If I had my way, this article would be put on every work desk and fridge, in every briefcase and on the passenger seat of every car, of every parent that sends a child to school–especially secondary school.
In 1,500 words Freda Lewkowicz describes only three of the problems facing teachers: the new unwritten ethic of teaching, parents, and students. And if 1,500 sounds like too many for those measly three terms, the sad reality is that she only scratches the surface.
What jumps out immediately to me is how long she has been teaching for. a courageous 39 years. She has seen first-hand the paradoxical progression and declination of the state of teaching. Compare that to someone just entering the profession, who sees these facets as the only reality they’ve ever known.
It goes without saying that when we’re five years old, every single year seems like an entire lifetime. We’re awestruck and fascinated and curious by and about everything. Every sentence of our lives has an exclamation to it! Or maybe a question mark? And our elders encourage us to be that way! As we get older, our years get shorter. We catch ourselves saying “where does the time go?” Teaching works the same way.
Now imagine if the childhood of our teaching careers was replaced by multiple lifetime-years of doubt, fear, agony, stress. and expectations we could never meet. And all of this behaviour was either reinforced by our elders, or flat-out ignored.
At least Mrs. Lewkowicz has the hindsight to understand and be comforted by the thought that what teaching is today is not what it was. There is, was, another way. Compassion did exist. Trust in teachers did exist.
Teachers entering the profession today ONLY know mistrust. Abuse. Fear of doing something wrong. Lack of support. Lack of resources. Unfair expectations. The list goes on. When you put that list in front of you, take a step back and really look at them, the question “Is this what teaching really is?” is immediate. No wonder why so many are leaving. But why aren’t newer teachers speaking out?
As hard-hitting as this article is, it could have never been written by someone just entering the teaching profession. Yes, this is what our lives are, yes, we experience these stressors every day, but one thing not explicitly mentioned in Mrs. Lewkowicz’s article is that us new teachers? We’re replaceable. Despite 50% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, jobs for many are scarce. Don’t teach math or science? Get in line. Just because you’re at a school one year doesn’t guarantee you’ll be back the next, regardless of whether or not you’re in the public or private system. New teachers are “declared excess” — a phrase that bespeaks our uselessness as though it were touted over the intercom. Or maybe we’re not on the VIP list known as “priority.” In other words, despite our burning desire to be part of a collective of people who want to change the future, we are simply not important enough.Never mind the amount of time we actually have to spend planning, preparing, and developing our own teaching personalities and all the existential strife that comes with it.
Good teachers are teachers first, and people second. We are teachers who are individuals, not individuals who are teachers.The identity of a teacher is molded to their DNA. Our jobs are inseparable from who we are. Why would we open our mouths and risk the axe? We’re apparently already failing society, why speak up and run the risk of failing ourselves?