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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Profession Opinion

Ignore the Negativity. Be a Teacher

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 27, 2022 12 min read
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(This is the final post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Would you recommend to a young person that they pursue a teaching career? Why or why not?

In Part One, Jenny Vo, Jonelle St. Aubyn, Ruth Okoye, and Jeremy Hyler shared their responses.

Today, Stephen Katzel, Richard A. Decker, PJ Caposey, and Carol Pelletier Radford wrap up the series.

‘Listen to Your Inner Voice’

Stephen Katzel is the author of “Win Your First Year of Teaching Middle School: Strategies and Tools for Success.” He is an educator with a passion for middle school education and helping new teachers:

Yes! Just like any profession, teaching comes with a unique set of challenges. However, the spotlight on teaching has been shining brighter than usual due to the ever-changing landscape of educator expectations and society’s perception on education. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted numerous inequalities in our nation’s education system and has amplified the voices of those who contribute to the sentiment that teachers are “never doing enough.” The loudest voices criticizing educators, however, have forgotten the teacher who taught them how to write in 1st grade, or algebra in 6th, or a high school teacher who inspired them to pursue their dreams. Throughout the pandemic, these negative voices have been amplified, but we must take the criticism with a grain of salt.

Regardless of the negative focus coming from the media, politicians, and outspoken critics of education, I encourage any young person interested in teaching to persevere though the negativity. Too many believe that education is a linear profession in which teachers go to work, plan a few lessons, grade some papers, and then call it a day, with a free summer to enjoy. Teaching is not linear and requires creativity, compassion, collaboration, teamwork, new ideas, and problem solving; and that’s just in the morning! Each day brings an entirely new set of challenges. In college, you will prepare to meet the challenges of education head on, with a fresh set of eyes.

Young people bring new ideas into education and help grow the profession to meet the ever-changing needs of society. Otherwise, education would remain stagnant and stuck in the past. While knowing the latest buzzwords and education lingo is important, new teachers bring an energy that adds to a school’s culture. Teaching is one of the few careers in which an individual can make an immediate and lasting impact on a student, community member, or the community.

Listen to your inner voice and take the plunge into the world of education. Students may not remember the lesson you taught or the concept you explained, but be assured, you will make a lasting impact on your students through your actions and words. Students will remember the larger lessons you teach them and how you made them feel. There will be bumps in the road throughout your journey and times that you feel unsupported, but you will not regret the decision to be a teacher.

Being an educator is a journey that will take you to whichever destination you choose. Do not listen closely to the amplified voices that highlight institutional problems yet offer no solutions. Nor the irrational voices on social media that think the worst of us yet expect the best for their students. Listen to the voices of colleagues, administrators, and most importantly, your students to guide you throughout the journey. I am not sure of the state of education in 20 years, but I am confident that the contributions of new teachers will improve the educational landscape, wherever we may be.

iencouragekatzel

‘My Mind Always Fell Back on Teaching’

Richard A. Decker teaches English at an alternative high school in southern Virginia:

Somewhere, at some point in time, someone shared some advice on what to do when deciding on a career. The advice was something like this: Imagine a few different careers you could be in. Whichever one your mind keeps falling back on, that is the one you should choose. I followed this advice during my undergrad years, and no matter what other types of careers or fields of study I considered, my mind always fell back on teaching. This advice helped me discover that teaching is not only what I want to do but also what I am meant to do. So, if you are thinking about teaching, I recommend you do the same—especially as you read this post.

Teaching: A Consistent Inconsistency

In short, my time as a teacher (specifically in alternative education) has been a consistent inconsistency, and yet, I still find joy in what I do. As teachers, we all have our content areas—mine is English. But once I walk into a classroom, everything I know and love about Dostoevsky, grammar, Modern American literature, and poetics goes in a little box in the corner of the room. My time as an educator has shown me that my job is not to teach what I have been trained to teach but instead to teach children.

To teach is, at many times, to work with students who possess a “stop and come” mentality that some counselors define as that which makes a person say, “Yes, you are welcome into my space—but not quite.” “Yes, Mr. Decker,” my students will sometimes say, “you are my teacher, but I don’t want you to teach me—but please teach me.” A barrage of absurdities will be thrown from student to teacher (my experience, as I’ve shared in other writings, has shown that a student may blurt out “go suck a toe” in the middle of class or ask if you are a virgin or if you are using the same book in multiple classes because you can’t think of anything else). This is the hand that says, “You are not welcome in my space.”

And yet there is the hand welcoming you in: a student asking for help on an assignment or to be recognized for passing a test or to talk about some common interest. Slowly, you pull out one (maybe two) things from that box in the corner. When it comes to working with students, this consistent inconsistency will be present in some way. The question is whether such a situation can still bring about joy within the teacher.

