Thursday, May 26, 2011

Subjects at War

There is an uproar happening right now in our building regarding the wording of the announcement for our annual award ceremony which has resulted in a large divide amongst colleagues. As educators, we have found ourselves separated into 2 opposing sides consisting of those who teach core subjects, and those who teach "the other stuff".

The award ceremony in our school is a long standing tradition in which friends and family are invited to share in our celebration of excellence. This year, teachers requested a drastic change in the way that they want to see this handled. Teachers whom I work with in our building and have had the utmost respect for have actually been very vocal in stating the fact that if their child were to receive an award of excellence in art, music, wellness, or physical education, they would be offended. That's when the claws came out from all angles. Despite the fact that I teach 3 drastically different courses throughout the day, rather than repeating one over and over, or the fact that I am often the last person to leave the building, or the fact that I design and implement my own comprehensive curriculum by scratch because there isn't one, or the fact that I don't have a textbook to give me all the questions to ask and the answers to expect, or the fact that I care so deeply about my job and the people I work with that I often spend the rest of the night going over and over how I can improve things, I don't work as hard as you do? I shouldn't be respected by students, families, or coworkers? I shouldn't be paid as much as you are? (yes, that actually was a separate topic of debate in prior years)

As a teacher, I feel so strongly about this topic that I have been turned to to be the voice for all of those on "our side" to explain ourselves to "the other side". I am typically the type to be more reserved and think things out of my own, rather than make waves, but I am certainly my father's daughter and as I have previously shared, he is not a force to be reckoned with. Somewhere along the line I must have picked up a bit of his tenaciousness, though it rarely rears its ugly head.  As an adult and a professional, I am so personally embarrassed that other professionals in this field would act in this way. I can not rightfully pick either side, even though as an art teacher it may appear obvious that I would find myself on the latter. I am not. I seem to be standing alone on the third side; that of the student, which I feel needs to have more advocacy.

As I have told my colleagues, I am very proud that so many students have exceeded my expectations in art this year, and I believe that they deserve to be recognized. Each student is different; every single student possesses their own unique strengths and talents, and it is important that their achievements are celebrated, regardless of what content area those achievements are in. So many incredibly hard working art students have told me that something one of us taught in a rotation class helped them to understand something in math, history, etc. Should they not be recognized for their effort and growth just because it didn't all happen only while they were sitting in a room designated for a core subject?

I am personally not offended if the subject I teach is not as respected, or if I am not as respected by colleagues as a teacher, because I know with confidence that what I teach is of value for students. What does offend me is when there is a lack of respect for the students who work so hard in our classes. It is not about me, or about any other teacher in the building; it is about what is in the best interest of the students. We are all here because we share the common goal of wanting to teach students and to see each one of them succeed. All of our subject areas work together to help create a well rounded, well educated student who is able to think critically and apply his or her knowledge toward future growth.

To send home notice that a student will receive an award that is in a core subject vs. a non core subject sends the message to parents that as a school we collectively believe that a student who excels in one subject is valued differently than a student who excels in another subject, and I think that is the wrong lesson to be teaching kids.

On top of all this I spent my morning listening to, and helping to diffuse an issue among students regarding a complex disagreement. I met with a student (who is not even enrolled in my class) to offer study advice, offered extra art time to a student who just really needed someplace to go and be accepted, and taught a group of rowdy kids what is and is not acceptable behavior in the cafeteria. All of this before I have even started my first class in my subject area. I can surely promise that not every lesson learned in my art classes today will be an isolated art specific concept which will be rendered useless the moment that students go home for the day.

Imagine if we all worked together toward our one shared goal of helping our students and respecting each other for how hard and often thanklessly we work for what we love and believe in, what a better place this must be? How do you feel about what the perception in your building is about your value as a teacher? Do you think it should have any contingency on the subject that you teach?

1 comment:

  1. They would be "offended" that their child did well in those subjects. How ridiculous! I cannot imagine the conversations. Ugh.

    I teach in an elementary school, so I am other teachers "plan time." At my first school, the art and music teachers were hired specifically for that purpose. The feeling in that building was our purpose was to watch the kids while the classroom teachers could plan. Whether or not art was learned was secondary. At my other schools, there have been varying perceptions, though nothing like what you are talking about. Making less money? I cannot even imagine. I had teachers who would ask why I was at work late? They didn't pay attention to the fact that I was one of the first teachers to arrive everyday and one of the last to leave. I hope the teachers can learn that this is about the students' abilities and not whether a subject has value, though it would be hard for me not to make that point as well.