Conditions for a Teacher’s Return

One of the obvious effects of the pandemic has been the stress on teachers; there is some questions about whether we are really seeing teacher participating in “the great resignation,” but I know some folks have been asking me if I am interested in returning to k-12 teaching.

For context, I began teaching in 1988. Until 2018, I was primarily employed as a licensed educator. In 2012, I worked in a community college for a year and some of my duties included working as a technology coordinator. Until 2019, I was licensed in Vermont to teach science, teach math, and work as a technology specialist. Until 2020, I was licensed as a technology integrator in New Hampshire. In 2019, I began working in a community college and in 2020, I started drawing my early retiree benefits as a Vermont techer.

Of course, I cannot be hired as a teacher as I am not licensed anywhere, and I cannot work in Vermont as I am getting retirement benefits. The question of “would you come back to k-12?” has caused me to reflect on education and what seems to be wrong with it. Here are my thoughts on what would be necessary for me to return, and yes readers may assume these are among the things that are wrong with schooling in my opinion:

1) I would negotiate my salary. Teachers’ pay is abysmal. There is no way I would work for the pittance I did, and my raises would start at the cost of living, and then add more depending on the working conditions.

2) I would not join the union. I was a strong union member for decades. Near the end of my career, I saw leadership making really bad decisions (at least locally) and it hasn’t changed. Until I saw real leadership on important issues, they would not get my support.

3) My students would get grades that reflect my perceptions of their ability to learn the materials in the hierarchical social structure that is school. Yes, that means they are subjective, but that is the point. They would also get lots and lots of feedback and lots of chances to redo work. They would also be expected to challenge me on grading decisions.

4) My students would do authentic projects. Adults from the community would recognize some of what my students produce as being similar to what they do on their professional work. Late in my career, I worked in schools that limited authentic learning in favor of teaching to the test, that is a mistake… not it isn’t a mistake, it has been disastrous.

5) My students and I would decide which of the silly school rules we would follow (e.g. “no hats”) in our classroom. Rules are good, but only if they make sense, only if they apply to everyone (adults included), and only if all would agree to it before they knew how it might be applied. For example, the “not cell phone” rule applies to all, including those who may receive news related to the health of family members. I would also expect students to challenge all rules, especially that did not take their perspective into account.

6) My students and I would define the curriculum and make all instructional decisions. Keep your standards away from my classroom, keep your “parental rights” out of our classroom, keep your teaching fads out of our classroom.

Yes, standards have a place, but I’ve attended to science, used math, and managed IT for decades. I will use that expertise to help my students make decisions about what to study and how well they have learned it.

Yes, parents have rights, but not the right to affect the lives of others in a public-school classroom and not the right to restrict your own children’s access to educational experiences. We will have lots of books, including those you find offensive, in our classroom.

Yes, there are lots of teaching methods, and mine won’t always be great. I will know because I’ll be paying attention to my students, and I will encourage them to tell me when it isn’t working. I’ve also spent my entire adult life (and much of my teen life) thinking about teaching, reading about learning, and experimenting with teaching.

So that’s how it is
That’s what we’ve got
Whether the [educators] want to admit it or not:
(lyrics from a favorite James McMurtry tune)

  • The pay in schools is driving folks away and the unions seem to be misdirected in their priorities (in my opinion).
  • Schools have adopted plenty of rotten ideas about schooling that are interfering with learning.
  • Educators have ignored what the cognitive and learning sciences have told them for decades

And these are the reasons I cannot return to k-12.