported a more “efficient” model of education, knowing that such a model would have worked for me just fine. And I would have believed that if it could work for me, it could work for anyone. But in the real world, I would have been wrong.

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2 thoughts on “What I have learned as a teacher

  1. you should send this to the Vancouver Sun, George Abbott, Christie Clark, Susan Lambert etc. It is the best piece I have seen explaining why it is important to fund education without whining about how hard the job is, which turns people off. Fantastically written, and really gets at the most important points of the whole issue. You put what I couldn’t put into words, into words for me.

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