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By Amanda Koonlaba.

In May, I participated in the Center for Teaching Quality’s #TeachingIs campaign by writing a guest post for Deidra Gammill’s Designing Teachers blog on the CTQ Collaboratory. My post was titled, #TeachingIs Not About Me.

I wrote about how teaching is about service and kindness. I talked about the struggle to find myself as a teacher and how hard the first years were. I talked about how hard it is to give the students everything they need and deserve. The idea behind this piece was that when I adopted a “servant’s heart” about my profession, it became easier for me to handle the hard parts of the job. I included one, short paragraph about how teaching is not completely altruistic as well.

This was a very personal piece. It was hard for me to write, because I do not typically write personal narratives. I usually stick to academic, scholarly writing. I received a lot of lovely feedback in the comments of the blog post. All of the comments were complimentary, one even said, “#TeachingIs full of awesome people like you.” I received a little bit of push back on Twitter, though, which really made me think. One person tweeted at me with something like “yes honey, teaching IS about you.” I tried to find that particular tweet again, but I guess it has been deleted. It stuck with me though. I even considered writing a follow up right after that tweet came through, but talked myself out of it.

So, I was able to let it go until Diane Ravitch posted a blog titled, Is it Really “All About the Kids?” in which she summarizes another blogger’s piece that explains how the reformers of the privatization movement use this insulting rhetoric to imply that teachers do not care about students. Carmen Arroyo, a member of the New York State Assembly, was quoted as saying,

Those teachers that [sic] are responsible and are doing their job, those teachers that [sic] sacrifice their families and themselves for the children they serve are going to be protected. Those that are not good, better get a job at McDonalds…”  After reading that, I just could not continue to ignore the nagging sensation that I needed to write a follow up post.

I thought that because I had included that little paragraph about teaching not being completely altruistic, that I’d covered that base. What I didn’t realize until now though is that I was actually using that same rhetoric about which Ravitch wrote. This is where it gets tricky, because I still believe that teaching is service and not about me. I became a teacher because I care about kids and thought I would be able to have a positive impact on the lives of human beings. I thought I could help to improve the human experience, make the world a better place, all of those romantic things.

However, not one time during my quest to become a teacher did I ever consider that I would have to make the kinds of sacrifices about which Arroyo was quoted as saying. James Comans, a friend of mine and another Mississippi blogger, wrote a satirical response to Ravitch’s post (which was reposted by her) that draws attention to the absurdity of Arroyo’s statement where she implies that the good teachers who do not have to worry about their jobs are the ones who sacrifice themselves and their families. Comans assumes the voice of a reformer of the privatization movement in this post. He writes,

For years we’ve tried allowing teachers private lives and financial autonomy, and for all those years it has not worked.

Please don’t forget this is satire while taking note of how utterly ridiculous it is! The scary part, as another friend of mine and fellow blogger Anthony Cody pointed out to me during a discussion on these blog posts, is that the satire cannot even keep up with what is really happening in this field. Our own Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke of his idea that some kids should be in school 24/7. According to this view, our schools need to step in to take complete responsibility for the lives of children. In the absence of actual boarding schools, this can be translated into school policies that expect teachers to go to extraordinary lengths to meet the needs of students.  So, Comans’ satire is frightening and depicts a profession for which I did not sign up.

The truth about this profession is that it is not just about me, it is not just about the kids, it is not just about you. It is about ALL OF US. I do have romanticized ideas about teaching. I do have a servant’s heart. I am there to serve the students, and it is about kindness. However, it is also a profession, or ought to be one. I believe that teachers should not have to sacrifice themselves or their families to do their job. Ravitch quotes Raging Horse blogger at the end of her post as saying, “Any system that demands the sacrifices of a person’s family is deranged…” That is a powerful statement.

I get so much personal satisfaction from serving others. It makes me a better person and improves the quality of my life. I have a very deep desire to be of service to the human race. However, I also choose to have a family. I deserve to be able to make that choice because I am also a human being. The last time I checked human beings have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this country. The pursuit of happiness for me means being able to serve others as an educator and have my own family, which I can take care of because I have a stable, good-paying job that I love. Raging Horse is correct. It is deranged to demand the sacrifice of one’s family, which for me would violate my pursuit of happiness.

ASCD has done a great deal of work called the Whole Child Initiative which supports an education for students that not only includes academics, but everything that makes up the whole human being. I propose that, since teaching is about all of us, we also build a profession that supports the whole teacher. Teachers and their students are linked so intricately that what is good for one is undeniably good for the other. This is how teaching can be about the service of students but also a profession that serves the teacher at the same time. Let me close by quoting my original #TeachingIs post, I am not claiming that teaching is completely altruistic. That’s ridiculous and impossible. I am a human being with feelings and needs and hopes and dreams. I need to provide for my family and have financial peace of mind. Sometimes I just need a nap or 5 minutes of no talking. I’m human!!!!” Rhetoric that implies teachers do not care about students because they care about their own personal lives is destructive not only to the profession, but ultimately to students as well. The conversation should be about how to lift all of us up because we are all connected in this life. #TeachingIs ABOUT ALL OF US!

Amanda Koonlaba, M.Ed., NBCT is a Visual Art educator in the state of Mississippi.
Featured image by the author, used with her permission.

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. Christine Langhoff    

    Hands down, the best piece of advice I got at the beginning of my career was this: “Remember, teaching is your job, not your life.” That nugget came from my volunteer mentor (back in the day, we didn’t have mentors!), who was 10 years further along in her career than I. Teaching can be your life when you are in your early 20’s and your only responsibility is to yourself. I met my husband while we were both teaching in the same school, and it was the intensity of middle school that drew us together. But when we started a family it was simply impossible to carve out a fair life balance without reminding ourselves that our jobs were not our lives but how we paid the bills. To develop a cadre of well trained professional teachers, teaching has to be sustainable for its practitioners. TFA and charters burn through teachers because no one can teach that many hours with that intensity over a long period of time.

    I know the knowledge that came from raising my own kids brought something new and more considerate to my classroom and that my students benefitted as a result. On the other hand, there were many times my own kids had to defer to the needs of my students.

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