Sunday, June 3, 2012

Our Noble Profession

Recently, I attended two retirement parties for colleagues that have taught 30+ years in the Connecticut public schools.  As expected, both celebrations were well attended. Banquet rooms filled with family, friends, administrators, colleagues, former students....all sharing in the recollections and accomplishments of both educators.

As I reflect on the speeches and presentations at each separate party, one recurring theme plays out over and over again: Think of the impact you have made on countless children over your career.

And this is so true.

No one can dispute the impact a good teacher can have on his or her students.

It is the connection and positive relationship we build with our students that sparks the learning process.  For if there is no connection between the teacher and his or her students, there is no environment for growth, no desire for the students to learn.  Sometimes these bonds we build with our students transcend the classroom. Some are even inspired to the point where they follow in their favorite teacher's footsteps (the greatest compliment of all).

For 30+ years both of these educators played an important part in every students' day. They were there to pick them up when they needed it, to counsel and guide, to challenge and nurture.

I wonder why we wait so long to celebrate in the work that good teachers do every day?  Why does it come at the end of one's career with a certificate and granite apple?

Teacher bashing is on the upswing.  Take our governor's reform (if one can call it that) for example.  One piece (45%) of the new teacher evaluation process is data showing growth in student performance. What exactly does this mean? What is to be measured?  How will this be measured?  Standardized testing? And if so, how can one measure the intangibles that teachers bring to the classroom every day?  How can one measure the true impact we make in our students' lives?

It reminds me of a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society when Robin William's character, the English teacher Mr. Keating, asks a student to read the textbook definition of poetry.  As the student reads the scientific method of scoring poems, Mr. Keating draws a graph measuring a Shakespearean sonnet.  When the student finishes reading, the class stares at the graph on the board.  Keating breaks the silence with one word: Excrement. 

You can't measure poetry.

And you certainly can't measure the quality of a teacher based on a standardized test, at least in the way the governor suggests.

Teaching is an art, not a science.

And we just said goodbye to two gifted artists.