A Question for the New Year

A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation that started like this:

“So, I was talking to a few friends and the phrase ‘Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.’ What do you think? Is that true?”

This was not the first time I’d heard the question. In fact, one of my favorite responses comes from English Teacher and spoken-word artist Taylor Mali(You can read the poem here and watch him perform it here).  I immediately protested that this statement was untrue at which point someone playing devils’advocate said,

“Oh, I’m not saying you’re not good at your craft because you’re damn good at that. But there are people who say you teach because you aren’t capable of cutting it in corporate America.”

As an English teacher, an English major, a lover of words, and the people who use them well, I am very rarely, if ever, at a loss for my own. However, this was one of those rare occasions and not because the question stumped me, but because from whom the follow-up response came. It was a school administrator.

“Well you know, the data says…”

Let me stop there before I continue. If you ever want me to instantaneously tune out anything you say, start off by stating what the data says. While I agree that data is an important aspect of education it is also the most manipulated and ill-used. As any educator can tell you, data can say anything you want if you spin it well enough. But I digress…

“Well, you know, the data says that is indeed true. I know you don’t want to hear this but research shows (Another phrase I never want to hear again) that teachers attend less competitive schools, have lower test scores, and are less qualified to be successful in corporate America.”

I looked incredulous. This wasn’t someone unfamiliar with the struggles teachers face in the classroom (struggles that would send most corporate America types running for their lives after week one, if they lasted that long). This was someone who spent time in the classroom, worked with children, dealt with the bureaucracy. This is someone who knew the level of creativity, critical thinking, tap dancing, head standing, and pure intellect it took to keep students engaged in the classroom and successful on the compulsory end-of-the year standardized tests. This wasn’t an outsider. This was someone I respected and trusted, yet here I was being told that compared to the business world I was inadequate.

First of all, who decided that Corporate America was the exemplar by which the education profession should be measured?  Oh wait. Corporate America…and all of the education reformers who chose profit over children. All you have to do is read a news article or two to see how well THAT is working out.

Those Who Can

And I hear some of you now saying “But she didn’t say you were a bad teacher!” True she didn’t. She said I was incompetent in an arena outside of teaching and, since I’m a teacher, that shouldn’t bother me, right?  I mean I’m REALLY good at what I do. Yet I was, and still am, angry. I am angry that my profession is still being shortchanged. I am angry that once again my credentials are being called into question. I am angry that for as hard as I work, as many sleepless nights as I experience, as many hours as I commit to my students outside of the classroom someone is still telling me that compared to some ridiculous corporate metric I am found lacking. Again, should I even care? Probably not.  Yet her statement felt like a slap in the face, the ultimate profession of “you’re not good enough to do what they do.” It reminded me of the teacher who patted me on the head and once told me that I was really good in science… for a girl.

Truthfully, Corporate America could learn a thing or three from the lowly world of education. Teachers, GOOD teachers, are masters of creativity, flexibility, and resiliency. They are risk-takers and problem-solvers who find ways to teach their students even in the face of mind-boggling ambiguity. (Read: shifting standards, especially in math, and lack of training on Common Core) They understand failure is an important part of the learning process and true success only comes after you’ve found most of the wrong answers. In fact, a recent article in Fast Company “Is an MFA the New MBA?” dares to admit that Corporate America is looking for employees beyond the glass ceiling to areas outside of the business realm in order to remain competitive. Imagine that…

The tagline for this blog asks you an important question: Do you dare to disturb the universe? In other words, do you dare disrupt the status quo? Do you dare challenge those who question your effectiveness? Who declare you inadequate? Who, never having seen what you do, tell you how to do it? In 2015, it is time to confront the powers that be and stand our ground. Are you ready?

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