When I was completing my student teaching, I recognized that our educational system was broken…it didn’t serve kids the way district and building administrators claimed it did…it didn’t support teachers the way it should. We still operated mainly in the traditional industrial model of education. Some students were destined to succeed, while others had already resigned to the failure that inevitably stood before them. It was then that I resolved to go into administration…before I had even stepped foot in my own classroom…I felt a moral obligation as an educator to “be the change” I saw was needed in the world.
As a first year teacher I was inspired to make a difference. I had been hired to teach a brand new social studies curriculum that had barely been outlined, let alone developed. We were able to make it our own based on the current geo-political climate. In the two years I taught the curriculum we covered modern terrorism, HIV/AIDS in Africa, environmental issues, and my favorite unit: the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
At the time, I envisioned creating a Digital Youth Peace Summit, where my students would network via video-conferencing with students in Israeli and Palestinian schools to address the issues that had plagued the region for years. I put together a grant proposal for the software and hardware needed to facilitate the beginnings of this program. My administrator looked at the $10,000 price tag and laughed. He told me not to waste my time and that there were more important things to focus the districts resources towards. I regret giving up on that dream…
I feel guilty…What would have cost me $10,000 in 2002, I could accomplish for less than $500 thanks to the advancements in technology and Internet communication tools. I look at the turmoil in Israel and Palestine and wonder if I could have made a difference, even in just a small part.
Like so many before me, inspired to change the world, the light of my passion was quickly overshadowed by my sheer determination to survive the grading period without incident or having a nervous breakdown. My grand ideas of changing the world met opposition from my administration and quickly I devolved back to the type of teacher that bored me during my stint in secondary school, the kind that talked the talk, but never took a leap of faith.
More than a decade later, the educational system still suffers from the same overall lack of creativity and inspiration. Not from a lack of effort on the part of select individual teachers; they are working harder than ever…but their collective efforts are going toward survival, not towards realizing their passions. Districts and states have put so much emphasis on standardized testing, that true creativity and learning is sacrificed for rote memorization and pacing guides. Political pressures and budget cuts have led to shortening of school calendars, decreasing pay or laying-off teachers, cutting professional development programs and funding, and so many other vital efforts to maintaining inspiration and passion in our teachers. We know what the right thing to do is…but we’re not given the respect, support, time, pay, and professional development to make it a reality.
Now, that same moral obligation to change the system I felt over a decade ago still burns within me…I wrestle with it daily. How can I make a difference without being buried under the pressure of the system? I still passionately feel it is my duty as instructional leader to build better classrooms for my students. It is my duty as an administrator to build a better school for my teachers. It is my duty as an educator to build a better society. It is my desire to never be part of the problem with our education system, rather, part of the solution and be the change that is so desperately needed.