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Where Have All The Good Teachers Gone?

313048_searching_the_skiesThere is a dearth of good teachers throughout the world. And I’m not just talking about those of us who make a living working with kids in schools, either. Teachers are everywhere. Bad teachers are almost everywhere. Great teachers are exceedingly difficult to find. That is why we, as potentially great teachers, need to seek out those teachers who have figured it out. To seek out great educators who truly aspire to inspire.

John Carlton writes in his blog:

I found ONE teacher who actually taught me something as a young man coming out of the public school system. I could’ve easily lumped her in with all the others who’d wasted my time… but I’m damned lucky I allowed her to shake me up.

The “magic” in learning comes not from any secret way to master something without effort. That doesn’t exist.

No. The magic is all about finding a relationship with a teacher who not only aces the facts… but also cares enough to metaphorically smack you around until you “get” it.

The winners in life never stop learning, and never stop seeking the truth. They’ve learned to love the challenge of encountering something new, and mastering it. They don’t whine about how hard life is — they roll up their sleeves and dig in with gusto.

As I think back on my schooling, even into college, I can really think of maybe seven teachers who did this for me. Perhaps that’s why I ended up going into education. As I read his article and looked at the comments, I realized that there really are many people who go through life without ever having a single teacher who cares about them. Then it struck me:

Am I doing enough for my students?
Sure I like to say that I am, but am I really? Am I really reaching out to my students? Not enough. I know that. That is one of the things that really didn’t work well this year. I didn’t have enough patience with the students. I inspire many of them. As a band director, one of the coolest things is actually getting to watch the same students grow up. I assist with the high school band, and this year have a group of freshmen who had me as their first beginning band director. How awesome to see them grow up and stick with it. And they play very well too. It’s exciting.

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But I know I could do better
I know that there are always those who drop out at the end of each school year. Those who decide this year in band was simply so bad that they can’t envision themselves spending another year of their life doing it again. Granted those numbers get lower and lower as I go on in my teaching, and I understand they will never be zero. But I am concerned when even one students decides to call it quits. It means that I have failed in that area.

Recognizing failure and taking responsibility allow us to grow more
When I talk with students in the spring to find out what they are planning to do, I put a lot of energy into finding out just exactly why they choose to not be in it next year. Unlike other courses, electives give you feedback within a year of what kind of a job you are doing inspiring students. I want to know what I am doing wrong that I can improve in the future.

Measure progress
I do surveys at the end of each year, and often right before Christmas as well. Although some answers are always high-ranking (ie. more parties, more trips, play harder music, play easier music, less rules, etc.), it is interesting to track how the answers of substance have changed throughout the years. If you are a young teacher, or even if you are not, I would encourage you to do surveys from time to time. I do them formally as an added page to the semester exam, but I also informally ask questions. of those students whom I know to be both intelligent and directly honest.

If you do this, you will be on your way to becoming one of those rare great teachers.

One final piece of advice: don’t ask if you’re not ready to find out.

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

9 thoughts on “Where Have All The Good Teachers Gone?

  1. I always loved to have my students write evaluations of me at the middle and end of each year. They were so much fun to read. Kids are so honest and seldom hold anything back. Their comments meant a lot to me.

  2. Hey Betty:

    I was in the office at the end of the year and had one of the other teachers tell me that she was having her students write about their electives. She said there were a lot of really good ones about me and my class. If the year hadn’t been incredibly successful, that alone would have made my year.

  3. I’m glad she shared that with you. When I taught sixth grade (in Texas, by the way), the kids loved band. I was always amazed that anyone could get a group of students together and get them to sound good playing instruments. One of my daughters played the oboe. The reeds cost us a small fortune. The other daughter was in the orchestra and played the violin. Our son does a good job of playing the radio. :)

  4. It definitely is a challenge, especially when you have all the different instruments lumped into the same class. I have taught with both mixed, and like instrument classes. This year was my first in five years to be able to have all of the clarinets in the same class and all of the trumpets, etc. It was so much easier to teach! And it was much easier for the students to learn also.

  5. There really is a shortage of good teachers. Throughout my school life, just of public education from K-12, I can honestly say that I only had three good teachers. The rest were average, or just plain horrible.

  6. In all of my years in public school, I never had a “good” teacher. There has always been a shortage of good teachers, and probably always will be. Teachers are underpaid, and you get what you pay for.

  7. I’ve got to be honest…. yes… most of us get underpaid…. I sometimes wanna quit the moment I see my pay check and remember the tough responsibility that most of the times demanded from teaching and being a ‘teacher”… some of my great friends also blamed on ‘non – cooperative’ co-worker, mean parents with too high expectation over their kids and the unlimited work load assigned to us…. But when I see the faces of my students and how they response….. It simply drives me stronger to do better and better…
    I just hope that school administrator could treat us a man-architects that need to be appreciated more and sometimes need to be understood…

  8. I am a seventh-grade teacher. This is my third year, and I have to say, my job is incredibly hard. Most days I love it, though. I have to admit, even on the days that I don’t love my job, if I think about it, I can always find something positive about the day. Throughout my public schooling (which ended in 7th grade, ironically), I had three good teachers–Mrs. Wright (2nd), Mrs. English (3rd), and Mrs. Pasley (6th). My parents withdrew me from public school because of uncaring teachers and administrators. They homeschooled me until I was 15, when I entered college. I think every day of how much my teachers’ approval meant to me, even if I didn’t show it, and I try to show my students love, respect, and admiration for any job that is done with good effort. I hope I can overcome the stress of the “non-teaching” part of my job and stick with it. Pray for me! :)

  9. TOT (Tired of Teaching) says:
    September 6, 2010 at 7:19 am

    The following refers to my experience as an elementary school teacher (secondary teachers, in my opinion, may not share the following views). In fact, in my experience, I’ve never known any secondary teacher to accept a teaching assignment in an elementary school when they’ve been declared "redundant".

    Teaching is my third career, so I’m not one of those out of school and right back into it people. I’ve taught for 10 years so I have some background.

    Why do teachers quit teaching? I’m sure it’s different from Board to Board, but in the one that I work in, the expectations of the Board are overwhelming. I’m not going to blah, blah, blah about it, but let’s leave it at this: when teachers are expected to be martyrs, then it’s time to quit.

    I can’t stop living for 10 months of the year just to assume the fetal position for about the first 2 or 3 weeks of July, spend the next 2 or 3 attending to what I neglected for 10 months just to start to get ready to repeat the process for the rest of the summer. Why would anyone quit teaching…in order to live a balanced "normal" life, that’s why.

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