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Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Teaching Challenge

There is no question that teaching is a challenging profession, teachers today are asked to education 20 to sometimes 40 students at a time, while making sure that each child is seen as an individual. David E. Kelley created a legal drama that aired on ABC from 2004 to 2008 called Boston Legal. During the third season of the show, Shirley Schmidt (played by Candice Bergen) gave a closing argument that tells the challenge of teaching quite well. In the episode, a teacher was being sued by a child’s parents because the child died of a nut allergy while the teacher used her cell phone in class. According to the episode’s transcripts, Shirley Schmidt used the following closing argument:

Lawsuits are about allocating burden. For example, we want our cars to be safer, so we hit the manufacturers with a judgment that makes it more cost-effective to install the airbag. The problem here, as Ms. Bixby correctly states, is we have more and more special needs kids going into our public schools, combined with an unprecedented escalation in auto-immune diseases, autism. The peanut allergy alone has doubled in recent years. So, who do we heap this responsibility on? Who else? The teachers. The average annual starting salary for a teacher is $32,000. For that, we ask them to teach, police, provide emotional and social guidance. In some schools, they actually have to clean the toilets. Now, let's throw in healthcare.

This teacher, she works 65-hour weeks. In addition to her actual classroom duties, she teaches sex education to the older kids, she teaches a standardized test the school mandates in order to qualify for funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. She spends another ten hours a month meeting with parents. She supervises extracurricular activities, goes on overnight class trips, cleans and disinfects toys, coaches. She teaches fire drill safety procedures, healthy eating habits, she's certified in CPR, first aid, and food sanitation.

She is so overextended that when her own father had to undergo a life-threatening medical procedure, she couldn't be at the hospital. So she called on her cell phone to see if he had lived. Which he hadn't. She then turned away from her students, so as not to traumatize them with her grief, which as a teacher she was expected to internalize.

She has no savings ... no house. And today she's being sued because, without her knowledge, one of her students snuck a bite-sized candy bar containing traces of peanut into her classroom. Now she's being publicly blamed for the death of a child whose parents had the means to implement a multitude of safeguards. They implemented none of them except a teacher. Is it any wonder half our teachers are quitting the profession outright within five years? Never mind who's going to handle the epi-pen. Who's going to teach?

Wow…When I first heard this I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just sat there on my couch, my mouth dropped open in amazement, because an hour long legal drama made a pretty decent argument. Shirley Schmidt is right; the list of responsibilities placed on teachers continues to rise, and when asked in an informal manner, fellow educators provided the following expectations/titles placed on them by their community leaders and families: Caregiver, support system, parent, guardian, advocate, identifier of educational needs and the solution for those needs, special education specialist, language barrier breaker, mind reader, counselor, nurse, a shoulder to cry on, an answer for every question, and so much more.

Teachers are asked to educate a room full of children, while at the same time making sure that each child’s individual needs are met. This by no means is a simple task, and requires teachers to have a strong understanding of all grade levels within their subject area. For example, in an average sixth grade language arts classroom, the reading level of each student can range from as low as kindergarten to as high as college. Remember, teachers are called to reach all students, so although the textbooks provided are created for an average sixth grade student, the material may only reach the needs of 40 to 50 percent of the students. Add this to special education needs, second language learners, behavioral issues, and different home lives, and you have the typical daily challenge for a teacher, and that is just one subject.

The weight of our future it placed on the shoulders of educators, yet there are still teachers being called “glorified babysitters.” The challenge is there for all teachers, no matter the school, the numbers of students, or the curriculum provided, the challenge is there. Teachers are asked to do nearly the impossible... The amazing thing? We strive to do so each day. Why? Because what we want more than anything is for every child to be successful. Every child to reach his/her highest potential. Every child to dream big and own his/her own learning. The challenge is there...but we are ready to reach it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, just reading this is overwhelming! Teachers really are amazing!