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What’s Love Got to Do With It

May 4, 2014

teach

May 6 is National Teacher Day, but most teachers will probably not be basking in well-deserved recognition. More likely they will be in the midst of preparing for their Summative Evaluations or reshuffling their lesson plans to accommodate the annual onslaught of standardized testing. But teachers can count on my salute, for as I observe the prevalent trends encumbering the profession with its proliferation of alphabetic interventions — DEAC, SGP, SGO, PARCC — I can only shake my head in dismay at the current state of affairs.

I am proud to say I was a teacher. For forty years I dedicated my life to the proposition that I could have a positive impact on the lives of my students and thus contribute to the greater good of society. During the course of those forty years I witnessed the growing imposition of bureaucracy on this noble profession. Well-intentioned though it may have been, it only served to erode the efficacy of teaching which is, at its best, a delicate art — a fine balance of content knowledge, facilitation skills, and most important of all, human caring.

The good teachers that I had worked with have often passionately expressed their disheartenment to me. So much of their time has been diverted from actual teaching to testing and documentation tasks that many feel powerless in their quest to get back to what really matters — the kids in their charge.

It saddens me to say that I’ve been hearing this kind of lament quite a bit. The educational pendulum has been swinging in this direction over the last several decades and dramatically so in the past few years. Hopefully it will swing back before it has too great of a deleterious effect on good teachers. Test scores and SGP/SGO pressure are anathema to the practice of nurturing the development of “the whole child” which has apparently fallen by the wayside. The narrowing of focus on “academic standards”  has sadly neglected those crucial aspects of children that will be important to them in their lives — self-esteem, integrity, creativity, a respect for real learning, tolerance, a strong moral compass — regardless of the career path they pursue.

I recently saw a piece on TV about this year’s National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb of Baltimore. He is a thirty year old, eight years into his career, and his passion for teaching is thankfully still intact. It was said of him that he would “do just about anything to get his students fired up about learning.” In the course of his interview, he revealed that he had not been a stellar student himself. There had been struggles in his life — as there are in so many kids’ lives — that took precedence over school, in his case parental unemployment and alcoholism, but he’d had some teachers who showed they cared about him, and that made all the difference. They saved him by “shining a light into his darkness,” and it compelled him to pay it forward by doing the same.

When asked to describe his philosophy of teaching, he simply said, “Kids before content and love before all. My first task is to make sure that they feel loved and cared for and feel safe to take risks.”

What? No mention of SGPs? No testimony of test scores? Strange, but I do not recall hearing any mention of love and care from administrators at faculty meetings or Education Commissioners at press conferences or politicians discussing educational fixes in the halls of congress. Instead there is a litany of tasks that have little to do with the passion that is at the core of teaching and learning. What good are the cures proposed by those in power if they kill the patient? I am not opposed to accountability or evaluation, but both must be done in a common sense manner that recognizes the essence of good teaching, those very truths voiced by the Teacher of the Year.

Sean McComb humbly insisted that his award was not just for him but instead for teachers across the nation who put their heart and soul into their job. I’m glad he expressed this for there are indeed many who do what he does in anonymity, at least as far as the public goes. Not so for their students, all of whom know exactly what these teachers have meant in their lives, SGOs be damned. I know this because I see it taking place in the school at which I taught. My fear is that this love and care which is at the heart of good teaching will be squelched by some assembly line or “business” model that is more and more becoming the face of modern American education. And that would be a shame. I too was saved by teachers who cared, not by an SGO or standardized test score, and I hope that students to come can be exposed to that same possibility before frustration and stultifying bureaucracy drain the very life out of our best teachers.

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3 comments

  1. Great article. I am a former student and I remember you as a wonderful, passionate teacher. I too am a teacher now, and for the short six years that I have been an educator, I have seen too many crazy changes. I truly hope the road curves and people with a love for their profession will quickly shine above all else. Until then as John Dewey would say “you learn what you do.”


  2. Thank you for this post! I am also a former student and I feel lucky to be able to cross paths with you through your writing. As a first year teacher through Americorps, I have gotten a small glimpse at the hardships that come with teaching and your article encourages me to finish the year out strong. An excellent teacher does not just teach, he inspires. I’d welcome any more words of advice and once again, thank you for sharing!


  3. Mr. Daborn, I was a student in your class at Pierrepont School back in the late 80’s and remember you fondly. Now that I’m grown with children of my own, it saddens me to see that they are being taught to the test, and teachers are being forced to focus on test scores, rather than true learning.

    You are one of those memorable teachers who taught with obvious passion for your craft…getting kids to learn while making it memorable, and fun! Thank you!!! Know that you were appreciated as a teacher and still remembered as being among the best of the best.

    Danielle (Grauso) Janson
    PS-I became a teacher 😉



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