I did not become a teacher for the money. For their sake, I hope no one else did. I did not do it for the recognition or the glory. I sure as hell did not do it so that everyone I meet could have an opinion on my profession. There’s a question we all get from our students at some point: “Why did you become a teacher?” My favorite answer is from one of my colleagues: “I want to fix public education.” Simple and honest.
Maybe not all of us got into the profession for that exact reason, but we all did it because we wanted to do something important. We wanted to do something meaningful. I remember working in a office. Instead of worrying about my students, I worried about how I could sleep at my cubicle without my boss noticing. I was good at that. But I knew something wasn’t right, that something was missing. I knew I had a higher calling.
We have a unique opportunity in front of us, and when I say “unique” I cannot stress it enough. To even have the chance to redesign not only how we see our sites but how we envision public education is the opportunity of a lifetime. Let me use an example if I may.
While I was on my honeymoon in Maui, my wife and I decided to take a dinner cruise at Lahaina. We could see Lanai, the temperature was a constant 84 degrees, and the best part: unlimited Mai Tais. We were seated next to a couple who were also teachers on their honeymoon. They were from Ohio, but the husband taught in Indiana. He told us a story that was both humorous and disparaging.
The husband taught an auto shop class in which there was only one female student. She was a student who had special needs, so he had to make sure that not only was his classroom respectful, but also worked for her. She also had a medical issue which caused her to have seizures. I’m talking about grand mal seizures, those which require medical assistance. Here’s the kicker: If she had a seizure in class, he had to administer a suppository to her. I think you know where my story is going.
Sure enough, one day, she had a seizure. He had to make sure she did not hurt herself next to the auto equipment, have a student call the office (they have no nurse at this school), usher all of the boys out of the classroom so as not embarrass the student, and administer the suppository to save her life. And he had to do this in a heartbeat. It was his job.
When I responded,“Well, my union would never agree to…” he interrupted me: “We have no union.” I realized then how lucky I am. I realize it still today. I am so glad I do not have to fight battles such as these in my district. I am truly happy that we have moved on to issues where the sole purpose is not to protect me from the district asking me to do job a medical practitioner should be doing. With redesign I see, even if it is strictly an opportunity, a way to change public education forever.
Here’s the moral of my story: We did not become teachers to give suppositories. We became teachers to make a change, to fix public education. We have that chance now. We are sitting on the brink of improving public education for our students, our community, and ourselves. No longer will families have to look to charter schools to see successful and novel models. They can look right down the street.
Be empowered. Think big. With redesign, I challenge each member of our association to be the architect of their own imagination. Whatever your ideas, take this opportunity to voice them and challenge the status quo. I’ll leave you with a poem from Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
Whatever is we only know
As in our minds we find it so;
No staring fact is half so clear
As one dim, preconceived idea —
No matter how the fact may glow.
Vainly may Truth her trumpet blow
To stir our minds; like heavy dough
They stick to what they think — won’t hear
Our ancient myths in solid row
Stand up — we simply have to go
And choke each fiction old and dear
Before the modest facts appear;
Then we may grasp, reluctant, slow,