Monday, November 10, 2014

A Profession Under Fire? Or a Much Needed Call for Improvement?

By, Andrew Wintner

The Direction of the Teaching Profession?

As many of you know the recent cover of Time magazine calls the ‘profession’ of teaching into question; directly blaming teachers and the structure of tenure / unionization for the “downfall” of public education. This cover has created nothing short of a nation wide debate within educational circles; one side protecting the unionization of the profession and the rights of individual teachers; the other calling for accountability, high standards and transparency that are synonymous with new teacher evaluation systems, namely The Danielson Framework.

As the common core states, one important standard for a writer to understand and master is a knowledge  of the format and intended audience of a written piece (yeah I just made a CCSS reference). With that in mind I am very aware that this is a blog and I will not at all try and hide my opinions. In most aspects of life I am very liberal and open minded; I believe deeply in the need for protection of workers and in a freedom for teachers to address the diverse needs of individual students, which in many instances requires them to deviate from the robotic norm that some consider to be successful teaching. However, I am afraid that often the protection of teachers that are not pushing the profession forward minimizes the innovation and problem solving needed to maximize the potential of teaching and transform it from a job into a profession. Lackluster teachers spread a sense of complacency; in order to fight this sentiment, education must stop viewing itself as a job and rather invest in its capital as a profession by creating intellectual space for professionals to grow their craft and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Programs like Literacy Teachers Initiative (LTI) create this space, however one does not need to be a part of an organization to engage in this type of work.

Why is this Relevant?
Why would this generic argument find its place within a blog dedicated to teacher researchers; the answer is simple; teachers need to band together to push the profession forward. We should invite accountability and transparency, not in a negative light, but in a light that draws attention to the intellectual and innovative work that transpires within the walls of schools countrywide. We need to call attention to teachers who not only fight complacency, but research and reflect upon their own practice to create new norms and push peers forward. Illuminating; this aspect of teaching will draw intelligent and dedicated teachers; and then keep them within the realm. Previous entries in this blog have chronicled how to create a research question and follow through with its implementation, I want to take a step back and illuminate the importance of this type of work on education; the “Why should I implement these practices in my own practice?” question.

For the better part of a decade I have watched my peer group in other disciplines climb up pay scales, move to corner offices and receive accolades for their efforts. For the first half of my teaching career I was incredibly envious; not of their accomplishments, but rather of the recognition. I was jealous they were in professions that documented and pushed innovation. It was not until I became part of LTI that I realized the same community is available within teaching, one just needs to search the appropriate outlets to find it.

Ever since delving into the world of research within my classroom I have felt rejuvenated in my practice as an educator. Namely, I feel like a professional in a career; a huge change in my discourse as before I viewed myself as a proponent of social justice that found himself in the classroom (noble intentions, but not the right mindset to really affect change), teaching was just a job to me. Being a teacher researcher pushes my thinking, forces me to be uncomfortable and live in that ambiguity in order to create something uniquely mine that will promote the learning of students. This type of work fights stagnant practice by creating an environment that celebrates intelligence and nurtures the growth of it. By no means do I consider myself intelligent (and if you are still reading this blog you can testify to my idiocracy through the incoherent nature of this article) however by engrossing myself in the world of research I was able to create a niche that engaged my intellectual curiosity.

Teaching is perpetually in the proverbial spotlight, but in my estimation this is a critical time for the ‘profession’ and if you are reading this blog that means that you are invested at some fundamental level in its success. Therefore, I am urging you to apply for a grant, to write a research article, to submit a piece to chalktalk, write a proposal to speak at a conference or call a friend and discuss the implications of the findings of an article that dissects the importance of heterogeneous grouping in ESL classrooms . These actions will renew your faith in your job if you are feeling lost or burnt out as I once was, it will help you transform your practice into a profession. Even if that seems too cliche don’t embark on this process for yourself, embark on this process because you believe in education and you understand the incredible need for the profession to be viewed as one that promotes and grows intellectual curiosity. You understand that the smartest people in our society do not need to make loads of money, rather they need to feel challenged and successful within their craft. These outlets allow for that, therefore we need to ensure that our community; moreover our profession as a whole begins to take this work seriously. It just may be the thing that transforms teaching from a job into a profession.

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