On Monday I paid a visit to teacher Leslie Aaronson's classroom at Foshay Tech Academy in South Los Angeles. Some of Aaronson's students will be contributing to GOOD, detailing what it's like to be a high school student learning all-important technology skills, so she asked me to come give them some writing tips. I used to be a teacher so I'm no novice at interacting with kids. Still my time with Aaronson's students was my most nerve-wracking 20 minutes of the week. Maybe if more people had to spend some time in front of a classroom, the slogan of UNESCO's World Teachers' Day 2012 wouldn't have to be "Take a stand for teachers!"
According to UNESCO, the aim of the day is to raise awareness of the need "for teachers to receive supportive environments, adequate quality training as well as 'safeguards' for teachers' rights and responsibilities." After all, teachers are tasked with helping "students think critically, process information from several sources, work cooperatively, tackle problems, and make informed choices." Unfortunately, as we saw during last month's Chicago teachers strike, too often educators are painted as the problem in our schools, not as crucial players in developing childrens' capacity and building the society of the future.
If you've never been in an educator's shoes it's easy to cling to the idea that educating children is a cushy, piece of cake gig: summers off, the myth of a tenured job for life. The truth is that teaching—and doing a damn good job at it—is tough. Those students at Foshay reminded me just how difficult it is.
As I explained to them that when they're writing they want to make sure they're showing, not telling, and answering who, what, when, where, how, and why—why should the reader care, and why care right now?—I was greeted with blank stares. Ugh, I was lecturing too much. Maybe I should have brought a poorly written paragraph and modeled for them how to make it a better piece of writing, I wondered.
Then I looked at the wall clock—the bell was about to ring. Crap. Did they have any questions, I asked, remembering the moment the words were out of my mouth that only a novice teacher checks for understanding by asking students if they have questions. Indeed, I was rewarded with silence.
Aaronson, on the other hand, is skilled at what she does. She managed the transition at the bell—dozens of students pouring in and out of the classroom—with ease. As her next class started, every eye was focused on her, ready to learn.
Aaronson and all the other educators out there shouldn't have to wait for someone else to stand up and demand that teachers get the respect they deserve, but let's do it anyway. Use the hashtags #ThankYouTeacher and #WTC2012 on Twitter to publicly recognize the educators who've made a difference in your life. You can also send a teacher an e-card, thanking her for her service. And, educate yourself about the Election Day ballot initiatives that will affect students and educators in your community.
Moreover, don't stand for the bullying of teachers that passes for education reform in too many circles. It's one thing to want schools to improve, it's another to willfully dismiss that teachers want their students to learn, too, and are eager to make a difference. As Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General said so well, "We expect a lot from teachers—they, in turn, are right to expect as much from us. This World Teachers' Day is an opportunity for all to take a stand."
Photo via World Teachers' Day