Sunday, October 27, 2013

Begging for a "distinguished" Education that will "first do no harm"

*Remarks upon recognition as the 2013 Distinguished Alumni for Professional Achievement at Shenandoah University Alumni Weekend: 
It is with deep appreciation and humility that I thank you for this recognition. 
Thank you Dr. Fitzsimmons, members of the awards committee, faculty members who are present and especially Dr. Mary Bowser who advised me through my graduate work at Shenandoah.  I’d especially like to thank Theresa Manchey, for the introduction.  I have long viewed Theresa as a mentor of both good teaching practice and as a guide in negotiating our professional roles.
No one achieves anything without support along the way, and that is why I am especially pleased to have my family present.  My children Annie, Neil and Carolyn long endured my absences both physically and mentally as I pursued writing and teaching beyond the classroom.  Thank you so much for your patience.  My husband and partner Lynn has been most supportive by providing a safe landing at home and the freedom to follow my passions.  Also, he is a phenomenal cook and has nurtured all of us by providing endless meals.
In accepting this recognition, I cannot help but consider it as affirmation of the work that all teachers do in classrooms everyday, often going unacknowledged or recognized by the communities they serve.  So it is in behalf of those colleagues that I accept the title “distinguished.”
 I consider myself lucky to have found my calling:  I like young people and being around them day in and day out can be both energizing and fulfilling. Contrary to a widely held view, teaching is not for everyone—but for those who find their way, there is much to celebrate.

  • Teaching is intensely intellectual. The work requires the marriage of experience and knowledge, sometimes achieved on-your-feet in front of an unforgiving audience.  There is never a point in teaching when you can say “I got this.”  The target is always moving.
  •  Teaching is also intensely satisfying. Those who make it a lifelong career have a friend in every generational group. There is great pleasure in watching former students take their places as contributing adults.
  • But teaching is also intensely humiliating.  This is part of the work that every teacher struggles against on a daily basis.  We know immediately when we didn’t hit the mark.  We are aware of the students we were unable to save.  We know who we’ve reached, but also who we’ve failed.  Teachers carry the burden of failure poorly because our losses run counter to the mission of helping and serving the student.
 It is this awareness that has made the past decade extremely difficult for educators.  The high stakes testing that has taken center stage in our classrooms has been counter to what we feel creates opportunity for good instruction. 
And though the decade has been painful for teachers professionally, it has been even harder to watch as testing victimizes students.  Imagine a student who takes 32 separate high-stakes tests in the space of four years and fails every single one.  It happens.  What is learned from that experience?  It is only possible to learn one thing:  that you are a failure.  Repeated failure is often a reality for the student with the fewest resources to garner for the resiliency needed to overcome a setback.  Every failure pushes that student further from the goal, not closer to it.
The work which brings me here tonight has centered on raising the professional stature of teachers so that our classroom based knowledge is both valued and incorporated into reforms that improve rather than punish teaching and learning.  Though it has been engaging work, there is a long way to go to reach that goal. 
So it is with a sense of failure that I accept this recognition because, although the work continues, I have not yet seen the changes needed to ensure that every child is afforded the opportunity to experience success.
When that goal is reached I will feel that both my profession and the nation I live in has truly “distinguished” itself.

Thank you.