Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

English: teacher

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I love my son.

He is a high school senior about to decide what college to attend. One of his criteria is which school to which he’s been accepted has the best program to prepare him for his chosen professional goal.

I very much want my son to be happy in his work because if he is it will not seem like work.

He wants to be a high school English teacher.

I am trying very hard to talk him out of it.

My son loves to read and read at a high school level in fifth grade.

His current English teacher has him co-teaching a couple of lessons in the class. No other student is doing that.

Another of his HS English teachers told my wife and me “the greatest gift I could give my profession would be for your son to become an English teacher.”

Heady stuff, indeed.

My son could possibly be a very good English teacher. That is why I am trying to talk him out of it.

These days, very good is not good enough.

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that NY Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Indicted murderers are presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury of their peers.
Tenured teachers are presumed ineffective, despite acquittal by their administrators.

How can I let my son become a teacher under a system that is as illogical and as unfair as the one his father will be working under starting next year?

Oh, wait. I’m a librarian. I don’t have students whose test scores can be compared year-to-year. No matter. The school’s total overall test scores will affect my job rating, whether or not most or any of the students come into the library and whether or not I have any influence on their performance on those one day exams.

More logic. Impressive.

Kid, I love you.

Become a mortician, a lawyer, a barber, or an accountant.

Pick rags for a living.

English: Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West,...

Just don’t become a teacher.

It just isn’t a good job anymore.

21 Responses to Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

  1. Jennifer C. says:

    What does it say about our society that teaching is no longer a good choice? My son is only six and I am already consciously trying to steer him from teaching. I wish your son good luck in the college admissions game.

  2. KMPBooker says:

    I love what I do as a teacher. I love my profession. I’m saddened to read that my fears for the future of education are shared by others.

  3. Qwillman says:

    My son, the one who always hated school, is seriously thinking about becoming a teacher. He did a co-op placement in a grade five class and loved it. (and I thought the whole point of co-op was to show students what they didn’t want to become!)

    As for the state of education, things are so bad you either have to cry or laugh. If you decide to laugh, take in my take on things at http://wp.me/1SBsZ. Meet William Jefferson Vandonkersgood, who believes the only way to save the American school is to tear it down.

    • Deven Black says:

      I was neutral on elementary school, loved middle school and despised high school enough to drop out of two of them in succeeding years. I think my teachers would keel over and die (were they not already dead) if they heard I became a teacher. Some of the best teachers are people struggle with school because they relate better to students who also struggle.

      I’ve read a couple of your posts and want to read more. It will have to wait until I finish my latest grad school foray and the finished book is likely to be done by then.

  4. Katie N says:

    This is my 40th year of teaching! I have loved most every day of it. I started out as a high school English teacher, but in the ensuing years have had a variety of assignments. For the last 14, I’ve been a technology resource teacher. It is a VERY difficult time for teachers. In VA, our pensions are being threatened, our continuing contracts are being threatened and we have never been allowed to unionize. We haven’t had a raise for many years even though I teach in the wealthiest county in the United States. So I say, get a teaching certificate (NY and VA are reciprocal) but have a plan B – computer and network security for example, and you’ll be all set!

  5. Why not “let” your son be whatever he wants to be? Maybe things will change, maybe he will teach in another system (private school) or another city/state. I am horrified that you are trying to exert such control over his laudable and loving choice.

    • Deven Black says:

      He will be what he wants to be. He’s four inches taller than I am, about 50lbs. heavier, stronger and a lot smarter; I cannot control him. I just want him to think his choices through thoroughly and make them with his eyes open. As I say, I think he’d be a very good English tea her and students would be fortunate to have him. If he can find a situation where he can do the job without being the object of derision, micromanagement and unfair assessment, if he can do the job in a system that is not, deliberately or not, hurting children, more power to him.

      • Some of the points made in the main post that gave me pause were clarified very well here. I personally faced a very difficult time in circumstances sounding very similar to those described in the original post while teaching in the UK. Lack of support from superiors, constant belittling from senior management & a frenetic pace sapped a lot of the joy out of a job I had loved for a long time.

        I’m now teaching in an international school, where I feel priorities are about right. Focus on the kids, demonstrate that we’re doing our best for them, and offer as broad and engaging a curriculum as possible.

