Who would argue that teaching is not a demanding vocation? Consider, after all, the two greatest exponents of the art, Jesus and Socrates. One was crucified, the other poisoned; both in the line of duty.
Not that it takes the ultimate sacrifice, though, to qualify teaching as a challenging line of work. Ask any parent, who play the ultimate teaching role, and they’ll tell you. Kids don’t readily absorb wisdom through their pores. That is why lecturing is mostly an exercise of in one ear, out the other.
No one size fits all. The best teaching employs multiple approaches, with the understanding that no two kids are facsimiles. Then factor into the equation the proven theorem that kids love to do the opposite of what you tell them and you can see the wisdom of the Socratic method. Showing is better than saying but the penultimate success comes from the art of suggesting. A practiced teacher pokes and prods self-discovery. Good teaching is, in the end, doing. You might call teaching learning inside out.
Given, then, that even under the best of circumstances effective teaching is a tricky and nuanced proposition, imagine the dicey mission we now have at our doorsteps. In this global economy and age of lightning-fast information, teachers are asked to deal with kids who wire down when they enter the school portals. They are asked to keep this tech generation stimulated while producing minds that seamlessly communicate, collaborate and thrive on critical thinking.
They face this already daunting task while asked to be equal parts disciplinarian, entertainer, coach, social worker, counselor, motivator, sociologist and statistician.
Strikingly, one elementary teacher was telling me that years back it was expected that you might have one or two “problem” kids in any given class, say a child suffering A.D.D. or maybe from a troubled home. Control issue, yes, but the juggling came with the territory.
Nowadays, the teacher reported, that classroom management factor typically runs six or eight or 10 kids, with gripping issues such as homelessness, parental unemployment, child abuse, family addictions, latch-key environments or stressed-out commuter parents. That’s a lot of fires to put out.
Broken families? That phrase from another age that once stirred concern now sounds hopelessly old-fashioned in its lament. Facts are, more than half of marriages dissolve and some communities have born-out-of-wedlock rates at 70 percent. As backdrop, Antioch has seen a 250 percent increase in group homes and a 200 percent increase in foster homes.
Then throw into this mix the jolt of assimilating an explosive pace of urbanized migration and transiency; an increasingly permissive, materialistic, violent and instant-gratification-addicted society; and a culture where the authority of teachers is casually questioned by students, parents and the ACLU alike. It spells an uphill battle.
Not to mention yearly pink slips and the No Child Left Behind pressures of test mania; nor the difficulty of doing all of this in a state where classroom size and the staffing ratio of counselors, nurses, psychologists and librarians scrapes the very national bottom.
Tough gig? I say! On Tuesday, May 8, which is the California Day of the Teacher, we thanked these unsung heroes and heroines for what they do. Let’s remember that a teacher in teaching our son teaches our son’s son, that his or her influence has no end but ripples to the shores of eternity.