I am a cliché; I was born a teacher. A school photographer first snapped my photo when I was six months old, sitting on the lap of my very proud father, a kindergarten teacher who had taken me along for his school photo. I used to line my dolls up to teach them lessons from workbooks my dad's class had finished with and when my younger brother was old enough to comply and not quite old enough to protest, I sat him down in my class and tutored him from math and reading workbooks. My mother became an elementary school teacher when I was in middle school, though she had certainly been a teacher long before that. And almost every one of my aunts and uncles was a teacher or a principal. Little did my family know that they would not only mold me into a life-long learner, but into a life-long teacher as well.
See, it's true; I am that cliché -- the teacher who knew all along that the classroom is where she was meant to be. There have been, however, a few times in my life that I've tried to resist the lure of the classroom, where I've tried to deny that teaching is a part of my blood. I thought about law school, working for a law firm in college for a while. I've thought about entertaining my dreams of making a living from setting words on a page -- being a writer full time and not as an additional part of my life. But nothing else feels quite like the ground under my feet in my classroom. Nothing else fulfills me and challenges me quite like the art of teaching.
Lately I've wondered if I'd be here, standing in front of a room of students, challenging them to write and think and create if I knew what I know now. If I was making my decision in the culture of viral posts warning young people not to teach, claiming our profession no longer even exists.
I read these posts and I'm saddened. I'm saddened and disheartened and, really, when it gets down to it, I'm mad. I'm mad that other teachers are using their voices to warn off others, to claim that things are so dire it's time for all of us to jump ship. Because in my eyes, it's time to bring in more bright young people with a passion for learning, with a drive to do the real hard work that teaching requires. In my eyes all of the problems running rampant in our educational system signal a need for new blood, for new ideas, for a resurgence of the importance of what I do in room 265 every day.
On one hand, I identify with way too much of what these other teachers claim. But as someone who has taught for 13 years, I don't at all have the same feelings that Randy Turner has after working as a teacher for 14. Is it a bad time for education? Yes. Are there bad decisions being made? Yes. Is testing culture sucking the life-blood out of what a true education should be? Yes. But I say that is all the more reason that we need young people to make the hard choice to be teachers. How else will we ever guarantee that this all changes? That my children and your children won't go to school in this breaking system. We need young teachers more than ever perhaps because of all that he points out, not despite it.
In my department this year I have six teachers with fewer than five years experience. Some are brand new and others are a few years in. Each one of them has been met head on with the struggles of balancing learning and testing, figuring out how to manage students in a culture that is sometimes not supportive. They have seen first-hand the truth of what Randy Turner lays out in his argument. But they are creative and intelligent and hard-working. They challenge students to think, to create, to see the value in what they are learning. The new teachers around me are certainly not the types to fall victim to a world of pressures to conform to a new norm that none of them are comfortable with. They, instead, are the future leaders of a profession that cannot die. A profession that can only be saved by intelligent, stubborn, creative people who, at heart, are teachers. The new teachers around me? They are aware of their own power.
So my message to young people deciding whether to teach is this: Come help us take back our profession. Don't give in to the rhetoric warning you against stepping into a classroom. Because changing all of this? It starts with us. It starts with our voices and our ideas and our power. It starts with good teaching in our classrooms, with strong relationships with our students, with our stubborn cry to make this system better. It starts with teachers.