Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Why Should I Be a Teacher?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Why Should I Be a Teacher?

Article excerpt

The teaching profession remains under siege (see Pinar, 2004), and more and more teachers are leaving the profession after only a few years in the school setting. Those who remain in the profession work harder but too often, with less reward. The satisfactions of this impossibly complex and difficult profession are less and less obvious in this era of accountability and high stakes testing. Traditional satisfactions of teaching often espoused in the literature are harder to realize and even harder to believe in. In a graduate class I recently taught, an interesting occurrence took place. The class citizenry consisted of folk already engaged in, or committed to, the teaching profession, and we gathered in the late afternoon and early evening every week to study. And many study sessions began with vigorous complaint--about their lives in school; about students and parents, and administrators and colleagues; about the system and the government and the standardized tests, and about poverty and disadvantaged homes and feelings of powerlessness. And suddenly LaMont, a handsome tall young man with a honied voice, looked about the group and said, "You know, sometimes I sit here, and I listen to you folks, and I don't know if I want to teach at all." I was startled: it struck me that if life was as horrible as these teachers described, then who, indeed, would choose to be a teacher. I recalled a story: "Sometimes," the Rabbi said, "I am so disgusted with the world that I would like to vomit it up. But then I think, is the world mine to throw up?" Well, I thought, that is one answer.

Perhaps, I considered, in this classroom it was necessary to first vomit up all of the bile and the daily difficulties and indignities of our lives before we could begin to produce new ideas. Perhaps the vituperative talk was a cleansing-like the mikvah, the ritual baths of Jewish custom. One assumes a certain impurity before entering the mikvah, and after immersion there, one feels cleansed. But how sullied the water must get after every bather! The Rabbis mandate that the mikvah consist of swirling waters to ensure the hope of renewal. It is, I suspect, my responsibility to ensure that the waters swirl! And this I think, is one of the satisfactions of teaching.

Then, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the conversation altered tone, and the talk turned to repair--given the conditions in the world, what could we teachers do to heal? Perhaps LaMont's comment confronted them with their spoken misery, and the others were humbled. Perhaps they remembered what it was that they meant to do every day in their classrooms. Because it was to this purpose that each of them individually addressed themselves for the remainder of our evening. Finally, it is tikkun olam that these teachers believed to be their purpose. It is a familiar theme in Judaism--tikkun olam, the healing of the world, even a complex notion that different ideologies of Judaism interpret in a variety of ways. But what each interpretation shares is that the work of this world is its repair. In our classroom that late afternoon, the voices turned soft and reflective, and each talked of the work they had accomplished that day. It was never of standards, or performance, or curriculum duties that each spoke; rather, it was to the human touch that had been made. We talked, I believe, of healing. The satisfactions of teaching came with great cost and effort and care. To be a teacher, I think, is to be brave. Each day teachers make decisions small and large, remain attentive despite the myriad distractions and mind-numbing environments in which they work, and assert their wills, which is to say, in the constant effort of their behaviors to require thinking from students and to provide relevant material about which to think. Theirs is a formidable task. William James sought for our lives the moral equivalent of war, and argued that the martial type of character, as already evidenced in the education of doctors and priests, and characterized, at least, by "strenuous honor and disinterestedness," must continue to be bred in all if our society is to constructively advance. …

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