Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part 2)

June 2, 2010 at 10:42 am 7 comments

In my last post I promised the third “controversial” reason I resigned from my teaching position (I’m still not comfortable saying I “quit.”)

Confession:  After a great deal of thought, I realized, oh shit, this really wasn’t one of the reasons I resigned.  So, to be completely honest, this third “reason” wasn’t really a reason at all.  It’s just something I’ve been meditating on a lot since I resigned.  But it could have been a reason, and that’s the point here my friends.

Do I believe in public education?

In short, no, but also yes.  I can’t decide.  That’s my big secret.  I might not believe in public schools.  And, honestly, how can you be a public school teacher if you don’t believe–or even might not believe–in public education?

Most of this has to do with my own current freaked out state of mind:  AHH I’ll have no income in 3 months!  AHH I have no skills!  AHH Public education, you’ve failed me!  I’ll elaborate on this in another post.

But seriously, I’ve started to wonder more and more what we’re preparing our kids for in America’s high schools.  Aren’t we really preparing them to be teachers?  Because who else uses this stuff?  I’d like some honest-to-goodness answers to this, folks.  I get the question often, as I’m sure most high school teachers do: when are we ever going to use this?  What is the correct answer to this question???  I want to know in case I get it again in my last few days.  Lately I’ve been sticking with:

“You’ll never use 90% of what you learn in high school.  Chemistry?  When do I ever use chemistry?  World History 1?  I can count the number of times I’ve needed that in the last 2 or 3 years on one hand.  That’s not the point of high school.  You’re learning how to learn.  You’re learning how to find information and how to work hard.”

9th graders don’t really like this answer.  Wanna know why?  Because it’s not satisfying.  I’m not satisfied with it.  Learning how to learn sounds great, but why can’t we teach them how to learn–how to think–with tools that really are useful and will still be useful by the time they’re out of college.

A self deprecating example:

We’re studying Romeo and Juliet in all of my classes right now.  We have been for the entire 4th quarter.  I like this unit.  It culminates in a group film project that involves some combination of acting, directing, screenwriting, soundtrack compiling, set designing, costume designing, and casting, depending on what their group members are interested in.  I get some really cool final projects.  So that part of the unit is fun, but remember, we’re studying Shakespeare’s most famous play for an entire 9 weeks.  For about 75% of my students (and for me), this gets pretty darn tedious.  This year we watched the movie first (Zeffirelli’s version for you film snobs) to get the plot down, and have been reading the play more closely to focus on the genius of the language.  This worked well for the first Act.  But then they were sick of it.  “Why are we reading this?  We already know what happens.”  I expected this, of course, because I’m a brilliant educator, but I felt myself echoing day after day “We’re looking at the genius/beauty/brilliance/you-fill-in-this-blank-after-being-asked-the-same-question-100-times of the language, guys.  Look at this!  It’s awesome!”  It got to the point where I was questioning the whole thing too.  Why are we spending so long on this?

If I just want them to know Romeo and Juliet because of its cultural importance, we only needed to watch the movie.  If I wanted them to see the beauty of the language, I really could have just focused on a few of the best parts: the layering of metaphors when they first meet, the banter among some of the guys, a few other select passages.  Maybe the point is to read a Shakespearean play in its entirety, just so you can say you did.  But I’m not any more satisfied with that than I was earlier.

What if, instead, we had watched the movie, closely analyzed a few incredible passages, examined ways Shakespeare and/or R & J has infiltrated our culture, and… moved on.

I shudder when I think of how much time that would have opened up.  The things we could have done.  Maybe I could have used that time to cover things that may  actually be useful to my students when they’re adults: creativity (as in thinking outside the box; not as in art), using computers/ipods/cell phones actively (blogging!  twittering!  whatever’scomingnexting!), being tactful (how and why), being funny (school seriously undervalues this as far as I’m concerned), working in a group (actually teaching this, not just watching forlorn as the same kid carries all the weight and the same kid lets him).  None of these things are explicitly English, so they’ve always felt somewhat untouchable.  But where exactly do they fit in?  Math?  Social Studies?  Some elective that only 10% of students take?  Because they’re important.  Possibly more important than reading all of Romeo and Juliet.

What are your thoughts on public education?  Am I way out of line or missing the point?  Or, if you’re not satisfied either, what do you think needs to change?  And how would you do it?  Sometimes we all need to vent, but without offering solutions, we’re just whining.  And I don’t want to be a whiner.


Entry filed under: Teaching.

Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part I) Done and Done

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eric  |  June 2, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I think searching for solutions counts for something, even if never being able to offer one. Though, if you thought about it enough, I’m confident you’d come up with something brilliant. By the way, you’re way out of line. J/K

  • 2. Jacquelyn  |  June 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Well, dear, that was unexpected. But I can’t say unwarranted. I wonder at it from time to time. Instead of preparing them to be teachers, I’d say more vaguely we’re preparing students to be employees. Do as your told, be here on time, don’t be absent, don’t speak out of turn, learn to respect authority, and give the correct answer (A, B, C, or D).

    On the other hand, how many students’ families can afford a private or home-based education? Few. And how many students would learn how to learn on their own? Fewer. So, what’s the answer? Great public education? I think that’s the idealistic answer. Maybe not the immediate or realistic one.

    I really like your ideas of how to handle Romeo & Juliet and what else you could teach if you had more time. I wish you were teaching next year if for no other reason than for you to try this out. But, you should do what is best for you, of course. 🙂

    I think teaching art and photography gives me a very different perspective of public education, as I have no SOL tests or worries. Maybe you’d like teaching art? Or theatre?

    Anyway, a very full heart of warm wishes to you on your new adventure. I know you’ll prosper at whatever you choose. Love!


  • 3. Amanda  |  June 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I agree with Jackie- public education prepares young people to do as they’re told, think a certain way, and be good citizens- which means not asking questions. I don’t plan on putting my children in the public education system. There’s no room for unauthorized thinking, sadly.

  • 4. The Gonest Gal  |  June 4, 2010 at 3:12 am

    I don’t know if there’s a right way to go about educating our youth, but I have to believe that having dedicated people in the field makes some kind of difference. We question our effectiveness and revise our approach, and I have to believe we make progress. I have to, Catherine. And I agree with whoever said that searching for solutions is a kind of answer in itself.

    I’ve come to envy your approaching freedom–I often wonder what else I might be able to do if I wasn’t tied to this job. I think maybe in a few years, if I’m able to get a real creative writing program running at HHS, I might feel ready to move on and try something else. I think sometimes we all just need a change of scenery.

    So yeah…I get you.

  • 5. Kara  |  June 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    While the system of public education may not seem to encourage unauthorized thinking, I believe that individual teachers do. We try our best to push students to think critically, even when they just want you to tell them the right answer. It saddens me to lose such a great teacher in Catherine, though; she’s one of the good ones.

  • 6. Eva  |  June 29, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Catherine, I think what you might be getting at here is that teachers aren’t given the freedom to teach not only in a way that they find meaningful, but also teach what they believe is useful. And when someone with a mind full of curiosity and a desire to learn is stifled by rules and “SOLs,” I think it becomes very hard to enjoy the very purpose of our classroom existence. Just a thought.

    I have enjoyed reading your blog. It’s given me a bit a peace about some of the choices I have made and things I think I believe.

  • 7. rookiemistakesandbeginnersluck  |  June 30, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! It’s definitely an imperfect system, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what needs to be done, but relieved that so many of you are such great teachers. I’d be thrilled to have my own children in your classes.


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