Let Teachers Teach

You wouldn’t want your surgeon’s hands shaking because someone who had never gone to medical school was suddenly redirecting the way she should perform your appendectomy.  You wouldn’t want your pilot repeatedly second guessing himself during turbulence because someone on the ground had a better idea about handling the controls.

Surgery and aviation are precision professions, though, and most laymen are smart enough to know that in addition to training and experience, a healthy degree of self-confidence is required to make an incision or land an aircraft.

So why then are laymen empowered to make teachers’ hands shake and constantly second guess themselves?

In trailers for the film Won’t Back Down, Maggie Gyllenhaal says, “Wanna take over the school?”  Really?  Is it that simple?  Can anybody do this job?  Would she be having this conversation about the operating room or the cockpit? Probably not, but lately, it seems that anyone who can read and loves her kids can do a better job teaching than the people with the training and experience, who, by the way, also happen to love kids.

The longer I teach, the better I get at it.  I studied literature as an undergrad and education in grad school. As a student, I distinguished myself academically in both of these arenas. But it has required years of classroom experience to mold me into the competent and confident teacher I have become.  Years of good–and yes, some not so good–lessons contribute to the daily evolution of my professional persona.    However, like so many of my colleagues across the country,  I am now suddenly plagued by anxiety and self-doubt, neither of which are productive.

It seems no one trusts teachers to do their jobs. Everyone’s an instant critic.  Suddenly, it seems everyone believes wholeheartedly he can teach and teach better than those who have been at it for a while.

So, what do you say, wanna take over the school?

It’s not that I think I have reached an instructional pinnacle. The harsh reality of teaching is that everyday provides indisputable evidence that tomorrow could be, should be a better day. The teachers I know reflect, adjust, research, learn…every single day.

Perfection becomes an elusive possibility, though, when public distrust morphs into an occupation, and the day-to-day elements of instruction are continuously under such siege that teachers devote more time to defensive strategies than to designing engaging lessons to promote intellectual curiosity. Perfection becomes less–not more–likely when so many cooks are stirring the broth simmering with conflicting ingredients, seasoned with distrust and contempt.

Like surgeons and pilots, to do our jobs well, teachers must be confident.  And like patients and passengers, pupils must have faith in the people in charge.

So, I teach; what’s your superpower?