Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"The Kids Are Alright" or "Why the Hell Do You Want to be a Teacher???"

Whenever anybody asks me about how I like Teacher's College I tend to have one standard response. I always say something along the lines of "The classes are boring, the teaching is amazing, I love half of the people, but the other half make me fear for the future of my children". Today I had an experience with the later section of that quote.

This morning, I was sitting in my Senior Math Elective and we were looking back at a Grade 9 Algebra book from 1897. There was a hilarious question about a cask of brandy. The question had hilarious wordings like "If you empty 45 gallons of brandy and fill it with water, and one-quarter of the solution be brandy, then how much of the original amount be brandy?" or something like that. The fact that it said "be brandy" prompted me to ask if this was a question intended for pirates.

Our professor asked if the students today could handle that question at Grade 9. Of course, the language in that particular problem is really quite archaic, but if it were modernized and perhaps made slightly more relevant (a bottle of Gin and Juice perhaps?) could a typical Grade 9 student be able to do this question? Most people in the class said no, and gave a variety of reasons as to why the students today just could not handle such a thing. I was alarmed at some of the answers that I heard.

"They can't do word problems"
"They would freak out if they saw the fraction"
"They don't know how to put that into their calculators"

And then it quickly turned into yet another rant about how "kids these days" don't have any respect or academic ability. My mind is consistently blown by just how little faith the teacher's of tomorrow have in the youth of today. It honestly makes me wonder why some of these people are going into this profession if they can't think of good things to say about the students that they are going to be intereacting with every day.

I decided to keep with my trend of looking on the bright side, and sticking up for the students, someone needs to speak for the ones with no voice right? I brought up the fact that in 1897 Education was much more elitist. A very small percentage of the population made it to Grade 9, and those that did would more than likely be the top students. So of course the top students then could solve it. While I doubt that every single Grade 9 today could solve that equation, I bet that a number of them could do it. In fact, I think that the number of fourteen year olds who could figure that out today would be much higher than it was over a hundred years ago.

In fact, in looking at that question, I see no reason why I would not have given one like that to the Grade 8 students I was teaching back in the fall. Sure they may not have all gotten it, but it would have made a great Problem of the Day to start a math lesson off with. I gave some very complicated questions and I was amazed at their abilities, there were some student who were capable of solving intense logic puzzles, or were able to compute the Fibonacci sequence. Could they all do it? Well of course not, but many of them were able to do it.

I have been rather frustrated of late with this whole B.Ed program. It really has nothing to do with the classes or the work. It is all about the people here. I don't mean to insult any of my peers or anything like that, but the negativity here really brings me down. Now there is a huge stereo-type about teachers being whiners who are only in the career for the pension and the holidays. At the start of the year, I resented that a lot, but now I see where it comes from. A lot of people in this program just don't seem to like youth. So again, I have to ask, WHY ARE YOU HERE????

Of course, I have met several people in this program who I think are great and will make wonderful teachers, but as the year goes on I can't help but think that they are in a minority. What scares me the most is the thought of entering a career full of negativity and having it overtake me. As I said way back here, my number one fear is getting crushed by the weight of the world. This is exactly why it scares me. I consider myself to be a really positive person, and am so worried that being surrounded by negativity for the rest of my life will crush any amount of optimism I have left in me.

So I am making a plea to all educators and would be educators out there. Please, please, please, only go into this profession if it is something that you want to do. Sure summers off are going to be great, and so will the sweet teacher's pension. But that can't be the only reason to be here. Make sure that you want to do this. You have a huge chance to influence the lives of future generations and somehow make a difference. Don't shirk that responsibility for any reason. It's not fair to the students, it's not fair to yourself and it's not fair for anyone who cares about the youth of today.

Maybe I am just naive, I don't know. Maybe the kids today are not alright. Maybe they really don't have any respect. Maybe they are stupid. Maybe the only two reasons to be a teacher are July and August.

You know what? I don't care if I am wrong. I would much rather keep my rose coloured glasses on than be forced to gaze upon the bleakness of reality. I have to believe that what I am doing matters. Because without purpose, what is the point of anything really? I will continue to try and go against the negativity stream that I am immersed in.

Someone has to believe in these students. I just wish that I could share the same optimism for their future teachers.

Until next time,


P.S. For anyone interested, there be 60 gallons of brandy in the cask.


Jack Shepherd said...

I think that if we included more questions about Brandy, or obscure liquors we would find that students would engage more often. Not only that but learn about the variety of different poisons a person can drink, and mainly to understand the old rich white man drink.

Anonymous said...

Dr. J here. I have been glenergised(canadian spelling). In fact you have enriched our program from the first day of classes. I understand and share many of your concerns with the popular discourse that demeans and degrades our youth. However, I pray that you will continue to engage with, challenge and when needed interrupt and interrogate your colleagues and the "system." You have been given the gift of a lucid intelligence,vision and kindness and I am confident that you will soon be able to put other teachers on a better, more promising path. Keep on keeping on Glener