Sunday, April 4, 2010

Is there a wrong reason to teach?

flickr CC image via denise carbonell

I have heard the phrase "teaching for the wrong reasons" enough times now that it's become annoying to me. It has become common for teachers who intend to criticize their peers to use this statement. Please tell me, what are the wrong reasons to be an educator?

During a recent Twitter dialog I was involved in, I heard someone used this phrase once again, and I challenged her to define what she meant by that. She cited a flexible schedule, low intrusion by management, time off when kids are off and teacher independence as "wrong reasons"... seriously. I had a tough time imagining any of these things as wrong. These are perks to be sure, but who in their right mind would become a teacher for any one or all of these reasons alone? Liking and appreciating these perks doesn't make  teachers bad people, it just proves they are human. I also found it contradictory that I often hear teachers talk about too much control over what we do, and this person was listing low intrusion by management and independence as wrong reasons to teach.

Now, of course there are those who may read this and counter with an assertion that there are individuals who don't have kids' best interests as a priority, and that some of them may become teachers. What exactly would be the draw though, if in fact these people didn't really care for the kids in their care? It's certainly not the money, and although teachers are generally well-provided for in the health care and pension departments, we aren't that far ahead of any other vocation that someone would hate kids and still become a teacher just to get these benefits. Notwithstanding the cohort of sociopaths that seem to find their way into every profession and vocation, I find it very difficult to believe that a teacher would knowingly hurt kids.

We speak out of both sides of our mouths when we say that marginalized students need extra support and remediation, but also that marginalized teachers should be fired. "Bad" teaching often results from bad teacher preparation, and I could go on forever about that, (another post for another time.) Undergraduate teacher training is still locked in Second Way (see page 8 of the Google preview at this link) philosophy. The teacher preparation process needs new thinkers, new ideas and strong candidates in order to improve this situation. A paradigm shift to Fourth Way thinking is required... good teaching will require support, coaching and care from those established teacher leaders that feel passion for what they do, and are connected directly to the teaching and learning process in schools; not tenuously at a distance as some tenured education professors seem to be. The teacher preparation process needs tacit leaders who can connect pre-service teachers to the grassroots reasons teachers do what they do, and provide some teflon from the negativity that some among us appear to want to perpetuate without explanation.

I invite you to consider something about the negative teacher in a similar fashion to the way you may consider the negative student. In their book The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone-Zander and Ben Zander discuss the strategy of giving people an 'A.' Giving people an 'A' is all about seeing the vulnerable person behind the perceived problem, and looking for the latent positive elements that person brings to the table. I really like this concept. They also speak about the virtue of seeing negative people as those who are truly passionate by nature, but have just been disappointed or unsupported too many times. Taking these perspectives allows us an opportunity to re-frame problem teachers as simply vulnerable, faltering colleagues that desperately need our support as opposed to our judgement.

I also invite anyone who actually believes there is a "wrong" reason to get into teaching, to let me know what that reason would be.
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