My daughter was born early and small, but she always had this powerful presence. When the nurse wrapped her up and handed her to me, she looked like she was smiling. Her dad and I used to worry because she never cried. Twenty years later, she is still always smiling. And she is still that small but fierce girl trying to figure out this big world.
I reluctantly entrusted her to teachers for the first time fifteen years ago. You see, she was born into a family of highly predictable, laser focused, over achievers. But she danced to her own tune and constantly challenged the rest of us. She struggled academically in school. She was always more focused on the people around her than the concepts being taught. She worried about who was sad or lonely, and she bravely stood up against any kind of cruelty. She inherited an empathetic heart and a commitment to social justice from her grandmother, one of the most talented teachers I know. With perseverance and support from some amazing teachers and tutors, she graduated with honors.
As she entered college, she was undecided about her major. She tried on a few that didn’t fit until she finally came to the conclusion that was clear to the rest of us… she was born to teach. As a fourth generation teacher, she was not blind to the reality of the job. She knew there would be obstacles and reasons to feel discouraged, but she didn’t realize that the biggest source of discouragement might just be the more experienced teachers.
Now in her junior year, she excitedly registered for field experience. I bought her a new lunch box, sensible shoes and some “teacher pants”. She called me at the end of each day in the field overflowing with observations and questions about the kids and the work. But after a few weeks, I noticed a change. There was a detectable dim in her sparkle, and she finally shared the reason. She said that the teachers she joined at lunch thoroughly articulated all of the reasons why she should reconsider her chosen profession. They dumped and grumped and told her all about why they hated their jobs. I was disappointed but not surprised. I work with interns, and they frequently share similar experiences.
I have watched this particular preservice teacher grow for twenty years, and I know her heart. She is the kind of teacher you would want to teach in the classroom next door. She is the kind of teacher you would want your children or grandchildren to have. Think about it- who wins if we encourage our bright young teachers to quit? What do we possibly have to gain from that? Whether we do it because it is a habit, because complaining is the way we bond or because we want others to appreciate how hard we work, it has to stop. If we want great colleagues and truly believe that our future depends on the quality of our teachers, we have to recruit, encourage and support our young ones. If things need to change, let’s change them. But please hear this plea on behalf of my daughter and aspiring teachers everywhere… let’s help them shine instead of dimming their spark. We will all be better for it.