On Being A Teacher For 31 Years

I have been reflecting on my teaching years since I recently retired. I never felt the need to become an administrator, even though I did take a number of graduate classes. Very early in my teaching career I had a sense of the value and importance of being a classroom teacher. Almost all of the principals that I worked with served as poor role models of what I was sensing an educator could be. There was one (Jim W.) who I really valued. I would have attempted anything that Jim suggested, but the beauty of his influence was that he listened to teachers and worked with them, helping them formulate a practice that was ethical and student based. Regarding the other principals that I worked with (certainly more than a dozen) – all were male by the way, except for two women, one of whom was my principal in a large urban high school in Philadelphia. She was receptive to teachers, but was saddled with the urban woes of lack of resources. The other woman was a principal at a school who was ‘fired’ at Thanksgiving break. That came to be known to the staff as ‘The Thanksgiving Day Massacre’. She also was receptive to teachers and listened to them when they spoke. – a small handful of them were simply nice men, not terribly aware of what was involved with teaching and learning. Two others were great in the area of public relations – they might have made fantastic washing machine or used car salesmen, and a person would have felt they just had struck it rich if they had bought something from them. As far as entrusting them with the education of students – not so much. The bulk of the principals I recall were dangerously incompetent – they knew little about the practice of teaching, were not aware about what they did not know, but they had been sold on the idea that they were educational leaders.
One of the sad ironies of education is that it is a profession that is turned upside down. Classroom teaching is not given primary status – in fact, the further away you get from direct contact with students (i.e. becoming a principal), the greater the financial reward. It is no wonder that some teachers aspire to a principalship. When I took graduate classes at Penn there were few practicing teachers in the classes, perhaps just one in five of the graduate students. I was always amazed at how many of those graduate students wanted to get their doctorate or master’s degree and move right away into ‘policy’. I never understood how a person with no classroom experience could presume to develop policy for teachers and students.
It was not until I experienced working with teacher networks that I was able to put into words some of the feelings that I was forming about my teaching practice. I owe much to the Coalition of Essential Schools, the Philadelphia Writing Project, and S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) for giving me a deep background in theory and practice, for providing the language to allow me to write and think about teaching, and for providing a network of teachers where ideas and practice could be shared so that all of the teachers involved could improve their own practice.

4 thoughts on “On Being A Teacher For 31 Years

  1. Bruce..this is so well said…as an administrator I try to remind myself everyday of why we are there…I also try so hard to stay connected to the students but the journey is hard especially as we enter yet another phase of mandated standardized reporting…this should not be a ‘one size fits all’ practice. Keep up the good work!!

  2. Hey Bruce, this is fantastic! I am now in my 24th year of teaching (if you can believe it) and I long for the days of our work together.
    I learned so much from you and our other team members; I am the educator I am because of your influence. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

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