For educators these are the best and worse of times
By Jim Fabiano
In my three decades teaching I’ve had many student teachers observe my class. The first time I meet these young men and women I advise them the teaching profession is considered the best and the worse of professions. They always look at me shyly and usually ask what I mean.
I explain the profession is similar to that of a priest. This always has the tendency to bring a shocked look on their faces. In my Catholic upbringing right through my education at Holy Cross College a priest was defined by his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Webster defines poverty as: “the condition of being poor with lack of money or possessions. “ He goes on to complete his definition by stating that poverty is: “a lack of something desirable.” I agree with half of this definition. It is a common fact teachers make little money. In fact, if you compare the salaries of teachers around our planet, teachers in the United States are one of the least paid especially when they begin their careers. I warn these young men and women if they are going into the profession for financial rewards they had better get their head screwed on straight. But, if the student is going into the profession to become an administrator of a school or district, this is another reality even though the other two comparisons to priests are amplified.
Having my student teachers attention I go on to explain the concept of how a teacher is defined by his obedience. Webster defines obedience as: “as being the act of obeying; a willingness to obey. “ Obey is simply to follow the command and guidance of others. In the past, in order for a teacher to become tenured he or she would have to be offered four contracts. Basically the only difference between a tenured and a non-tenured teacher is the tenured teacher would have to have a reason for their dismissal. A non-tenured teacher does not have to be given a reason. They are simply asked to leave. Today, it now takes six contracts to become tenured.
All teachers have to obey the administration of their schools. Even though they may years and sometimes even decades of experience over their administrator they have to follow the rules even though it could be at the expense of their students. Of course these administrators also have their own administrators and the rules of obedience is still followed. I believe this is the worse of the worse of times because even if you know policies are wrong you are obligated to follow them. If you don’t or you question these policies you will be replaced by those who are more obedient than you.
At this point I’ve almost convinced the student teacher to investigate other means of employment. Finally Webster defines chastity as: “a quality or state of being chaste.” In other words, being chaste means to be pure in thought and act. This is the most difficult of all because teachers are human. Humans are not perfect and they make mistakes. We all make mistakes and to be held account for something we could never be is impossible. By scientific definition perfection is total entropy meaning absolute nothingness. This makes the act of being perfect nothing.
Before I allow my students to run out of my room I remind them of the best of times only teachers can experience. Teachers have the capacity to watch young men and women become. They can direct lives to be full and enriched. They can help desperate children to know they have a future. They can show all the children that go before them they can achieve greatness through hard work and perseverance. Hating to use a favorite cliché’, teachers can and do make a difference in the lives of their students. This makes all of the worse part of the teaching profession perfect or as science defines it; nothing.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine