It’s hard to be a teacher these days.
I cannot tell you how many exasperating conversations I have had recently with fools who insist that teaching is something anyone can walk in off the street and do with no training or background necessary. Indeed, the State of Wisconsin is, as I write, about to pass a law allowing exactly that to happen. Any drooling idiot capable of donating to the presidential campaign fund of Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) will soon be allowed to teach subjects they have never studied to students at grade levels they may or may not have actually completed themselves. No college degree required. No high school diploma either, from what I hear, because FREEDOM!
This of course means that for the first time in his life Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) would legally be allowed to instruct children. Maybe it’s his retirement plan for when the whole “gut the state and feast off the carcasses of previous generations” thing finally plays out and he has to get a real job and work for a living.
Honestly, sometimes you can’t tell if they’re evil or just stupid, or whether that distinction is meaningful at all anymore.
The problem is that people don’t really get what teaching is. They think it’s a part time job, one that requires no training or expertise, something you can do as a hobby or save for after retirement.
No, not really. It's a skilled trade, one that requires both training and expertise.
It isn’t enough just to know your subject matter, in other words.
Yes, you have to know your subject matter. That’s a given, at least among people who aren’t members of the Wisconsin Republican Party. But this is the baseline. This is the minimum entry requirement, the thing that gets you in the door but doesn’t actually qualify you to be a teacher. It provides you with some of the tools of the trade, and no more. Owning a pipe wrench is a necessary step toward becoming a plumber but doesn’t actually qualify you to do the job. Knowing your subject matter works the same way.
This is because there is a world of difference between knowing a subject and knowing how to teach a subject. Some of the absolute worst supposedly educational experiences of my life were spent listening to people who knew their subject matter backward and forward but had no idea how to explain that material to anyone who wasn’t living in their own head. It’s not enough to know a subject. You have to know how to communicate that knowledge. You have to know how to build on that communication to achieve a desired end.
You have to know how to teach.
What do you want your students to walk away thinking? How are you going to get them there? What are you going to tell them on Day 1 that you can refer back to on Day 75 and have them understand the connection? How are you going to make that connection? What work are you going to have them do on their own? How does that work contribute to the goals you’ve set? (You have set goals, right? You’re not just yammering about stuff, right?) How does that work fit with the lesson you’ve planned that day? How does it build to the next lesson?
And how are you going to get all this across to a group of students who aren’t being paid to be there? Whose jobs don’t require their presence? This is the big difference between teaching students and leading on-the-job training – you can’t fire your students. In college, they’re paying to be there. And in K-12, they’re legally required to be there. How are you going to motivate a group like that to pay attention to anything you’re going to do? Will that work on Day 75 as well as it worked on Day 1? Will it work in Minute 75 as well as it worked in Minute 1?
What about students who have outside issues that they bring to class? Students who are hungry – and not “feeling like a snack” but “haven’t eaten in days” hungry? Students who are on multiple meds? Students who should be on multiple meds but aren’t? Students who are eager, healthy, focused, and sitting right next to the other students I’ve already described? How are you going to handle a room full of this?
Teaching is a skill, not a native talent. It’s something you have to work on. It’s something you have to learn how to do. Unfortunately it is a skill that has been systematically devalued in modern America by thoughtless and catastrophically short-sighted political hacks and their supporters who insist that it’s all just standing there and yammering to unsuspecting kids, because if they can get you to believe that then they can get rid of trained teachers entirely and just indoctrinate children to their liking. It's no accident that most of this assault on teachers is coming from right wing extremists, after all - there is a fairly robust correlation between rising education levels and falling support for right-wing policies among the electorate. Get rid of the educated - get rid of those capable of educating - and they don't have to worry about that anymore.
So they tell you teaching is something anyone can do right off the street. No training necessary. No special knowledge required. Because FREEDOM! (vide supra)
There's just one thing. Why is it that these morons can look you in the eye and insist that every skill in the world requires training and expertise except teaching?
There are people out there who would make excellent doctors, lawyers, engineers, or accountants, but unless they're certified they're not allowed to practice. Why? Because natural aptitude is no substitute for knowledge and expertise. I realize you’re not allowed to say “expertise” these days because the rabble get offended by the notion that their natural stupidity is not just as valid as trained intellect and skills, but there you have it.
There was a time in this country when we valued education - when we understood that it was a guarantor of future entrepreneurship and prosperity, when we understood that an educated and informed citizen was the foundation of the American republic, when we understood that teaching was not simply expressing knowledge - that it was a skill like any other, one that required training and expertise and which was valued for that, and that if we wanted entrepreneurship, prosperity, and a solid republic, we had to respect those who were there working to make it happen.
That time is not now.
We can coast on the achievements of the previous generations who understood those lessons, but we cannot coast on them for long. That is what the extremists undermining education in this country don’t understand. Eventually everyone just gets more stupid. Eventually people just push the stupid around until it covers the nation to a uniform depth capable of drowning both progress and prosperity.
Remember, folks. Those who can, teach. Those who cannot, pass laws about teaching.
It’s the state of the nation today.