Sold, bought or processed

October 14th, 2010

I was getting a skirt tailored the other day by an older woman with a thick European accent. She asked me questions about my mother and my father and their jobs and my job as she pinned the material. I told her that I think I want to be a teacher. She told me, “Oh, you poor girl. It’s so hard.” She told me that being a lawyer is a much better idea. 

She’s not the only person to offer me that advice. The look of disappointment my Dad gives when I mention applying for Teach For America is killer. 

In a few years, I might completely change my mind, but right now, all I want to do is teach little kids how to read and write and think. And I want to do it in the inner city. 

When I tell people that, they react with all kinds of warnings about how dangerous it is and how bad the kids are and how I’m wasting my talents. 

I’m undeterred, but I’m wondering why my desire to teach is greeted so unfavorably, as if teaching lacks ambition or intelligence. 

I don’t view it that way. The smartest man I know is a teacher. The people who had the biggest influence on me were teachers. 

Also, it seems counterproductive, at a time when the U.S. is in the lower third of 30 industrialized countries with regard to performance in science and math, to dissuade students from pursuing a profession that directly affects our nation’s ability to produce competitive and competent workers. 

The release of Davis Guggheim’s documentary “Waiting For Superman” sparked a great deal of media coverage recently. The documentary explores the issues related to inner-city public education and possible solutions in the form of successful charter schools. 

NBC dedicated a week to exploring public education in the U.S.; launched a special education section; and several refrom avdocates voiced their opinions on other media. 

But it seems that before any meaningful reform can take place, the public conception of teachers and public education must change. 

In the movie “Say Anything,” John Cusack’s character Lloyd Dobler gives a speech about his plans for his future. 

He says, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

Neither do I – not now anyway.

I do not want to sit behind a desk all day and shoot off e-mails to clients here and there. I don’t want to market products or crunch numbers. And it’s okay if I’m underpaid. It’s even okay if it’s hard. 

Instead, I want to read poems to kids and talk about books. I want to be an important figure to kids, and I want to do it in the areas that need the most help. 

I view teaching as a challenge, and I have goals for the future that extend beyond teaching in a classroom. Eventually, I would like to bring the Knowledge Is Power Program to Cleveland because I believe that autonomy, longer school days, longer school years and high expectations are fundamental to creating a nation of successful, happy and accomplished individuals. 

And if that is a terrible thing and a waste of talents, then I must have a twisted view of the world.