Monday, April 15, 2013

Me, teach? No way!

One of the routine questions I ask my college English classes is, “Who plans to be a teacher?”

I laughingly tell those who raise their hands that they can be my “special helpers.” It’s useful to have students at the ready to hand out copies, record lists when we brainstorm, put out the lights when we use the projector. 

Yes, even some tough, abundantly tattooed,  facially pierced college students want to be the teacher’s special helpers. Especially if there is a whiff of extra credit in the air.

This year has been different.

This semester, for the first time, when I asked about future teachers… not one student raised her hand. In any of my classes.

“But who is going to teach the children?” I asked, lightly. Were the future teachers too shy to declare themselves?

Now that I have repeated the question several times over the course of many weeks, I’m starting to worry.

When I asked for a bit more information about why students aren’t considering the teaching profession, first the incredulous stares spoke volumes. A girl in the front row, a smart student, a hard worker, pulled back from me as if I was contagious. A male student in back looked me over as if I was promoting a bizarre religious cult.

A woman in the second row stammered, “Bbbut Ms. Bruce—teachers don’t make enough money! I have two kids!”

A 35 year-old male Marine Corps combat veteran spat, “Teach? No way! I don’t think they’d appreciate the discipline I would want to give!”

That got a round of chuckles.

“My high school was awful—most of the teachers could care less if we learned anything. All they cared about were the EOG’s” (end of grade tests).

“Yeah, my little sister failed her last EOG’s and they pushed her on to the next grade anyway. That was stupid. She wasn’t ready to be promoted.”

“No Child Left Behind ruined everything. My mom’s a teacher and she said she’d kill me if I ever decided to teach. She’s counting the days to retirement.”

“But many of you have children!” I said. “Aren’t you worried about who is going to teach them?”

“Heck, yes, I’m worried,” said a 30 year-old mother of twins. “But it won’t be me. I don’t need that kind of abuse.”

A friend and fellow blogger who works at a school in California recently vented her frustration. “Most of the teachers are 'retired,' but the worst of it is… they are still 'working' in the classroom. They show up in body, but expend the bare minimum energy to teach.”

I’m certainly not trying to indict my fellow educators. I’m on the same team! They often have a thankless job. Many of them are doing the best they can. No one got into teaching to be rich or famous. But at least there used to be the prospect of a modicum of respect from students, parents, administrators, the local community and even by elected officials. Teachers were not seen as leeches on the system, adversaries to “balanced budgets.”

For some teachers, the grind year after year with little or no support from administration or parents, turned once enthusiastic new teachers into burned-out shells. The dropout rate for new teachers is sky-high.

Nowadays, even college students who I see excited about learning and are enjoying our class, wouldn’t dream of teaching as their profession. I’m running out of time to try to change their minds.

Who is going to teach the children? Does anyone know?