Monday, September 8, 2014

O Captain, my Captain.

This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago... I felt like it was too much of a rant so I never planned on posting it.... then I listened to podcast this morning on my run that got the wheels in my head turning.... or raging.... again.

The title of this episode of This American Life was titled, "How I Got into College."  What I got out of this episode has absolutely nothing to do with the intended purpose of the episode... which of course makes me feel even more obligated to write about it.

So the basis of this episode:  there is a Bosnian refugee in a crappy high school.  A student teacher is super impressed with his brilliance and gets him an interview at a prestigious private school.  He gets a scholarship to attend this private school, goes to Harvard, and now teaches Economics at some university in Chicago.  He credits this student teacher for the success of his future life.

Even before I heard what happened to this student teacher I got thinking.  She cared enough about these students to look at them so individually that she recognized this kid needed to get out of this school.  She went through huge hassle to get this kid into a different school.  Then I thought about it.  Of course this teacher was a student teacher. In other words of course she was brand new to the profession of education...  But I'll get back to this story after my rant that I wrote a while ago..... here it is.

 I watched it on Sunday, Dead Poet Society.  I've seen clips at almost every teacher training meeting I've ever been to but had never sat down and watched the entire movie.  Shocking for a teacher right?

Honestly, I hate most teacher movies.  You know the movies that show some clueless rich girl walking into the ghetto and within the matter of 2 hours completely changing the kids lives forever.  Strange that I hate them.... I know.  I guess it is probably the same way that someone who actually experienced space would feel about watching Apollo 13 or how a solider would feel about watching Saving Private Ryan.  Sure they get some of it right but there is so much of it that there is no way to capture in a 2 hour film.  With teaching I hate it because I feel like it gives wanna-be or soon-to-be teachers this false idea of what is possible.  That you can walk into a classroom and with a matter of minutes, hours, days, or heck a year completely change a kid's life.  Or it gives a teacher busting his or her brains out trying to find a way to reach kids this feeling of failure.  What a "teaching" movie portrays is never ever realistic.  Because you see, most kids, no matter how self aware have any clue how much they are growing or changing, how much a teacher is influencing them, how big of difference that teacher is making in their lives.  But that doesn't mean the teacher isn't doing it.

Then I watched Dead Poet Society.  I loved it.  But what I loved probably isn't what most people love.  I felt like it was the most realistic teacher movie I have ever seen.  First, the students think he is an absolute lunitic. I absolutely love that part.  If I had a dollar for every student that says to me at some point in the year, "Mrs. B, at the beginning of the year, I thought you were nuts."
But that's not the part that I love most.  The two parts of the movie I love most are this:  first, when he found out his student committed suicide he wept like a baby.  Why?  Sure he was sad.  Sure it is so heartbreaking when that happens.  But I felt something so deep when that happened. Something that I am positive he felt. He felt guilt.  In reality as a teacher in his "profession" he has no idea what he is doing.  No one does.  We like to think that there are such things as a professional.  People who are experts that know so much more than the average person.  I am a firm believer that for the most part that is rarely rarely true especially in teaching.  He was trying so hard to influence those students to really think, really dream.  But at the end of the day he had no idea if it would work.  Also he had no idea the ramifications that it would cause.  And so in the end he felt so much guilt.  Guilt that maybe he didn't do the right thing, maybe he should have just reinforced the idea of toeing the line.  But he didn't.  And now a kid is dead.

Second thing I loved about the movie.  He got fired.

As I have previously discussed the definition of education, the job description of a teacher is such a gray undefined mess.  It's like everyone can feel what they want from a teacher, they can clearly articulate what they don't want from a teacher, but to clearly define what they want from a teacher is nearly impossible.

It's funny.  All those teacher meetings where they show the beginning clip of the Mr. Keating inspiring the kids.... they always stop the movie after that clip.  The presenter always goes on to talk about how as teachers we need to build a fire within our students to make them want to learn.  But they always stop there.  They never talk about the ramifications of being "that kind" of teacher.  The kind of teacher that is really trying to change lives... They never talk about the risk.  They never talk about the constant fight that "that kind of teacher" will be faced against administrator and parents.

But that's not what anyone takes away from this movie because honestly it's down right depressing.  Mr. Keating dedicated his entire year living in a teeny tiny room, spending all of his time and energy focused 100% on molding these teenage boys into great men.  And what happened?  Someone didn't like his method.  Someone didn't like his influence.  Someone didn't like what the students were becoming.  And he got fired.  No matter he changed those boys lives.  No matter how great of a teacher he was.  No matter how much those kids took away from his class.  It didn't matter.

Mr. Keating really cared.  He really wanted to be a great teacher.  He was doing everything in his power to try and create greatness.  And he was succeeding....
But he still got fired.

But that was just a movie.  Some stupid story... not even true.  So back to this podcast this morning..........

they tracked down that student teacher.  It was ridiculously difficult to find her.  Ridiculously difficult.  Why?

Because here is the rest of her story.  The other teachers and principal at that crappy high school were super bothered that she helped the brilliant Bosnian refugee get out of that school.  She had just stolen their most prized student.  They were very angry at her for it.  It was extremely difficult for her to find a job the next fall, only getting an offer at the worst school in the city.  And to make it worse, the vice principal of the previous school was now the principal at this new school.  He told her at the beginning of the year that he was going to beat her down and show her how to be a good teacher in the system.  Which is exactly what happened.  That was her last year teaching.

She is now an interior designer.

According to this Bosnian refugee this woman drastically changed the course of his life.... And what did she get for changing his life?  She was driven out of education as quickly as possible...

Now why do I feel such a need to point out this problem.  I guess part of it is out of guilt.  I care so much less about my students today than I did 9 years ago.  I can describe in great detail almost every single one of my first students.  I cared so deeply.  They affected me, they changed me.  I wanted so badly to change their lives.....

And don't get me wrong.  I still care, I still care probably too deeply, but with time I have become jaded and calyst because as an educator you have two choices, fight the system or give way to the system and become a worse teacher.

And sometimes the guilt gets me.


emilee said...

For some reason, your "horror stories of teaching middle school" blog posts make me want to teach even more.

theriddle said...

As always you are spot on. Love you!