Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why we teach ... by Bruce C. Ditata

When the great National Football League legend Vincent Lombardi referred to his sport as "a game of cliches and I believe in every one of them," he could also have been talking about the teaching profession.

With another school year about to begin, it is time for a moment of reflection. Knowing that an eager group of school kids will soon be in our care, teachers need to check the mirror and take inventory of why we teach.

It will take more than an arsenal of cliches to bring to a successful conclusion this September-to-June marathon that is queueing up right after Labor Day. With the current politically motivated assault against educators, teachers are being scapegoated in many quarters throughout the land. We are being blamed for the "achievement gap," our collective bargaining rights are under siege and the national obsession with high-stakes testing has taken its toll on our profession.

There is, also, a long list of not so encouraging "givens" to contend with. Among them are needy, troubled, under-served students in our classes; the occasional petty jealousies and private agendas among colleagues; and lack of support from administration. These will not suddenly dissipate in time for Halloween, but will continue throughout the year.

Yet we must not lose focus. We must prevail in our primary responsibility: the students.
So how do we persist? What sustains us each of the 180 days, as we arise at 4:45 a.m. to joust with institutional roadblocks, the attacks on our profession and inadequate resources? How do we put all the negatives aside and persevere with teaching children? From where does motivation derive — day after day? What ignites the fire in our bellies?

The answer is neatly wrapped in our own psyches, emerging each day as we check that mirror to recognize who is the role model, instructor, confidente, taskmaster, story-teller, disciplinarian. All of the facets are us. Here's where all the classic cliches reside. And all of them are true.

We know we make a difference every day. Each child requires a different combination of all our skills, sometimes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Like a resourceful running back on the field, we have to zig and zag, reverse our field, change the pattern, improvise. We are committed, resilient, undaunted. We are good teachers.

Curriculum guides do not provide the answer as to why we teach. Kids are kids. Jumbled emotions and interfering behaviors can upset the pace of our instruction. Lesson plans sometimes exist only on paper. Our classrooms are melting pots of humanity and we must adapt to each unexpected crisis.

The way we adapt to classroom situations and challenges are the ways we teach. It might be the joy and excitement of creating something new that might bring each skill to the learning style of each kid: a grid, a manipulative, a slogan. It might be skills of the diagnostician, able to pinpoint a child's learning needs and implementing a program to get the student on track. It could be mastering technology and linking Smart Boards to any learning goal. Teachers represent an all-inclusive village of experience, talents, styles and expertise.

Whether we infuse our lesson with technology or manipulatives or publish a newsletter covering the work of the week, each of us tries to blend our talents to fit the individual student's needs. This is what creates true innovation, and it is the mandate and the gift of our profession — to mold the futures of our students.
Yes, we take pride in our pedagogy and we evolve as purveyors of the curriculum standards. But our biggest contribution is our ability to be humanists, to care about the whole child. Twenty years later, that is what our former students will remember about us. In our own way, we make a difference — one student at a time. Remember this every morning when you see yourself in the glass.

Have a successful year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous article! There is so much richness in what you wrote, I
hope you keep writing and elaborating key ideas : 'politically motivated assault against educators [tho not higher educators,only lower, right?] scapegoating, high-stakes testing. Wonderful. Elleda Katan, retired teacher.