If anyone you know is a teacher, I am sure you’ve seen Randy Turner’s blog post “A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher” pop up somewhere in your social media. I must have seen it at least fifteen times – and each time I saw it I grew a little angrier.
It’s no secret that a young teacher is likely to leave the profession within five years, tired, overworked, underpaid, and thoroughly disenchanted with the education system. Still, we should not be discouraging young teachers from education – we should be actively recruiting them. The only way to change the system is from inside the system. How can a teacher implement change if they are not in the classroom, working with students, other teachers, administrators, and parents? And if not the young teachers, then who? Many educators are too tired to fight, nearing retirement, simply passing the time unnoticed.
Young, innovative educators who are new to the classroom quickly learn methods of reacting to the oppressive system of scripted curriculum, standardized tests, and micro-managed teaching. Some become subversive teachers – playing the game but shifting to fit what they know to be good instruction, making the system work for them. Believe it or not, Common Core can and should be used as a tool by these teachers. These standards state explicitly that they do not dictate how a teacher teaches. These standards also claim to teach critical thinking to students, a trait that we can all hopefully agree with. Moreover, the writers of the Common Core stress that the standards are the manual – not the prepackaged curriculum that claims to be Common Core.
Others become rabble-rousers. These teachers serve as the (often loud) mouth for the subversive teacher who often prefers to fly under the radar. Both of these teachers help change education through incremental change. The fact that change is so slow to occur should not be a deterrent – big change moves at a snail’s pace.
What we need is to not only encourage these teachers to enter the profession, but to provide them with the support they need to make change in the classroom. Veteran teachers, especially those of us lucky enough to have obtained tenure before it became a bad word, need to be willing to resist the policies that we know are not in the best interests of our students. We need to lead by example.
By discouraging young people to choose a different career path, we are dooming the dream of a free public education. And what would be the result? If there are jobs and no one to fill them, think of the kinds of teachers we will be passing the torch to – anyone willing to babysit for eight hours a day would earn the once-noble title of “teacher”. These teachers wouldn’t question policy, wouldn’t fight for what’s best. These workers would fulfill the prophecy of ineffectual teachers, standardized testing, and mindless students. They would eagerly gobble up the materials sold by textbook companies as being “Common Core driven” when in actuality, they are far more restrictive.
We need teachers who believe in education, who want to be teachers because it is their passion, their joy. No one goes into this profession for the money – our salaries are often a sad reminder that we are not valued as professionals. Our value must come from ourselves, from each other, from our students. The work we do is rewarding which is why many of us persevere and continue to fight.
I will clarify one thing – I do not encourage all young people to become teachers. If you are looking for an easy job, don’t become a teacher. If you are looking for a job to be a stepping stone, to be a good line on your resume, don’t become a teacher. If you want to “find yourself” for a few years, don’t become a teacher. But if you believe in public education, if you believe that there is still something worth fighting for, join us. We are waiting to fight with you.