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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What is the value of one art teacher's life?

The link above is to an article of a young art teacher who recently commit suicide. The article is not one of those feel good teaching stories.  The teacher's family and her colleagues are pointing to bullying as the cause of her suicide.  Bullying not by her students; but her administrators.  As a father and an educator this story hurts.  I remember the day I graduated from college like it was yesterday. It was the day I became a teacher, my Mom and my three sisters were so proud of the fact that their little brother had become a teacher. Mom has since passed away, but my sisters never stopped bragging about their little brother being a teacher ~ even 30 years later.  It is a source of great pride in our family that one of us became a teacher.  My career choice isn't looked down upon, it was never looked at as some career back up plan, it always was and remains to this day my first choice. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. 
My wife is also a teacher . We both have extremely rewarding careers in teaching. However, we advised our own daughter against  becoming a teacher. Just writing that line hurts.  But something dreadful has been happening in our schools these past few years, somthing has changed, not only for the children who attend our public schools, but for the staff who work in them too.
In a world of winners and losers, and chasing unattainable test scores.  Do we need to begin to prepare our future educators for Value Added Measures pressure? Restricted curriculums? And what about high stakes untested teacher evaluation programs?  Perhaps we should put a warning label on our profession "This career may dehumanize you, may crush you, may cause you great emotional pain, and even death" ~ is this where we are heading? 

Karen Babcock wrote on Facebook in response to this story: "There may be a few people who thrive under a winner takes all, race to the top, atmosphere. I would guess many of them land in "high stakes" jobs. Many people crumble under such pressure. Sometimes it doesn't end well. We are all unique in our temperament and what motivates us. But first we are all human. I hope our legacy is that we live up to that title. We've already lost some really, really good ones. Is the money really worth it?" 

My wife and I decidided not to push teaching, because of the emotional damage we began to see our colleagues suffering from.  It began to enter our profession via No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.  
My immediate hope for our profession is that we start to help prepare our future teachers, counselors, and administrators to recognize the warning signs of depression and stress.  We need to help them understand that sometimes we need the help of others. 
My deepest prayer for our profession, is that we bring some humanity back into teaching, into our public schools, and into the lives of those children who attend them. Tragically for everyone involved, something breaks down when the purpose of education becomes simply a game of numbers

For Jennifer (in the article above) my prayer is that you forgive us for not warning you, for not fighting harder to save the humanity of our teaching profession. 

Jennifer Lenihan was an art teacher, 
A human being, 
A source of endless smiles for her parents. 
She brought color into a dark world, 
She brought light into darkness, and 
She opened young hearts to the joys of art.
In essence she is like a million other young teachers,
Filled with a heart full of dreams to make school a more humane place for our young people.
What did administrators do to welcome her into our profession during this time of insane testing mandates?
They harassed her!
What did they do to welcome her into our profession?
What did they do during this time of focusing on producing proficient little workers for the 21st century?
They did nothing,
They harassed her!

Jennifer is no different than every other young teacher entering our profession.
She deserved more,
They all deserve more
They should be embraced,
They should be welcomed,
They should be supported,
They should be treasured,
And yes they should be loved.
Farewell Jennifer Lenihan, may angels carry you to that place of peace, that place of love, that place of infinite color and beauty. And as Don McLean sang all those years ago, like Vincent Van Gogh "this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you"
Jesse The Walking Man Turner

 If you need to know what I listened to on my walk it was Don Mclean's Starry Starry Night

1 comment:

  1. No words for this one Walking Man, just deep deep sorrow brother.