This August will mark the first time since 1987 that the end of summer vacation for children is void of any meaning other than nostalgia.
Decades ago, former Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Lee Iacocca lifted up aspiring teachers by asserting that, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”
A stint as a training petty officer in the Combat Information Center of a warship awakened my desire to teach. Then, two years as a teaching assistant in College Park and one year in a Parisian lycée confirmed a talent for organizing instruction and communicating knowledge to others. The acquisition of advanced degrees in content and pedagogy would herald the moment to embark on a career in the classroom, even though little evidence supported the proposition that our society is completely rational.
Absolutely nothing had prepared me for the unreasonable demands of life as a teacher in the public schools. From the safety of retirement, reflection upon that first day of school still bludgeons reason.
An indelible flashbulb memory remains incandescent: seeing more than 40 names on two-of-six class lists, the future occupants of my 45 student desks. Just under 50 students walked into a sweltering room that might have comfortably housed half that many. Much like teacher LouAnne Johnson of “Dangerous Minds” fame, I was too young to retire and too mean to quit.
The logistics of serving a total caseload of 200 students rendered my extensive training in cooperative education nearly irrelevant. When the students were engaged in group work and a hand was raised, navigation from the front to the back of the room was a perilous adventure.
Educators will wholeheartedly agree that individualizing instruction to meet the needs of each learner is a laudable practice. Still, when more than 200 students are on the caseload, there are insufficient minutes in a day to perform such tasks, even for those who require no sleep.
In America, however, teaching has evolved into an interminable internship. The policies of the new Secretary of Education threaten to decimate the hard-fought gains in equity and social justice for children. Secretary Betsy DeVos seeks to supplant improvement of instruction with generation of profit for her cronies.
My three decades in public education lead me to take exception with Lee Iacocca: the best people already become teachers. Teachers trade the prospect of wealth for the light in a child’s eye. Teachers contribute endless hours each week, often suffering adverse consequences on their health. In a completely rational society, those who devote their lives to children would never need to choose between pulling out of the race or collapsing at the finish line.