Teach The Children Well

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Teachers.”

“I believe this passionately — we don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Or, rather, we’re educated out of it.” — Ken Robinson

I came across that quote a while back, and liked enough to save it. Interesting thoughts there about the nature of creativity. I considered making it my sidebar quote after I heard it but didn’t because — moment of transparency here — I was dating a teacher and didn’t want to offend her.

But that gets into the dichotomy of my thoughts about the education system — the difference between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Do I believe that quote? Yeah, I kind of think I do. Do I believe it’s true of the woman I was seeing? No, I really don’t. Not remotely.

And, her aside, I know a lot of teachers. Almost all of my coworkers are former classroom teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. Several members of my Bible study group are teachers. My mother has been a teacher. And on and on. So which of them do I look at, and say, oh, so-and-so is clearly responsible for educating the creativity out of children? Not a one of them. Every teacher I’m close to seems to be the sort of person who really encourages their students to aspire to be their best.

One of my coworkers did post that same quote on Facebook not long afterwards. I was a bit surprised. Doesn’t that apply a bit of culpability for the problem if you’re part of the system that creates it?

I actually came close to being a teacher myself. Toward the end of my college career, I went through a crisis of faith in newspapers, and started pursuing education. I didn’t completely quit journalism, but started doing the two together. I worked for a while as a substitute teacher, and took the classes necessary for me to be certified to teach in Mississippi. The substitute teaching, I enjoyed. The coursework, on the other hand, I completed with absolutely no desire to teach. I was taught educational psychology and tests and measurements and and behavior management. But at no point was I taught who to convey information I had to students who didn’t. At no point was I taught how to, you know, teach. And an education system that thought it was reasonable to produce teachers who had been taught many things that didn’t include how to actually teach was one that I had no interest in being a part of.

Now, to be fair, I associate with awesome people. I’m pretty confident there are teachers who are not like the teachers I know; I’m just blessed to associate with the cream of the crop. From my newspaper days, I remember some really great teachers. I also remember plenty of other teachers. Teachers for whom teaching was a job, not a passion. Teachers who were a product of the courses that taught me how to value the system over teaching. Teachers who taught to a class, not a group of individual students. The best teachers I know care about their students. Individually. They do what they do because they want to see each individual student in the class be the best he or she can.

I think my confusion came from assuming the dichotomy is false. How can the education system be taking creativity out of students if the individual teachers are doing a great job? But I think it’s a real dichotomy. I think the system does have flaws. But I think there are a lot of hardworking teachers out there doing great work. No matter what the system requires them to do or not do with standards and discipline and assessments and inclusion and curriculum and whatever else, it can’t prevent them from caring about students.

And the teachers who do, those are the ones we’re blessed to have in the classroom, and who deserve our gratitude and encouragement.

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