The Elusive Formula

I find it ironic that I am a teacher–that I, of all people, would have lessons to impart to young people.  I understand that I know things, particularly things that are related to writing, linguistics, and literary theory.  My studies and pursuits have given me an understanding of my field that goes mostly unapplied to my day to day work as a middle school English teacher.

In short, I know the stuff that my students are supposed to learn.

Still, all teachers in their own time learn that their knowledge of content only partially serves them in their true mandates.  Even the training that they receive in teaching methods, the psychology courses, assessment and statistics techniques, orientations to fashionable and ephemeral instructional formats, and workshops in classroom management or the use of technology in the classroom–all of these fall short of the integrated package of what makes a teacher a meaningful presence in a classroom.

Teachers do not receive the preparation required to become this prior to beginning their work.  Such preparation defies any program or sequence.

True, some professionals engage in admirable work almost from their first days as student teachers.  Meaningful training might explain at best a portion of this.

But teachers truly become professionals as a result of a larger learning environment in which all understand not only what they teach but whom they teach.  The latter component has grown enormously complex–partly because teachers work with many students; partly due to the variety of forces that work on each individual young person.

Family influences, social forces, internal matters related to growing up or to identity or to emotions–all are at work hours before children arrive at school.  Social forces related to the neighborhood, the hallways, and the spheres (real and virtual) of peer interaction are in effect throughout the day.

And we might do well to consider that a similar variety of forces are at work on each individual professional, as well.

All of this indicates that true teaching results not merely from academic study, from teacher training, from workshops, from pedagogical fashion, from assessment analysis, or from a trendy style of school leadership.  Only a small portion of what we do for our students emerges from all of this.

Students learn and grow, they remember particular educators–they send letters or emails or call intoxicated decades after having been in the classroom–because of the inexpressible and timeless human experience that emerges between young people and adults in a classroom and between all genuinely motivated individuals in a larger community truly committed to unlocking its potential.

Wise leaders explained all of this a century ago.  The formula costs nothing.  In the typical school district, the materials have sat–unused, scattered across the facility–for decades.

And in some gleaming buildings, we can see it all at work.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

One thought on “The Elusive Formula

  1. Where to begin with this, Paul? Spot on. Here’s hoping that your commentary somehow reaches a wider audience (one other than those in the profession) who can eventually exert force in increasing compensation for the magnificent and critical work teachers do. Your line about teachers “not receiving the required preparation before beginning their work,” really struck me. I still vividly remember my first day and feeling completely unprepared (although I had prepared for weeks) while waiting for the kids to clamor in. It’s into the frying pan from day one, and only time and experience can bring it to a slow, comfortable simmer, at best. So much is daunting, but it’s quality and quantity time with the kids and tangibly investing in the future every day that keeps me coming back for more, year after year.

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