I'm fortunate enough to be a member of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE). Our mission statement, which you can find on our blog, reads,
We are citizens, teachers, administrators, and parents united by our support for public education and by concerns for its future. Recent federal and state reform measures have created an over-emphasis on testing and have turned over public education to private interests. We believe that these reforms threaten the well-being of our children and jeopardize their futures. Our goal is to inform ourselves and to start community discussion about the impact of these measures on our public schools and, more importantly, on our children. [emphasis added]Earlier this week NEIFPE had the opportunity to speak to three undergraduate education classes at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) about "educational reform."
Our presentation was often depressing as we talked about the loss of public education funds to charter and voucher schools, the misuse and overuse of testing, and the loss of teachers' collective bargaining rights. However, we tried as much as we could to be encouraging to the future teachers in our audience.
One question which kept coming up (because the professor kept bringing it up) was, "Why, with all this going on, would anyone want to go into teaching?"
We answered in a way you would expect a group of retired and former teachers to answer. "We never wanted to do anything else." "We loved our careers." "We loved our students." "We loved what we did." "There's nothing better than seeing the light in a child's eyes when they 'get it.'" "There aren't many jobs which provide the satisfaction that teaching does."
I loved teaching and working with children so much that upon retirement, I immediately began to volunteer in local elementary schools. Now, five years retirement, I still work a few hours a week with primary aged students on reading and literacy skills in a public school near my home. I like being with children and I find satisfaction in teaching and working with students who need extra help. I enjoy interacting with students and helping, where I can, to make learning easier for them, and, in a very small way, to mitigate the negative effects of "educational reform." I indicated this to the students at IPFW (though not in such detail).
A VISIT FROM A FORMER STUDENT
As often happens, an event occurred today which reinforced what our group said about being teachers. It also reminded me of one aspect of teaching which is often ignored by "reformers" – the relationship between teacher and child.
This morning one of my former third grade students (from c.mid-1980s) paid me a visit. It has been decades since I saw her...probably the last time was when she was in the elementary school I taught at when she was in third grade. She had discovered that I volunteer in the building where her child is a student and made it her business to come talk to me.
She was my student during a particularly difficult time in her life. I remembered it clearly when she mentioned it this morning and I mentioned a talk we had, teacher to child, during which I did my best to encourage her. She remembered, and was surprised, but seemed genuinely pleased that I remembered it as well.
The important part of our conversation today, was that she expressed gratitude, after all these years, for the patience and understanding which I had shown her when she was a child who was hurting. She has carried it with her throughout her life and has shared it with her family now that she is an adult.
She didn't thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn't thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn't thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.
There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – living, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects of the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.
No test can ever measure that.