The Teaching Gene ~ Ye Gay Ol’ Valley

By: Dani Langevin – Feb. 2016

Apparently my December column created quite a stir. I discovered that my administration received some unsolicited phone calls. Why wouldn’t those people contact me? Clearly I am the author of my columns, not my administration. My email is attached to every column I write. Feel free to contact me, if you do or do not like what I have to say. I find it completely ridiculous and juvenile for people to bypass the source. What outcome were they hoping to attain? I digress.

Surprisingly, on my end, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that one or more of my colleagues have pulled me aside and, in whispered voices, thanked me for being the brave voice for how they feel about the state of our educational system. Colleagues across the district shook my hand, slapped my back, hugged me, and expressed relief that the real face of education was finally revealed. Former students and parents have reached out and praised me for the influence I’ve had on their children or themselves and hope that things improve for both teachers and students.

I didn’t receive any negative comments in person, private messages, emails, and on Facebook except for one person who said, “They (teachers) knew what they were signing up for. Suck it up.” This is an incredibly ignorant statement. Veteran teachers once enjoyed the luxury of reimbursed mandatory professional development classes, having pens, pencils, tissues and other necessary items for the classrooms provided along with some level of autonomy, creativity, and fun in creating and conducting meaningful lessons for our students. Now? We are told we have to take a class, but it is on our dime. We have to be fingerprinted at our expense. Sorry, we have no money for supplies; feel free to get your own. You have to teach this, within this time frame, with little to no training, move on to the next lesson even if some children don’t “get it” and make sure they all improve their test scores. It is nothing like it used to be.

And new educators? Well, there’s no way they can even begin to fathom what being a teacher encompasses until they step into a classroom. As a result is that up to 50% of new teachers drop out of the vocation within the first 5 years and many veteran teachers are saying, “I’m not sure I can do this until retirement.” Teacher turnaround costs the education system billions of dollars every year. Lack of support over discipline from administration, feeling expendable, and the near non-existent autonomy in teaching practices are the number one complaints of educators and reasons they are leaving.

Let me make it perfectly clear: I LOVE teaching, as do most of the professionals who have chosen to become educators. We are teachers because it is in our DNA. We have the teaching gene. And just like any relationship in a person’s life, teachers choose subjects and ages that they can relate to and are passionate about. When a teacher is removed from the age and subject that they are meant to instruct, it is like being removed from your own home and family only to be replaced by another. It feels foreign, awkward, and uncomfortable. Still teachers are being put into age groups and subject matter that makes them feel exactly that.

The threat of government take-overs have caused administration into thinking that it is okay to do this in order to raise test scores. Standardized testing has taken the excitement and spontaneity out of instruction. There seems to be a blatant disregard for creative and critical thinking, and individualism in order to pass a test that will not, in anyway, translate well for college bound students or those who will go directly into the work force.

Administrators lay just as much victim as the faculty to the incredibly asinine, and poorly thought out federally mandated changes in education. Administrators are too frightened to fight the system and are attempting to do the best they can to create an optimum environment for teaching and learning with the tools forced upon them that don’t get the job done. They believe that their backs are to the wall. If their backs are to the wall, then they are standing on the backs of their faculty whose bellies are to the floor and there seems to be no way out for any of us because everyone is afraid to speak up.

Change will not come from local school systems alone. The community must get involved. Those in the private sector have become too complacent. They think that the federal and state governments have their children’s best interests in mind. Do they really? If you think so, stay silent. If you don’t, speak up! The community needs to reach out at the local and federal governments that are systematically dismantling teachers’ abilities to affectively educate our children. Instead of crying foul on someone who is simply trying to shed light on a system that has lost sight of our country’s most precious commodity-our children, use your anger and be called to action. Have any of you done anything to make a change or help make things better for our children and the people to whom you entrust their care and education, but are so quick to blame when things seem to go wrong.

Parents and local businesses need to get involved in education and it can be small with big results. Parents can volunteer at their child’s school. Do you have any idea how invaluable it is for a parent to come in once a week to make copies now that consumable workbooks are no longer provided? It frees up teacher’s precious time so that they can concentrate on lessons and the needs of each of their students. Local businesses could donate supplies: pens, pencils, tissues, hand sanitizer, erasers, dry erase markers, notebooks, lunch boxes, post-it notes, and so much more to open up monies in school budgets for much needed supplies not just for classrooms and teachers, but for students who can’t afford these items for themselves. Instead of pointing fingers at those of us who are doing the best we can with as little as possible, lend a hand to help as much as possible. Be the change that is needed to improve education for everyone who is involved.

I love teaching. I adore my students. I value my colleagues, but education is becoming something none of us recognize. Those of us in the profession are working ourselves to the bone and many into early retirement because the demands are overwhelming. I implore our private sector citizens to get involved. I ask our administrators to leave teachers in the age group and academic area in which they excel. Working together will undoubtedly be beneficial for everyone.