My really smart child will be graduating from college soon. She will not even entertain the idea of becoming a teacher. She is eager and disciplined, sensible and enthusiastic, thoughtful and organized. Yet when I mention that many of these characteristics can be found in effective teachers, she makes a face like I punched her.
Since I sometimes feel hurt by her decision, as if her rejection of my profession is a personal affront, I asked her to articulate her reasons. Here is what she wrote to me:
There are two reasons I don't want to become a teacher. First, I've seen what it takes
and what must be sacrificed to be an excellent teacher - and I don't have it. I am not
willing to give up so much of my life and my time for teaching. I don't want to spend
my own money on supplies. I don't want to write lesson plans until midnight. If I get
married, I won't sacrifice my marriage and/or family for good test scores. Second, if I
took the job temporarily to get my loans forgiven and not because I love the profession,
I could see myself counting down the days until I could be "free." How many Teach
for America people have been at your school? How many have only stayed long enough to
pay off their debt? How many have actually made a positive impact on the kids? I
don't want to waste anyone's time. Not mine and not that of your needy students.
There's little I can say to counter her arguments. The hours and efforts required to be an excellent educator surpass by twofold anything that could be described as "reasonable." Other professions which make such great intellectual, emotional and physical demands on their members are more respected and offer more generous compensation than teaching. Couple that with public education constantly being attacked and twisted by politicians, philanthropic phonies, ALEC shills and so-called reformers and I understand why my child sees teaching as a poor exchange between the personal and the professional.
As for the TFAers at my school, supported by conferences, one-on-one mentors, on-line lessons, sample assessments and student data tracking systems created and sustained through generous TFA funding from corporations and foundations, I believe that all of them had potential to be strong teachers. The problem has been that that potential has, to my knowledge, never been realized because no TFAer has stayed at my school for more than three years.
In the end, I guess I should thank my daughter. For her honesty. For her exemplary demand for respect. And for not viewing teaching as a stepping stone to law school.