At the moment, I can’t think of too many things scarier than when an artist sits down to apply for jobs. Maybe spiders. Or global warming. Or Scott Walker becoming the next POTUS.
Recently, however, an unfolding nightmare in the education system in Wisconsin has me completely terrified.
In 2013, I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree that says “you have an art music education in composing music and you survived your 300-level political science course. Also, you owe us $43,000 for it. Thanks, and good luck!” Consequently, employment was objective #1 post-graduation. My art music education bought me training in my passion but little to no qualifications to work in Northern Wisconsin (where I was moving to in my time between graduation and graduate school). I’ve always been a decent student, hard worker, volunteer, and basic-level humanitarian. I have minimum-wage job experience in food service, retail, and trade work. I’ve taught private music lessons, tutored students, and teaching runs in my blood.
Therefore, I went with one of the few options I had: I applied for my temporary permit and became a substitute teacher. I figured it made the most sense: I want to be a college professor someday, I love the school system I grew up in, and I’d be living in my parent’s basement doing nothing else except apply to graduate schools. It also paid slightly better than an entry level retail job at $7.25 minimum wage (THIS IS NOT A LIVABLE WAGE, but that’s for another time to argue). Anyways…
If there has been anything that has prepared me for the “real world”, it has been substitute teaching.
Seeing the bright futures of tomorrow in the students that thrive in their passions is a gift like none other. Aside from keeping up with pop culture (although I still will never understand “on fleek”, sorry ladies), you get to see what really makes these kids tick. As music is so important to me, I want to see what is important to these kids in order to effectively reach them, even as a short-term substitute. Also, these kids know so much more about technology than I do it’s scary. I watched a 4th grader navigate an iPad faster than I’ve ever seen possible. Aside from a junior high/high school experience, I also spent a considerable amount of time in an elementary school. These little minions are energy-snatching treasures. I held snot-filled hands, danced like an idiot, and received more hugs just for being there than I ever have in my life.
However, in additions to the joys, there have been many struggles, most of which are a direct result of the cuts and regulations imposed by the Walker administration. I have had to learn on the go how to deal with students with emotional behavior disorders because there isn’t enough funding for them to have full-time aides. Teachers’ hands are completely tied in dealing with problem students due to parents misplacing the blame because Walker has deemed teachers the “enemy”. Inspiring children to love what I’m in there teaching, whether it is English, Spanish, Math, Art, Mechanics, or Music, is next to impossible if a student already has a deep-seeded apathy only encouraged more on the home front. Watching the other teachers at my school endure this day after day has brought me to one conclusion:
I am not in the least qualified to do this full-time.
This is a conclusion I am okay with. I chose my degree path, and it is not in this field of education. Education is a field reserved for a very special type of person: a gladiator in bright school colors. They are patient with each and every student and work like crazy to make sure he or she succeeds to their full potential. They endure two of the most poisonous environments – apathy and bad attitudes – and they do their best to still make the material engaging.
Up until the past ten years or so, teachers were regarded with a huge level of respect in almost every society. I keep trying to figure out myself where things started to go wrong, but no matter what I try to verbalize, this article says it better than I ever could.
Fast forward to today:
When I was pouring my 2nd cup of coffee this morning, I saw that a former college professor posted this article:
tl;dr – Wisconsin is prepped to legalize certifying full-time teachers who don’t have degrees, and “sufficient experience” will serve as enough “qualification” for them to be in front of the classroom.
My first thought was: You’ve gotta be kidding me.
I thought it was an article from the Onion…and then I was terrified to realize it wasn’t.
To quote the Teachmag article above,
“The work that teachers do is critical to the success of society.”
I would NEVER want to be operated on by a surgeon who didn’t receive an education in medicine, so why in the world would I trust the formative years of future generations, including my own children someday, to be in the hands of someone who hasn’t been trained on how to give them the knowledge they need effectively and efficiently? At the root of it, these two instances are instinctively the same. The one with power (the surgeon or the teacher) plans in advance the task at hand, uses several resources of what has come before and what is currently groundbreaking, decides what is best for the patient/student, and executes the plan with skilled hands and efficient patience. You wouldn’t hire me to be a surgeon, so why would you hire a surgeon to be a music teacher?
Being a full-time teacher requires training in so many other things than the specific subject are they are teaching, including the psychology of children and those with special needs, the economics and demographics of varying places where they may be teaching, and so many other socioeconomical issues that factor into a child’s living and learning environment. On top of that, Walker’s administration has imposed outrageous expectations and consequential paperwork on the public school system that wouldn’t appeal to anyone who hasn’t been trained in them. I challenge every person who wants to be certified under Walker’s plan to be judged beforehand according to the standards set by Educator Effectiveness, SLOs, EDTPA (and then understand the IEP for each of the students that require them).
All anger and frustration stripped away, my heart immediately went to students with varying disorders. They have specific needs that can’t be met by someone who hasn’t taken an educational psychology course and knows the specifics of their disorder. It would be like sending a baker to give sugar to a bunch of diabetics without knowing the level of severity their systems can handle sugar. Some may be able to use Splenda and succeed, but they won’t know until they’ve spent a considerable time in the classroom. Kids don’t have that kind of time to be treated like lab rats.
We have to stop thinking that anyone can teach, because that simply isn’t true. Not all of us were meant to be teachers. I would know; I’m the only member of my immediately family not pursuing a job in public education because I know I’m not qualified to be doing this full-time, both psychologically and educationally. We all have gifts that earn us our place in society. If you don’t have a degree but want to be in the public schools, ask the district where your skill set would serve best and accept it from there. Your life experience entitles you to the destruction of a child’s formative years as much as mine entitles me to perform brain surgery in a mechanic’s garage with a hammer and staple gun. The best thing you can do for your kids is invest in them and work with their educators to get them as prepared for the world as possible. If you’re not willing to put that kind of investment in, stay out of the way of those have devoted their lives to positively shaping the future of your kids: their teachers.
Like the best gladiators,they’ve been trained for it, and they’re more than qualified to do it.