17 June 2011

The basics of what I believe

editor's note. This is the email the BlazeBlog's author sent to his co-workers on his last day. I've taken out the stuff that didn't have anything to do with his beliefs.

Colleagues, former colleagues and (most importantly) friends,

Please allow me to take a moment from your busy end of semester thrash to express my sincere and enduring thanks for your kind words and gift  on Wednesday. Though I suspect Walt and Steve are most to blame for both the idea and the execution, the picture carries its true impact because of the words you all added to it. Your kind and sincere wishes moved me very nearly to the point of tears.

So again, thank you.

(If you don’t want to hear further thoughts, close and delete now)

I’m not leaving because the district is giving me the axe, or because my ideological differences with the overall district philosophy have become untenable. When it comes down to brass tacks, I don’t know that I would ever leave over a philosophical difference. In reality, no matter how big your differences are with what the district or building does, you make a difference inside your classroom. Never underestimate the impact you can have on students, and never forget how large that impact becomes when amplified by time.

Too often, we as teachers work and grind and focus only on the frustration of trying to reach the 10% of students who are hardest to reach. I would encourage you today to think about the 90% of students who came through your room that you impacted. Further, take a moment to think about the top 10%, the students on whom you had a significant enough impact that you changed their lives.

Most of them aren’t mature enough to say thank you. Many of them don’t yet realize that you’ve changed their lives. They might not realize for ten years. In fact, they may never say “thank you.”

This is the great failing of the data movement. It wants to quantify those things which cannot be quantified. It wants raw, cold, unseeing numbers to show the decision makers the impact that teachers are having. You and I know that numbers can never show how you helped a student make friends, gain self-confidence, or learn an abstract concept. A state or national test can never show the hours you spent encouraging a slow worker, making accommodations for tests, or grading an assignment a student worked harder on than they’ve ever worked before.

But you know, in your heart and mind, that you’ve changed kids’ lives for the better.

So, no matter how chaotic the district becomes, no matter what the newspaper says, no matter what absurd documentation requirement the federal government places on your plate; keep helping kids. I know the temptation is great (especially at this time of year) to think about walking away from the classroom. You think you can’t do it anymore. You look at a calendar and say, “The average for teachers is three years. I’ve beaten that. I’ve done my time. I’m getting out.” Please think twice. Is there a greater place to work than a high school? I don’t think so. Is there a more important job in a world of broken homes, staggering technological change, and constantly shifting social norms than that of the guide for confused young people? I don’t think so.

Be that guide. Use your knowledge and experience to help young people navigate their world. They need your help now more than ever.

I know that those of you who know me think that this (admittedly lengthy) diatribe is very unlike me. You think of the guy yelling in the teachers’ lounge, snapping his rubber band until it breaks. After all, I’m Mr. Reality, which often seems like Mr. Negative. However, think back. That anger is almost never about students. They’re dumb. I think you knew that when you signed up for the job. Being angry because students do dumb things is like being angry because the sun comes up.

Don’t let your anger and frustration with administration or laws, or class size, or parents, or or or drive you away from teaching. None of those things are kids’ fault. If you leave, you will be replaced by people who aren’t as good as you are.

Listen, I know this is easy for me to say, because I’m a short-timer now. But I think most of you know, in your heart, that teaching is the only thing you’re good at that matters in the world. Don’t let foolishness outside your classroom door force you out of the schoolhouse door.

I’ll close with a story from one of my college methods classmates. He started at Purdue as an Engineering major. In ENG 100 (Intro to Engineering) they brought in an Engineer from a different discipline every week. During the mechanical engineering week, they brought in a Mechanical Engineer who worked for Maytag. He described his life’s work as making the Calypso-Action washing machine. My classmate left that lecture, went to his advisor, and started the process to become an Education major. I asked him why he walked away from the lower stress and better pay in engineering. His answer?

“I don’t want my legacy to be a washing machine”.

Don’t let your legacy be a washing machine. Make your legacy the lives that you change every day.

Thanks again, it’s been more than a pleasure to teach with all of you for the last 60% of a decade. I wish you nothing but the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment