“Schools ain’t what they used to be and they never was, “ quipped Will Rogers and I agree. Canings, lying history textbooks, desks in rows, daily reciting of the Lord’s prayer (the Christian Lord, that is), sanctioned-through-silence bullying, rampant racist homophobic sexist attitudes— from teachers as well as kids— boring, boring and yet again, boring classes. Shall I go on? It’s important to remember how terrible school could be.
But still. Back in the dark ages of education, there were always good teachers and there still are. But are they recognized? Are they seen? Are they valued? Are they allowed to continue to teach in a way that feeds their passion and makes children happy?
A colleague told me of her son entering the teaching profession who was told by administration that he was “too friendly with the students.” And then subsequently fired as a sub without explanation. Is this the beginning of the end? When teachers, young or old, are considered outdated if they don’t march to the beat of the new educational trend as determined by administration or bureaucrats or policy-makers far away from the children in the classroom? Are good teachers outdated?
What are the qualities of the outdated teacher? From the ditto machine to the i-Pad, the outdated teacher will learn whatever technology helps move learning a bit further, but will never make the mistake of imagining that a Smart board will actually make a Smart kid. The outdated teacher will wear her passion for her subject on her sleeve and infect her students with her enthusiasm. She will welcome questions more than answers, feed the students’ natural curiosity, begin sentences with “I wonder…” She will generate and tolerate and welcome the buzz in the room, celebrate the bit of messy chaos real investigation unleashes. Without apology.
The outdated teacher cares for his students and lets them know it. He names the moments the student did something noteworthy, privately while passing in the hall and publicly in front of the group. He will happily play four-square with the kids at recess or swing on the swings next to them or run out to see the colony of ants one has discovered. He will insist on precision and quality thought and neat work, but never at the expense of the inspired idea poorly spelled or the improvised musical passage that faltered for one beat on one note.
Outdated teachers will be grateful beyond measure for outdated administrators who work to preserve their freedom and protect them from the invasive corporations muscling their products and ways of thinking into schools, religious zealots and political pundits pushing their programs through the doors, educational theorists selling their discoveries made in closed-air rooms far away from children, parents armed with lawyers insisting that teachers solve the disasters of their failed parenting. Outdated administrators who visit their teachers' classrooms, can feel the excitement unleashed in the room and comment on it and value it, take time to ask the teachers, “That was marvelous! How do you do that?”
And then there are the outdated students who find the worlds revealed in beautiful writing and imaginative stories more interesting than the latest video game. Who have more fun playing in a puddle and poking around in the bushes than surfing the i-Pad. Who enjoy clowning around with their friends more interesting than sending texts to them five yards away. Who find pleasure in hard work and focused investigation, appreciate the structure of the classroom and are grateful for the efforts of the teacher. Who meet the teacher at the 50-yard line of their collaborative relationship and even sometimes walk further to take yet more responsibility for their own learning. Who keep their curiosity lit and their sense of wonder alive and their determination to discipline themselves toward mastery fired high.
If enough outdated teachers, students and administrators continue their anachronistic ways, then perhaps the outdated will become the new, cool thing and education can rescue itself from its own worst ideas. Just maybe.