Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I have my own children, thank you very much

One of the beliefs that is harbored by many non-teachers and certainly too many actual teachers is that we teachers must sacrifice all for our students.

You have probably seen those "Hero Teacher" movies where the selfless teacher goes into that inner-city school and saves the students however that teacher (usually a she) can manage. The teacher becomes a de facto parent, making visits to students' homes and tutoring the student on the teachers own time; the teacher reaches into her pocketbook and takes her students on field trips in order to give those students experiences that they would otherwise never have; the teacher dedicates her time and energy to her students to the point where her marriage deteriorates and eventually terminates.

And of course, we are constantly hearing from teachers who complain (or brag) about the hundreds of dollars that they spend out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their classroom that the district can't or won't provide.

What doesn't help in changing these entrenched opinions is when the education establishment itself calls for a continuation of this unrealistic altruism that is expected of teachers.

As I am not a member of the National Education Association/California Teachers Association, I instead belong to the Association of American Educators (AAE). The AAE sends me a monthly professional journal called Education Matters. I usually enjoy the articles in this journal, but every once in a while, our opinions clash. The front page article of the April 2010 issue provided one of these occasions.

The title of the article is rather intriguing: Teaching as Leadership: 6 traits of highly effective teachers. It was written by Jamie Davies O'Leary, who worked for a program called Teach For America (TFA).

While I certainly agreed with some of the writer's ideas of what makes an effective teacher, she lost me with trait #2:
Invest in students and their families. Teach For America doesn't have a monopoly on this; however, TFA may be unique in the extent to which its teachers will do nearly anything (dye their hair, shave their heads, pay for field trips out of their pockets) to motivate their pupils to learn.
I will even stipulate that I would be willing to dye my hair, and I already shave my head, but pay for a field trip out my own pocket? Not on your life!

What people sometimes forget is that the kids I teach are not my kids. In fact, I never refer to the kids I teach as "my kids." I make it a point to always refer to them as "my students." I already have kids; two of them. I am not going to take money from their mouths or their college funds in order to pay for a field trip for a bunch of my students who have their own parents or adult guardians at home who have their own responsibility to provide those experiences to their own kids.

I already know what some of you are thinking: "Oh, but some of these children come from deprived homes where they will never get the chance to have so many of these life-enriching experiences unless you, the teacher, provide them."

To that I say: Not my problem. Regarding those 180+ students that I teach every day; I am not their parent, and I am not their friend. I am their teacher. Teaching is a job. I go to my job, I perform it, and I go home to my family. And make no mistake, my family comes first. Isn't that the way it is supposed to be? And if the parent(s) or legal guardians of some of the students I teach choose not to put their family first, it sucks, but there isn't anything I can do about it, except to do my utmost to provide the most informative and quality classroom lessons I can. And when the end-of-day bell rings, the students go home, and they are no longer my legal or moral responsibility.

There are teachers at my school who I believe to be overinvolved in the lives of their students. They let the students come in their classrooms every day to eat lunch; they give their students rides home; they regularly attend their students' sports and band events.

I am not one of those teachers, and I absolutely refuse to feel guilty about it for even one second. I believe that not only can a teacher be effective without "investing" in the lives of his students and their families, it is actually imperative that a teacher maintain a professional distance from his students and their families, and leave parenting of the students to the parents.

Even though many teachers entered the teaching profession with expectations of saving the world, further investigation will show that that particular endeavor is not in the job description.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


Anonymous said...

I too have grown frustrated with the inflated expectations of the public. However, I think they are rooted in their own career experiences. It seems to me that there are not many family friendly careers left. The expectation of many,both bosses and employees, is "career first". I personally think this coincides with the heavy use of daycare. When was the last time families fought back when the boss required more of us ? Are we working to live, or living to work?


Anonymous said...

I graduated from high school in 1962, which means I received my high quality education in the 1950's and 1960,s. I had some excellent teachers during that time, and not one of them was my friend, nor did I expect them to be. They were my teachers in the classroom, and ceased to exist for me outside the classroom. Neither of us suffered with this arrangement. Now I am a teacher, and I forget about my students when I leave school. They are my constant concern while I am there, however. If I wanted to be a social worker, I would have stayed with my first profession and not have gotten my teaching credential.

