I often think that old hippies — those of us who were in it for the peace & love, not the sex, drugs, rock&roll — became teachers. Because that’s what the teachers I know believe in: peace & love.
Peace between kids, parents, teachers. Between the administration of a school and its district. Between those districts and their state government. Between all the ‘us’ and ‘thems’ of the world.
And love, most certainly. Love for our vulnerable babies, of whatever ages: from one to 100. They all seem like babies, when they count on you for affirmation and learning. Teachers may well be the original hippies…
Seriously, folks — I spent the past few days with teachers. Some of the nation’s finest (leaders at a National Writing Project site), all of whom GAVE UP a summer weekend, when they could have been swimming, or boating, or eating ice cream somewhere cool, w/ a summer book to hand. Instead? They were sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a sterile college classroom, reading and sharing research on how students learn to write argumentatively.
They did this for DAYS, folks. Because they love our kids. Yours, mine, ours. Their political beliefs are all over the place, as are their spiritual paths. But their love for our kids unites them in this singular project: a belief that if we all work together — teachers teaching teachers, the mantra of the National Writing Project —we can change classrooms. We can find ways to penetrate the despair so many teachers feel when confronted w/ too many students, too little time, no help at all, and impossible expectations.
I’m telling you: for these past few days, I’ve sat in a room of warriors. English teachers, elementary teachers, university professors, high school teachers, literacy coaches, special education teachers. Each battling against a culture that says teachers are responsible for what’s wrong with education. NOT systemic poverty, or broken families, or inadequate funding (Oklahoma, for instance, has cut funding for schools more than any state in the country — 22.8% since 2008).
Still, my friends and colleagues fight on. This war takes the shape of words on pages, books of research. Weekends spent figuring out new ways to ‘hook’ kids on reading, on literacy. Ways to reinvigorate exhausted colleagues who have 155 kids needing daily writing that must be read. Evaluated. Graded. Recorded. And then begun all over again.
You wonder, sometimes, why they do this (even they do, on bad days). Because they believe in peace & love, remember? And they know that education is the way for most of our kids to achieve that. They also know that while this mess education is in is NOT the fault of teachers, it’s teachers who are on the front lines, shielding our children (sometimes literally, as Sandy Hook should remind us). Feeding our children on their dreams, as the song says.
I’m a writer, and I find it difficult to convey how humbling it is to listen to teachers who have their own hectic lives, often second jobs (Oklahoma teachers are some of the poorest paid in the country), spend a weekend talking about their profession. About how they can accommodate the new demands of technology, federal & state mandates (which change with the prevailing political territory, often irrespective of research). About reading, writing, and literacy. About education reform. And about peace, and love. And teaching our children.