This consistent inconsistency cannot be planned or organized away. During my college days, I was surrounded by many who were aspiring to be teachers and I remember working on a group project with a peer who felt the need to rehearse almost every word of a co-teacher lesson we were assigned. The lesson went well, but I must say that since starting my career, I’ve never needed to rehearse a lesson like that again. My lesson plans tend to be revised on the spot—during instruction.

The most organized and rehearsed lessons will still fall flat if a student decides that he or she is simply not going to work that day. In these moments, a teacher must plan on the spot. And once this form of planning begins, a teacher must make decisions. When this happens to me, I usually make good decisions for myself and my students, but sometimes, I make wrong ones. Sometimes, I fail and have to make up for those failures. But failure is a part of teaching. Even the most organized, prepared teacher cannot avoid failure.

However, in spite of this risk of failure, is joy still present? Joy—not happiness or comfort—is the primary goal of an educator. Do you have joy when you picture yourself in my situation and in the situation of other teachers you have talked to? Is your mind still falling back on teaching? Your answer may be the answer.

teachingisnotdecker

‘The Best Job in the World’

PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the nationally recognized Meridian CUSD 223 school district in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

My middle son would be an amazing elementary school teacher, . . . and I tell him that every single day.

Are there problems with education? Absolutely.

Still, given every problem and challenge in education, I believe it is the best job in the world—and there isn’t even a close second. It is the only profession in the world where I believe you can change the trajectory of a child’s life every single day. If that does not get you out of bed inspired in the morning, then I am not sure what will.

I understand that it is easy to make the case against going into education. The laundry list is long :

· You will be overworked and underappreciated.

· You will never maximize your earning potential.

· You will be asked to do more and more each year.

· The auxiliary benefits (insurance, retirement) used to be attractive but are often competitive at best in today’s environment.

· You will be vilified in the media and a political punching bag.

Not only did I just list the talking points against going into education, I sincerely believe each of the arguments presented above to be true. I believe each of them with my whole heart, and still, that does not change my position. Not even a little bit.

See, great educators answer the bell because it is a calling—not a job. Great educators answer the bell because our kids deserve better. Great educators answer the bell because someone has to change the narrative.

I want our young people to go into education because I want each of those five bullet points listed above to be fundamentally untrue when they have the conversation with their children or their students in 20 years.

I know plenty of educators who advise their own children to go in a different direction. To me, there is nothing sadder than that. We need our absolute best and brightest within our profession and we must do the work from the inside to ensure we make it an attractive profession for the generations to follow.

I will close with a quote that I came across about a year ago that has truly impacted and shaped me. I share not just because of the power of the quote but because of the relevance to this topic. There is no greater gift than service to our young people and there is no greater joy, either.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

- Rabindranath Tagore

mymiddlesonpj

‘Follow Your Heart’

Carol Pelletier Radford is a former teacher and teacher educator. Visit her website for free resources. Carol’s most recent book, Teaching With Light: Ten Lessons for Finding, Wisdom, Balance and Inspiration (Corwin 2021), offers prospective teachers a glimpse into the realities of teaching:

I love teachers. I am a teacher. My husband was a teacher. My two sons are both teachers. I hang out with teachers and love to talk about teaching. So this message is a bit biased. Most people tell young people NOT to be teachers. They might say things like, “Teaching is for people who can’t do anything else, it doesn’t pay enough, you won’t get any respect, and you won’t have any free time.”

Teachers do work long hours, they have endless piles of papers to correct, conflicts with administrators, differences of opinions with parents, and yes, even students who don’t behave. All of this is true.

So why am I recommending a young person take a hard look at this profession? Because education needs young people to become teachers. Teachers who can influence the next generation of our society. Teachers who will make a difference in the lives of the students in their care.

Three things a young person should consider.

  • You will never be bored. Every day in a classroom is different. It is fast-paced and most of the time, the day goes by so quickly you can’t fit everything in. So if you like to be engaged, to move around the room, to talk and interact with students, colleagues, parents, and administrators, this could be the profession for you.
  • You will be a member of a community. Collaboration, interaction, and teamwork are expected from a teacher. Grade-level meetings, district teams, and committees are part of the job. The common goal of a school district is to support students and families to be successful. If you like to create, serve others, and problem solve, this could be the profession for you.
  • You will have leadership options. In addition to your teaching, there are opportunities to coach sports teams, lead drama groups, and participate in school clubs. Some teachers aspire to be school principals or district administrators. If you see yourself excited by options to lead from the classroom or beyond the classroom, this could be the profession for you.

Ultimately, I would ask a young person three questions:

  • What are you good at?
  • What gives you joy?
  • Why would you want to teach?

I would listen to the responses and then say, I encourage you to Follow your heart.

educationneedscarol

Thanks to Stephen, Richard, PJ, and Carol for contributing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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