I am currently at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa getting ready to watch my son perform at their fantastic summer music camp. My son loves music and if you were to ask him today what he plans to do with his life, I believe he would tell you that he hopes to teach music. As a veteran music educator married to a fantastic music educator I am flattered that he is considering joining the family business. Yet, as flattered as I am, I struggle with “recommending” the career to him. This profession (teaching in general) is not getting easier. In the last few weeks I have watched a court case in California that denies teachers due process in California be lauded by our Secretary of Education. I have also seen my local paper, the Des Moines Register, write not one, but two editorials taking Des Moines teachers to task for negotiating for a decent early retirement package. There are numerous “ed reformers” who believe that the answer to improving our schools is as simple as “running out the bad teachers.” There is a lot of teacher bashing that goes on and the politicians who insert themselves into education policy (including, as much as it pains me to say it, our current President) are not making things any better.
With so many people critical of teachers and the work we do, why teach? We expose ourselves to the constant refrain that we be “held accountable”. We hear all of the “reformers” who believe that we have it too easy. We face the barrage of new initiatives that are going to “change education” and we exposed to a flood of professional development that ranges from challenging and exciting to useless and mind-numbing.
So, why teach? The “easy” answer to that question is that we do it for the kids. It’s a pretty good answer. I want the kids who come through my classroom to feel safe, make music, be part of something great, learn teamwork, and to be inspired. That’s a pretty good list. To be honest, I also want to be “that guy,” for a few kids. I want to be the teacher they mention when they win an Oscar or a Grammy; actually I just want to be a guy that they remember as someone who cared about them. I was slow to Facebook, but the interactions I am able to have with former students who talk about a special experience that I facilitated or that recall a lesson that I might have taught them is worth the world to me. Those are all great reasons to teach, but at the end of the day I actually teach because there is nothing more important in our communities than our schools and I want to impact change from the inside. I want to be someone who is building the change from within and not just throwing stones from the outside. I would recommend teaching to smart young people because teachers will change the world for our students. Schools are where culture is learned, culture is fostered, and culture is created. We can do more to change the world in a classroom in a year than most people can in a lifetime. It is empowering and no amount of shouting from those on the sidelines will stop us.
My son is a smart and talented young man. There are a generation of young people who deserve to be impacted by the things he has to offer, so I am looking forward to seeing him become a teacher. He’ll need a thick skin and a set of skills that aren’t even invented yet, but I am looking forward to it. People like Al Wiser, Homer Gartz, Ron Krull, Bob Meunier, and Jim Cox have been my role models. I might have helped a few kids during my career to stretch themselves and grow. How could I not encourage my son to have the opportunity to be “that guy” for the next generation.