If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Best Teachers Want To Be Creative Teachers

We're just back from an extra long weekend of visiting family up in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The trip was somewhat unexpected and prompted by a sad event, but in the process I got to spend some extra time with my family, including some people I hadn't seen in many many years, so there was, as always, a silver lining.

While in NJ, we spent the night at my uncle's house. My uncle is on the school board in his district, and he and his wife are very focused and involved in their children's education. We got to talking about my new jobs, both the one I just finished and the one I'm about to start. In the process, my aunt gave me a minor guilt trip about teaching in private schools. It's not an unusual conversation for me to have. Between those who think private schools are elitist havens for the liberal and out of touch and those who think that schools and teachers should be serving the most under-served, there is not a lot of middle ground for a teacher to claim.

My answer to my aunt, and to everyone else I have this conversation with, comes down to one basically selfish issue: curriculum control. Now that my summer job is over, my main responsibility over the next few weeks is to outline the curriculum for the Spanish 5 class I will be teaching this year. There is a certain amount of material that I am required to include, but basically I am free to design the entire class. This isn't an aberration in the world of private schools. In my eight plus years of teaching so far, I have had this kind of curricular control over four or five of the courses I have taught, and in most of the others have still had a great deal of autonomy. Compare my experience to the complaints of Not So Master Teacher over at his blog and you can begin to see the attraction of teaching in private schools.

One of the perennial topics in education is how to recruit and keep bright, dedicated people in the teaching ranks. I know there are many pieces to that puzzle, but for me a big piece is always this. Smart, interesting people need to feel like they are getting to use their creativity and intelligence in their work. If we make teaching an assembly line profession, the most qualified teachers aren't going to be interested in doing it for very long.

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