I have been an educator for over 10 years. I never say Iâ€™m a teacher, but thatâ€™s essentially what I am. I donâ€™t say Iâ€™m a teacher because I am not â€œcertifiedâ€ by any state or agency to be such a person. Over the years, I have managed classrooms, designed curriculum, assessed skills, calmed kids, guided learners, and taught. But, in the state of Connecticut, that does not make me a teacher. Too bad, because Iâ€™m pretty good at it.
I am not minimizing the length and breadth of work that teachers do to get certified. Although I did not complete a Bachelors degree, I have taken numerous Continuing Education courses and from the year 2000 to 2002, I traveled to Springfield, Mass. to take classes and earn a Masterâ€™s degree in Education. At the time I was the computer lab instructor in an elementary school and I planned, taught and imparted knowledge. Bully for me.
I am not being cynical about education. I respect it and I fully support those in the field. To say itâ€™s a thankless job is to sound clichÃ©d and risk those detractors who announce, â€œbut they get the whole summer off!â€ Yes, these are the people who show up at voting time when school budgets â€“ and teacher salary raises – are at stake. And I am not so blind as to not acknowledge that education includes good teachers and bad teachers. In what profession donâ€™t you find both? But teachers are typically selfless people who spend more time a week than parents teaching hundreds of children how to add, think and blow their noses. They deserve the summer â€“ at least!
Itâ€™s the system that has flaws. Not the individual profession of teaching. This occurred to me one day recently while I was in a book discussion with several other learned adults. I just happened upon this discussion and having just happened upon it, I hadnâ€™t actually read the book being discussed. The book was the autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the chapter for the evening told about the time he went to India. There was a conversation about the caste system and the untouchables and one of the questions that came up was, â€œif the caste system wasnâ€™t based on skin color, how did one identify one of a different caste?â€ I totally knew the answer because it shot out of a long ago, deeply stored cell in my brain labeled: India â€“ Caste and Country. I said â€“ â€œitâ€™s the dot. On the foreheadâ€. I knew it as certainly as I knew my own name. The woman leading the discussion said â€“ politely, since I was new and she didnâ€™t want to offend me on the first night â€“ â€œI think that is the bindi â€“ and it denotes the status of a woman â€“ married or unmarried or widowedâ€. I quietly smacked myself in the head for blurting and conceded that I could be wrong. After all, I think it was probably â€“ like â€“ 4th grade when I stored that knowledge. It might have been inaccurate. Naturally, the first thing I did when I got home was look it up on the internet and sure enough â€“ I was wrong. But when I volunteered the information during the conversation, I knew I was retrieving information that I had learned. And therein lies the problem: sometimes, people donâ€™t know stuff theyâ€™re teaching.
As Iâ€™ve been in education, Iâ€™ve had several occasions to witness this very incidence. Some are more horrifying than others, but one was with a teacher with whom Iâ€™d worked quite a bit. Not only had I worked with her, but she had educated one of my own children. I adored her. To this day, I would still say she was one of the best teachers I have ever known. But during a lesson on the â€œBattle Hymn of the Republicâ€ a question about what ramparts were came up. â€œOh, rampartsâ€¦, she said, â€œthose are the rocketsâ€. What? I didnâ€™t say anything at the time, I felt it would be disrespectful. And I didnâ€™t say anything afterward either, because it didnâ€™t seem appropriate. But some day, one of those kids is going to be in a book discussion and the topic will turn to ramparts. And the kid â€“ now a grown up with a job, family and mortgage will volunteer â€“ â€œoh, ramparts â€“ those are the rocketsâ€.
Without actually experiencing it yet, I am pretty sure I have loads of misinformation still lodged in my brain just waiting for the perfect moment to come out. Knowing me, it will be a really high profile moment, with lots of people of authority â€“ potentially a future employer or loan officer â€“ in attendance ready to evaluate me on my breadth of knowledge. Or lack thereof. As smart as I am, I am confident that I have years of intellectual blunders ahead of me. But can I blame my former teachers? I donâ€™t think so. One of my favorite quotes is by Samuel Johnson and it is this: Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find information upon itâ€. I have a responsibility to find information that I need, myself.
I do blame our current system of education, however. In nearly 175 years since Horace Mann first created our current model of public education, we have yet to refine the system to address the changing needs of our children, our teachers and our society. We put a huge responsibility on our teachers to intuit the needs and strengths of our children in little more than a cattle call type of environment. And we teach our teachers the same way. Learning is lifelong, individual and dependent on environment, upbringing and current events. How can we crowd a bunch of kids into a cinder block classroom â€“ no matter how many colorful posters are on the walls or how many outdated textbooks are on the shelves and expect everyone to get a fair and reasonable education? It is an uneducated presumption.