On Students Who Become Teachers

On January 17, 2022, I posted the tweet that is embedded below. It generated far more conversation than most of what I tweet, and the replies are worth the time to read. Some of the replies did challenge my overgeneralization and my lack of citing any references. Of course, those criticisms were spot-on.

If we don’t over generalize, then much of twitter will be silent. Luckily, some folks who are familiar with the literature responded. There are two groups of folks who responded and staked their claim to their share of the contrary story. I am grateful they showed up.

First, to elucidate the point I tried to make (and that resonated with many): It has been my observation that many who are successful in the familiar school structures do well there. I ignored the question of “liking it” versus “doing well at it,” but other raised that question. This group of educators do arrive in school with the assumption that their experience was (and should be) everyone’s experience. This group is one that pushes back on any change that removes their experience and seeks to reestablish it where it is absent.

I think about the middle school in which I worked that had all the characteristics of middle school. Although it was created before This We Believe, you never would have known it. Some politically powerful educators decided it was not sufficiently rigorous, so it was dismantled, and a junior high school replaced it. That is an example of the second part of my tweet in which I claim they are an obstacle to reform.

Second, the “I did poorly in school, but I became a teacher” are also well-represented in the replies to my tweet, and those folks have been my most cherished colleagues over my 30+ years in the field. I also count myself in that population—at least as far as math is concerned. I hated school math, and I could always get a “C,” but I never understood it. At some point after I stopped taking math class, it all made sense to me. Early in my career, I earned my math certification and was a successful middle school math teacher several times.

To those who are educators, but who weren’t great “doers of school” when you were young, I believe you are among the strongest voices for what we should be doing in schools. You understand what is wrong with school and what the others don’t understand.

I am concerned about the future of schooling, however, if we don’t find a way to connect with, learn from, and design for those who have not found their way back to school.