The Teacher You Want to Be: Katherine Bomer on Replenishing Our Souls

I think that in our current accountability-obsessed culture, teaching children feels more and more like a worry and a woe that makes us wish to escape to the Caribbean for a holiday. Not to escape the children, but to replenish our souls, which have been stripped bare by mandates and negative press, and most especially by the call to view children through deficit lenses driven by checklists, grading systems, and test scores. When teachers narrate the stresses of their work to me, they always insist, “It’s not the kids. I love my kids. It’s everything else around me.” Everything else.

Most teachers I know entered this profession to be able to spend joyful days with children, guiding them, inspiring them, passing on their love of reading, writing, math, science, history, music, art, and movement by inviting children into those magical worlds. Instead, we spend our days prepping for, delivering, grading, and analyzing some kind of evaluative measure. And those evaluations begin to inform how we look at our children—as bits of data that paint them as unformed, inexperienced, and error ridden, as creatures that have parts missing and need to be fixed and corrected.

Compare these ways of measuring our children’s capacities in schools with the image of expecting a baby.We have all witnessed family members, friends, and legions of Instagram and Facebook posters delighting in the expectancy (when this is what was wished for) of bringing a human being into the world. Whatever hesitancies, worries, or fears parents might harbor go underground or get relegated to the wee hours of sleepless nights. The public mood is one of anticipation and warm feelings from family, friends, even total strangers. Everyone believes in that baby, in all the best and brightest for its life. No one talks about the baby’s errors and test scores; it would be absurd—taboo, really. That hopeful expectancy is exactly what every child who passes the threshold of a school building deserves.

—Katherine Bomer

The Teacher You Want To Be: Essays About Children, Learning, and Teaching, edited by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene, will release October 22nd.

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