( The following is an article written by a former colleague that echoes many of the frustrations of teachers everywhere in these United States.)
In the process of my teaching, it never ceases to amaze me how often I become the student and my students become the teachers.
Yesterday, after being bombarded with all that Monday morning has to offer, a few of which were: scheduling changes, a last minute add-in a new student arriving at the bell, parent phone calls to discuss the need for help with a child struggling with homework, attempting to work peacefully with a disgruntled colleagues that I team with (all because I didn’t have the time to read or adapt their lesson plans into my daily schedule which hadn’t been made clear that it was something we needed to do) and preparing for “my part” of teaching a lesson; I took the students outside for our scheduled PE break.
Because we were running behind, we did not have time for a full block, so I simply told the students we would walk the field for a stretch and some minor exercise. It had been raining earlier in the morning (did I fail to mention Monday morning also included rainy day schedule?), and the field was damp, but the air was crisp and clean and we all felt the excitement of getting outside to feel connected to the wonders that rain bring to the desert. As we walked the field, I was deep in thought about the tasks at hand in our school year and walked with the students, talking and interacting with them as we marched around the field, the time passing quickly as we enjoyed the break from the routines of the classroom and too soon we were lining up to go in.
It was then that one student mentioned that her feet were soaked and that she was now uncomfortable. Having leather shoes on, I never even noticed that due to the height of the grass and dampness from the rain, any student having cloth shoes was bound to end up with wet feet. Feeling guilty for not realizing what was happening on our walk and blinded by a difference in my perspective, I asked how many other students also had wet feet and were now uncomfortable. About a third of my class raised their hands. Feeling bad, I apologized, but then I asked why no one mentioned it to me so we could have a chance to change our path or what we were doing. Most said they didn’t know why, some said they didn’t care, but two students brought forth a comment that made me reflect. One student said, “We were following you and figured you knew what you were doing, so we just thought it didn’t matter, so we didn’t say anything.” This comment truly made me feel bad, but what came next was even worse. “I trusted you as the teacher to know what to do, so thought I would get in trouble if I told you I didn’t want too.” This I stored in the back of my mind as a learning moment, I again apologized to the students, and we went inside to finish our day. It wasn’t until the next morning did the lesson I had been taught become clear.
It rained that night as I slept and I awoke with all the excitement to meet the energy that each new day promises. I routinely jog the park that I am blessed to live right next door to. I grabbed my coffee cup and eagerly strolled out to the field. Sitting my cup in its regular seat upon the sturdy concrete bench near the ramada, I set out upon the first of the three or four laps that make up my morning constitutional. The clean air, cactus smell of the open desert and refreshing green of it all made me feel alive and vibrant as I made my way around the first lap, but it wasn’t long before I realized that my feet were getting soaked! I was quickly feeling at odds between finishing my run which I truly revel in as part of my personal time and the discomfort of my wet feet. It quickly came to mind, this was exactly what had happened to my students the day before. I could see this as a message and metaphor for what I was currently experiencing in my career as a classroom teacher.
For some time I have felt at odds with the direction of education. I am questioning the administration at all levels: in my room, at my site, as well as what the district and my state are directing me to do. Though teachers are being told that what they are doing is best for the students, I feel it is only what is best for artificial goals, numbers and test scores. Intuitively, as a professional educator, I know this is not appropriate student-centered instruction, even though I am not able to prove it with any corresponding data and test scores.
I feel that this year I have been made to trudge a path I do not believe or agree in, I am being mislead and I have now got wet feet. I am truly uncomfortable in where I am, both as a teacher and a leader of education for young minds. What I am doing is following what my leaders tell me I have to do, without questioning why. Until this week I have mostly been the quiet soldier and trudged on, trusting my leaders to know enough or care enough to find the best path, but now I know that, for myself at least, it is the wrong one.
I have made the choice to speak up and let it be heard that I believe there has to be a better way to walk through the mud we currently find ourselves in in education as students, teachers, and administrators. I fear my choice to speak and to act could be a costly one, for I have chosen to fight a national system of administration that apparently only wants teachers to be seen and not heard.
I am tired of walking with wet feet, and must speak up. As I struggle with and reflect upon this analogy I ask, “Will I continue to walk in uncomfortable shoes so I can enjoy the comfortable environment I have grown so used to despite its perceived faults? Or will I strike off from this easy path, change my shoes and find new dry ground and a path that better aligns with where and how I want to proceed? More importantly will I walk alone? We shall see.