It is hard for me to believe that I am entering into my 25th year of teaching. It seems like yesterday when I left WCED for the classroom. A lot of things have changed over the years and what I am experiencing now as an educator is a far cry from what I experienced when I first began.
One thing that hasn’t changed is my love for the students. All those years of welcoming young adults to my classroom and trying 180 days to make a difference in their lives is still what gets me up in the morning (besides a very loud alarm).
My love hasn’t changed, but the students have, at least the situations in which they find themselves. When I first started, I could tell them to take a form home to their parents, but now there are so many combinations of adults in their lives you really can’t say that. In some cases, the kids are responsible for themselves so they sign their own forms (some do anyway even if they have parents at home).
Maybe homelessness was a problem in the 1990s, but over the years I have seen the numbers grow. According to the Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness program, there were 188 Clearfield County students receiving help from the program in the 2015-2016 school year, 115 in Jefferson County. How do you assign homework to a kid who doesn’t have a home?
Hunger is something else that has increased over my tenure, or maybe just my awareness of it. I have known students whose only reliable meal was at school. There are programs to pack food for kids to take home over the weekend. It is very hard to reach a child when they’re hungry and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Students with one or both adults in their lives who are incarcerated are growing in number. So are the numbers of students with health concerns from the simple to the profound.
The school routine has changed. When I first started we worried about kids skipping class. Now we have routine lockdowns, active shooter drills, and metal detectors.
The results of society’s ills can clearly be seen in the eyes of the children teachers work with every day. Trust me, there are times it breaks your heart.
Education itself has changed since I started. Technology has had a big impact on the teaching profession, but not as big as you might think. For all its promises, technology still can’t replace a well trained professional who is there to help guide the kids when they need it.
Please understand something — there is no such thing, I think, as a digital native, a term bandied about since the early 2000s. The belief was that students were born with a mouse in their hands and knew more than their digital immigrant teachers. Even if that was the case at one time, it is not anymore.
As one of my graduate students put it, kids today are tech savvy, but not tech literate. Sure, they can use social media, take selfies and listen to music, but they need help when it comes to actually using the technology as a tool to produce a product and that help comes from a teacher.
The bureaucracy of teaching has grown exponentially it seems. Mandates from the state and federal governments have forced districts to hire people or train current employees to keep track of it. We have to be aware of it in the classroom as well. Don’t get me started on the over-reliance on standardized testing which has forced some to teach to the test just to survive.
In addition to all of this, I had to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in education over my two decades plus in the classroom. I am still paying on my student loan for my master’s degree. I hope to have it paid off before I retire. Teachers also have to get 180 continuing education credits every so many years to keep their certification. I got mine in for this latest cycle, but in June of 2018 I start from zero again.
Over the years, funding for education has decreased steadily. This surprises me. You would think we would want to invest in our future. I hear a lot of criticism about the cost of funding public education, but I think the way we fund it can and should be changed as well as how we use the dollars provided, but to cut it to the point where the education of the students is being compromised is short sighted and sets us up for failure as a state and a nation. I wonder if we still believe in a good education for everyone or just for those who can afford it.
Troubled students, absent parents, government mandates, standardized tests, continuous professional development, funding cuts – who would want this job? That’s a good question because teaching positions are getting harder to fill. Yet as I begin my 25th year, I know one thing for sure — if you love kids, it’s the best job in the world.