        I’ve never been happier. Teaching abroad is a wonderful option, though I don’t believe it’s impossible to find schools staffed with happy teachers in the US. Best of luck to your son!

    • Elizabeth -

      I think you need to read the essay with a little bit of a Swiftian lens… but the point is this… it is very hard to encourage young people to go into education these days.

      – Chris

    • Tim says:

      As a father, I’m horrified that someone questions the duty of a father to help his children make good choices. Hang in there, Deven.

  6. [...] Please, son, be anything else. Anything. (educationontheplate.wordpress.com) [...]

  7. Doug says:

    Going through similar things with my son who thinks he wants to be a math teacher. He probably would be very good, but….

  8. I understand your sentiments due to the negative things happening to our profession from those who do not understand how to best improve it. But having said this, I would not have a problem if my son went into education. I think students need passionate, caring adults more than ever and as long as new teachers understand the system then I think they should be encouraged to pursue their dream.

    If we do not get future generations of teachers who are willing to continue to the fight to bring meaningful change to our educational system then we are in bigger trouble. Unless, we are saying we already feel that things are hopeless? Maybe your right?

    • Deven Black says:

      You raise some very good points, Patrick, and I think you know me well enough from Twitter to know that I do not believe things are hopeless. It was very difficult for me to write this post, I agonized over it more than for any other post I’ve written.

      I agonized because I was torn between my instinct to protect my son, the knowledge that he will do whatever he wants despite my warnings, and, as you point out, the desperate need for passionate, caring, competent adults to augment and/or replace those of us who will soon retire.

      As you may be aware, I became a teacher at age 50 because I saw the need for caring, passionate, knowledgeable adults to teach the new generations and I had, and still have, something to offer even if I am not as capable a teacher as I hoped I would be. I would do it again today. I guess I just want my son, and any son or daughter considering teaching, to understand that the world has changed during the years they’ve been in school and to go into teaching with their eyes open.

      I know principals like you, who are thoughtful, caring and dedicated to the idea of cooperation between the administration and teachers for the benefit of the students are as pained as teachers are by the current mania for inappropriate assessment of those students and the application of the results of those assessments to assess teachers and, I know in NYC at least, principals. Thanks for fighting the good fight and encouraging the rest of us to keep fighting as well.

  9. Deven,

    I would not be who I am today without the influence of many great educators. I am thankful for that.

    I know that we all want our children to struggle a bit less than we did, whether it be in their jobs, their relationships, their finances, etc. Thanks for sharing your personal struggles regarding your son’s path. It sounds like his strengths will allow him to pursue a number of options.

    Best – Patrick

  10. [...] Teacher Deven Black is telling his high school-senior son not to be a teacher. (Education on the Plate) [...]

  11. Tracy says:

    As a college professor I see this dilemma every day. I tried talking myself out of teaching even though I wanted to be a teacher. I spend my time trying to change the education system from the inside, to serve my community and colleagues, even when it is difficult. Your son’s passion will make the headaches worth it. He will make a difference and he will be fulfilled, never rich, but happy knowing that his students, his community respect and need him. Who knows what he may achieve! We need passionate educators at all levels. We need to be here and work to change the system. I hope to count him as a colleague some day and wish he were going to be my student so I could help him find his way.

  12. RjWassink says:

    I’ve heard something like this before…

    My parents were both teachers, as were 2 of my grandparents, 2 aunts, and too-many-to-count distant relatives. When I got to be old enough to think about what I wanted to do, they all recommended that I *didn’t* go into teaching. This was 15 years ago – before NCLB really got going, before RttT, and before any new evaluation systems were even in the works. But the warnings about teaching came about for different reasons that echoed what you said here… nothing to do with the teaching part itself and everything to do with the bureaucracy that surrounded it.

    I look back and regret, sometimes, not listening to them. I’ve got the design-oriented brains to be an engineer or (sometimes) the rhetoric to be a politician. I could’ve gone full-time into the family farming business or even been a heavy equipment operator or snowplow driver. But I chose education. Perhaps if I just had the BS degree I’d be ok… but after getting the required MS and then deciding to go back for the Administration certificate I’m not going to lie – I sometimes feel trapped. What happens if education truly does become based on just a test score? What if I’m caught in the crossfire and lose my job due to those ELA scores (that I, as a “shop” teacher, have little control of). Holy cow, I could be part of the education system that “fails” this country like it’s never failed before… and if I go into administration – I’d be considered part of the problem to even a greater extent (even though I’d have an equally low amount of control over individual student scores.)