Don, American Idle said...

Sure, I saved the world when I was teaching. That's why we have the Obama regime today.

I was happy when I could keep them from eating paste, picking their noses and kicking each other.

clipper said...

Great article. Unfortunately, the people in today's nanny state will think you are cold hearted and uncaring.
I spent thirty-three years in an elementary classroom. I loved my students, but I knew I couldn't take the place of their parents. I had my own family to take care of.
Now, if the nanny state would have allowed me to declare my students as dependents on my tax form, I might of changed my mind.

Charity (formerly of shesright) said...

I am curious about something. If you don't think it is the government's responsibility to take care of people and you don't feel a personal obligation to help people, then who is supposed to do it? I'm seriously wondering.

I also believe that it is not the government's job, but I go out of my way to help people in my community. If I was a teacher, I am sure that would extend to some of my students, though, I agree, it is not in the job description.

Anonymous said...

Charity - It is the obligation of the teacher to care for his students. This issue that Chanman brought up is sacrificing all for our students, of being the "hero teacher" who spends hundreds of dollars of his own money, gives of his time to the extent that it begins to affect his own family, and knows almost nothing outside of teaching. I think most of us don't sign up for this kind of commitment. In fact, don't we usually acknowledge that kind of teacher because they are out of the norm? I think we all could agree that competent, decent teachers often get overlooked.


Anonymous said...

"Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover." Seems to me that it is not working. Again, some extraordinary folks can, most can't or won't (and for good reason).


Anonymous said...

Charity - my wife just answered your question to "who is supposed to take care of students"? Parents.


JoAnne said...

I was one of those teachers when I began my teaching career in the 90's. I let the kids eat in my classroom, I had a class 'store' that I spent $$$ to furnish, I paid for my whole class to attend Medieval Times and basically tried to 'buy' my student's education. At the time, my husband had a growing business in CA but this awful state and the union have closed our doors so the $$ is not there now. I now have to tell my children that we can't help with their college expenses like we had planned. I regret every single day my stupidity. If I had put that $$$ in a CD/Savings account, I could now help my OWN children receive the education they need. Buckhorn, you are wise to realize YOUR children are your first priority.

W.R. Chandler said...

Who said I didn't feel a personal obligation to help people? I give at church, I give to charitable causes, and I volunteer for certain causes.

What I won't do is to cross the line and become a parent to my students.

W.R. Chandler said...

Who said I didn't feel a personal obligation to help people? I give at church, I give to charitable causes, and I volunteer for certain causes.

What I won't do is to cross the line and become a parent to my students.

Charity said...

Chanman, I didn't mean to say that you don't feel an obligation to help people, in general. I meant to ask, who is supposed to help the kids who do not have family support, if not the government and not their teachers?

George, respectfully, not all kids have parents, or able ones, anyway.

I have always thought that it wasn't the school's job, too, but I know so many kids in my neighborhood who have really bad home lives and I can't imagine how much worse off their lives would be without the school's intervention.

Obviously, I don't think that teachers should sacrifice their own families for the sake of their students, but I also see a hole in the conservative ideology. If taxpayers shouldn't take on the responsibility and teachers shouldn't have to either, then who should? Too bad for the kids who's parents don't/can't/won't take care of them??

Anonymous said...

Charity - I grieve with you. I was answering your original question about who should be taking care of students; the key word is should. I agree that many kids don't have decent parents. I work with many of those students, and feel horrible for them and have to provide guidance to them in my 12 years of teaching. However, the answer (and I don't think you said this) is not superhero teachers. Who should take care of people? Those who choose to do so, like say, a church or charity. I don't think taxpayers should be compelled to care.


Darren said...

At Back To School Night each year, I show my students' parents a picture of my son that I keep on my desk. "He's my first priority, your kid is my second. As parents, we all understand why it has to be that way." There are a lot of nodding heads in the room when I say that, and I don't get the impression that anyone walks away thinking that I won't ever do anything for *their* kid.