Recently, Jeff Bliss, a student at Duncanville High School, became famous overnight when his rant criticizing his teacher was posted on YouTube and went viral. This young man is being championed for having the courage to point out what many people feel are the obvious shortcomings of public education and teachers. As a nationally recognized teacher who will be on next week's cover of Blindfold, a socially conscious magazine, for being an innovative and outspoken advocate for education and educators, and who takes his profession very seriously, I have only one thing to say to Jeff Bliss and his now historic rant: Bravo, Jeff. You are exactly the type of student that I, and many educators, hope to have in class, and you stated what so many have been saying:
You want kids to come in your class? You want them to get excited? You got to come in here and you got to make him excited for this. You want a kid to change and start doing better? You got to touch his frickin' heart.
I know what you might be thinking: Why would I applaud a student who confronted and criticized his teacher? Because I, and many other teachers who take our jobs and relationships with our students very seriously, know that Jeff is not indirectly criticizing all educators, not even close. He is addressing the obvious and neither I, nor any passionate educator, takes his speech as an attack upon all teachers, just those who don't belong in education, which I still believe to be the minority.
In a previous blog I did for Huffington Post titled "How to Truly Evaluate a Teacher," I addressed the sad truth behind the new teacher evaluation programs that state after state seem to be adopting in order to help identify good and bad teachers, and how these incredibly inaccurate evaluations, that are being forced upon public schools by both the state and federal governments as a result of lobbying, are going to destroy the most important role of an educator. These unfair evaluations, along with the national push for more standardized testing, will ultimately turn teachers into examiners and not nurturers (which is by the far the first and most important role an educator can play). Jeff poetically states the truth: you must first touch students hearts before they will ever allow you to educate their minds.
I have recently been criticized for my blogs and people have argued that I am not a social worker, but a history teacher, and that, by being a nurturer first, I am doing my students a disservice in school and life. I, my former students and my colleagues throughout the world would overwhelmingly disagree with their argument. All teachers are social workers first because we are dealing with social beings. In a perfect world, where every student comes from a loving and supportive home, and feels confident and secure, teachers wouldn't have to be as concerned with focusing on a student's social needs, but that's not realistic. Even I, who had a very loving and supportive family, still needed the love and support of my kindergarten teacher to help build my confidence and security when I was at a very insecure and awkward age.
The evaluations and standardized testing which provide absolutely nothing besides the collection of data (and from which no studies have even proven are correlated to success in college or life) will only force teachers to disregard the social needs of students in order to focus on test preparation and standardized tests. I have no doubt that many politicians and self-proclaimed educational reformers, such as Governor Christie and Michelle Rhee, will use this student and his video to only further push their political and irrational educational agendas by making people believe that this criticized teacher is the norm and not the exception, which is not the case. If anything, this incredible speech by this amazing young man is exactly why, as a nation, we have to allow teachers to focus more on developing and nurturing young minds instead of taking the human relationship out of the equation by forcing teachers to not care about a child as a person, but solely as a test score. In my eight years as a teacher, I have had dozens of former students contact me after graduation and not a single one of them contacted me to thank me for helping them prepare for standardized tests, but to thank me for preparing them for life and for caring about them when they were at their weakest and most insecure.
To Jeff Bliss: You are an incredible young man who is the type of student that I, and so many educators, hope to have in the classroom every year. You want to learn; you want to grow and evolve, and you desperately want someone to nurture and develop all of the amazing qualities you obviously have. I'm sorry that it got to the point where you had to speak out, but I am very happy that you did. You have shown many people throughout America exactly why it is imperative that we do not destroy the most important role that a teacher has and the very reason I became a teacher: to be a nurturer of human beings.
Originally appeared at THE GOOD MEN PROJECT