    But there is hope, Deven. People out there – they agree with us when it comes to assessments based on tests. It seems the politicians are the minority when it comes to these wild and crazy ideas. The question is, will society sit back and watch this all happen… or will they “Occupy State Ed” and force some real reform to be made? How many years will we live under this tyrannical system before we do something about it? How many normally-honest administrators and teachers will tamper with the assessment results because they know it’s crap? It’s got the change back to the good, Deven… it’s just got to.

    Even a bigger question: our state is pushing these reforms due to the “Race to the Top” and “Common Core” ideas, right? Are you going to tell me the amount of money coming IN from the federal government from these programs is higher than the amount of money, time, and effort that went into the changes that have been made? I’ve done the math and don’t believe a word of it… not when you consider the stupidity of the changes made and the long-lasting effects of such changes. I’ll take a lower-paying job in a poor district that allows me to feel safe, secure, and confident over a higher-paying job in a district with lots of money but tons of stress. You can’t fix everything with money.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for your comment. I know, as I assume you and the other readers know, that no matter what I say the kid will do what he wants. If he wants to teach, he will teach. This is the way it should be.

      Unlike you, I did all those other things (okay, not engineering, for which the entire public should be thankful), pretty much anything I wanted to do more or less when I wanted to do it. I have dealt with bureaucracies and not even the morass that is involved in opening a restaurant compares to the nonsense in education.

      I am not sure that the level of testing will ever go down because even those promoting the tests acknowledge that they have little to do with instruction and everything to do with rating teachers. Educators know that assessment is an essential part of the teaching process, but the assessment should be what drives immediate instruction, not whether next year’s students will have the opportunity to have the same teacher.

      Even if the pendulum swings the other way, it will not stay there. This swing back and forth may obey the laws of gravity, but gravity does not apply to thought. Since gravity does not apply, the constant swing back and forth indicates that we really don’t know what we are doing and that children learn what is important to them no matter how we teach it, or whether we teach it at all.

      You are right that the amount of money coming in from the federal government, and, in many cases, the state government, is not equal to the costs of the changes they demand in order for school districts to get the funds. Still, there are very few district superintendents or mayors who have the temerity to say to the feds ‘keep your money, what you want us to do is wrong.’

      As for security, there is none. Not any more. I may be among the last cohort of teachers who will have the protection to speak one’s mind that tenure provides. Tenure, like everything else, is double edged. While it might, and I stress might, protect some incompetent teachers, it is the only protection teachers have to call policies and and practices, and those who promote them, on the carpet and shed public light on them.

      So let me do that. I’m going to use my tenure to protect me as I repeat what I said here http://educationontheplate.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/is-it-ever-about-the-students/ Everything that is being done in the name of education reform, all the testing, all the attacks on teacher unions and tenure, all the posturing, posing and politics is about money, only about money, and has absolutely nothing to do with student learning.

      Like you, my son will have to figure that out for himself. In education we constantly reinvent the wheel when what we need is a Star Trek style transporter.

  13. Victoria says:

    I have just begun to follow your blog, and I am feeling such a strong connection. I wonder what has gone wrong in the last couple of decades? Why does the public feel that the public schools and its teachers must be the scapegoats for many of society’s ills?

    I have been a teacher in Missouri for over 20 years. Over the years I have worked numerous part time jobs to help make ends meet when the salary I drew wasn’t quite enough to save for my two daughters to go to college.

    One of those daughters is now a junior in college studying elementary and early childhood education. My husband (also an educator) and I have told her to not follow her dream, that evolved from having two parents who devoted their lives to public education. We have advised her not to share her own passion for learning with children, because we realize she could make a lot more money and secure her own future by selling insurance or finding another job that would not fulfill her, but would certainly be less stressful while filling her bank account.

    I never thought it would come to this. I am ashamed that it has. What is wrong with a society that doesn’t invest in its schools and continues to blame its schools and its teachers for problems that stem from areas outside our realm of influence.

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