On the Occasional Frustrations of Being a Public School Teacher


It hasn’t been a good week here at the blog–my apologies for denying any of you who visit the opportunity to read snarky commentary about Brad Johnson. I know you miss it, but I’ve just been feeling a bit overwhelmed with school the past week, and haven’t had the mental energy to jump on here and make an irreverent post.

It’s probably not fair to say that school has drained my energy; the education part of what I do is incredibly invigorating, and though there is the occasional week with an enormous workload, I’m lucky enough to have a job that produces more energy than it takes. Being in a classroom with bright, articulate people, discussing the best things anyone has ever written, could hardly be exhausting.

What is exhausting, though, is the enormous weight of the institution involved in education and the pressure to “reform” our schools. The pressure, much of it warranted, is coming from every direction-an administration skeptical about the future of public education, parents worried about low achievement, and employers concerned that their workers aren’t prepared for the job.

With all this pressure, schools feel forced to show a response. Unfortunately, we’re always looking for quick fixes for our systemic problems, for slogans that will cover up our failures, and for gimmicks that offer false hope. If you survey the literature about educational reform, its history is littered with amazing new technique after amazing new technique, almost all of which failed to live up to the claims of the people hyping them.
Of course, the real answer isn’t all that complicated. Quality education comes from honest effort, from students, teachers, and administrators. No catchphrase for student achievement or innovative program can replace the impact of effort, and our endless search for easy answers always seems to run away from that point. We know what works; the big question is are we willing to do it?

If we want our students to be able to read at grade level, the answer probably isn’t educational teams, dual credit classes, block schedules, peer mentoring, the whole child concept, freshman orientation, or any of the other “innovations” in education that flash in the pan for a moment before being forgotten. It’s not going to be found in focus groups or site visits to other schools. It’s certainly not going to revealed at an education conference.

The answer is right in front of us. Want revolutionary change and authentic improvement? The answer might be as simple as turning off the damn DVD players in our classrooms, demanding and demonstrating excellence, and making students believe that education is valuable by treating it as something valuable, not 50 minute chunks of filled, but often idle, time.

Commitment to excellence may not get headlines. It may not be exciting, either, but policy solutions are never going to solve people problems. The public has a right to demand excellence–not excuses about what we can’t do, nor superficial claims about what we have done.

I’m tired, and I’m overwhelmed. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of great minds tomorrow who will restore my faith and demand my best. I, and everyone in education, owe them the same.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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