Why am I here?
Yes, I need a job so that I can pay the bills. But why am I specifically sitting in a high school math classroom when I could be in so many other possible career locations?
I think society has set up three very incompatible goals for me to accomplish as a teacher and part of the confusion is simply how I define myself as a teacher.
Teacher as a Babysitter
School is compulsory. It is law that a child must be in some form of schooling under the age 18 (in Ohio). Essentially society is telling teenagers that we cannot handle them between 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM. While not many adults, let alone teachers, would admit it, I think many students would acknowledge that there is a daycare aspect to school. More negatively they might compare schools to prison. The sentiment is the same though, schools function as a warehouse facility to store students.
I honestly don’t have any problem with this image though. I genuinely like the vast majority of students. Maybe not as academics, but on a more interpersonal level. Recently at my school we had a reward day at the conclusion of testing. We were asked to devise activities to do with our students, not necessarily academic activities because the students could then sign up to work with any teacher. Basically, we were asked to hangout with our students. I absolutely relished the opportunity to drop the premise and rhetoric of instructional time and just do stuff. We made sushi and played games.
Teacher as Knowledge Disseminator
We send students to school to learn. In my case, I am there to teach the subject of mathematics. Whether the mathematics learned in school is of any real relevance to students is debatable at best. I really don’t think this is why I am here. I actually have trouble justifying my purpose in terms of knowledge dissemination. If a student really wants to learn math there are many more economical ways to be taught the subject, websites, books, software. Learning math in a public school setting is probably one of the least efficient uses resources imaginable.
Teacher as a Mentor
Frequently extracurricular activities seem to take precedence over academic activities in a school. The community at large sometimes seems more concerned with basketball scores and musical productions than they are with differential equation capabilities of their students. As a teacher I fit into this model by trying to help build a well rounded student who can work well with others, prioritize obligations, and manage emotions. My purpose under this model isn’t so much about teaching math, but teaching all of the little habits that lead to an effective math education.
Personally, I really like this view of education. It is the reason why I want to read essays for scholarships and other classes. It is why I go to softball games and track meets. It is why I want to discuss stories with students when they come to me from literature class. I am trying to foster an inclusive, supporting environment for learning, regardless of the particular subject. Success in math cannot come at the expense of other classes or activities in this model.
Is it really reasonable to expect us to do this all at the same time?