Monday, August 10, 2015

Back to School Advice: Teaching is Brave

by Monica Mayall, a BAT member



Since it is Back to School I am sending this out to all the fantastic teachers I have learned from as a student or colleague - whether you have left the profession or continue to hang in there.

I wrote the following to an admirable, exceptional educator who was recently fired upon nefarious allegations that were a thin veil for political posturing by those who support "Educational Reform and Standardized Testing" because my friend dared to question the basis for these reforms.

Dear B,

I've begun to think that if one teaches long enough, passionately enough, and has true regard for students and learning in one's heart that it is only a matter of time before unfortunately attracting the attention of a petty bureaucrat who wants to standardize all of teaching and learning into mediocrity. Teaching is brave, teaching flies in the face of conventional wisdom and asks the teacher to be accountable to the best our society can be and our ideals. It asks that we practice and demonstrate true democracy and leadership, which in a society of complacency is an act of rebellion.

In the mostly quiet, unobtrusive act of connecting with students' humanity the teacher becomes the role model the next generation needs, and inadvertently threatens all that is status quo and needing of improvement in the greater society.

I know, from personal experience, that it is almost impossible to not take the attacks of the "hive minded" personally, because what we do, when we do it well, is all about the person - the person this student is, and the person this student has the potential to become. But what happened to you is impersonal, and it is exactly that kind impersonalization of teachers, students, and the learning process that good educators are fighting against nationwide.

But this battle, that has unintentionally caught you in the cross-hairs, is not about you. It is about a teacher's impact on student lives, it is about inspiring imagination, and community, and individual growth, about creating future citizens and conscientious consumers rather than obedient workers for the "powers that be" who as adults will conform to the requirements of the current hierarchy.

To your students and colleagues you are everything, to the system being leveraged on to education you are but I miss-shaped cog that is an impediment to their idea of "progress." This is not an indictment of your character, as much as it might feel that way, but an indictment of the system losing its moral compass and finding itself lost but unwilling to admit it at the cost of losing face and credibility.

I stand with you wholeheartedly, support you in fighting the good fight while remembering that the winner in this battle will be the person who lives to fight another day.

From a place of admiration for all you have done in your career I ask you to remember this: In case of emergency, place the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others.

The national tide is beginning to turn against the fad of "education reform" and standardized testing, due in no small part to the unity of teachers, parent and students, but it will take years for the system to regain its equilibrium. In the meantime I hope that you will seek an environment that values and honors your gifts, that feeds your soul the way you have others' souls for so many years.

You and I both know the system of standardization is antithetical to true education and reduces learning to students being "schooled" out of all that makes each unique, creative, and exceptional.

Much love to you in this difficult time. It will pass and you are as wonderful as you have always been. It was an honor and privilege to work with you. You embody all that is an exceptional teacher. Do not give the "powers that be" your beauty, passion, and soul by giving in to bitterness - this is not the end of your story, merely the cliff hanger at the end of a chapter filled with love and meaningful living.

I know you still have much to give and that you will continue to make a huge positive difference wherever you choose to be and whatever you choose to do. The "powers that be" have never defined you or what you are capable of, and they are mistaken if they think they can begin now.

"Big M"

P.S. I wrote you such a long letter because I needed to share with you all the things I wish someone had said to me when I was in your shoes because of my work for a teachers' union. Take what you like and disregard the rest. Just know that working with you was definitely a high point in my 20+ years as a teacher

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