Saturday, September 6, 2014

Out Standing In Our Field

It's something that every teacher can do for all teachers. Get out into the community

I've heard the speech from fellow teachers-- "When I walk out of here at the end of the day, I don't want to see any students again until I walk back into school tomorrow." I have known teachers who deliberately bought homes well outside the district limits so that their home life would never, ever intersect with their school life.

We can't do that any more. We cannot hold ourselves separate from the communities where we serve.

I teach in a small town, so I know plenty of teachers who stay active and connected. they sing in church choirs. The coach little league. They paint houses in the summer. They work with the Humane Society. One teacher in my building was the town mayor for years. Me? I play in a town band, write for the local newspaper, and stay involved in local community theater (right now I'm directing a production of Chicago-- stop by if you're in the neighborhood in three or four weeks).

I shop at local businesses where my students and their parents and my former students all work. My students see me in the grocery store. Buying food!! In jeans!!!

Yes, there are down sides. When I was president of the striking local years ago, people knew right where to find me. And when my first marriage blew up and I became a divorced single male in a small town, there were plenty of entertaining stories told about me.

But teachers who are out in the community, who are visible and active, are teachers whose students can recognize them as actual human beings. When we are visibly connected to the communities we serve, we are real stakeholders and participants and not just drive-by do-gooders who vanish at 3:45 to some other place that is apparently a better place. And when educational issues arise in our world (as they do these days roughly every twelve minutes), members of our community do not think about Those Darn Teachers, but the actual live human beings they know who also happen to be teachers.

We teachers are pretty noisy these days about our dislike of top-down pronouncements. But when we rarely descend from Mount School except to deliver pronouncements on how Pat is doing in class or what the parent should be doing to help Chris, are we not rather top-downy ourselves?

Connecting to our communities helps us do our jobs better. We better understand our students, and they better understand us. We serve as examples of how adults are active in many aspects of their lives. We better represent the profession; this was always a good idea, but in times like these in which the profession is under constant attack, it's essential. People are most likely to stick up for human beings they know, not faceless functionaries who are only slightly more human than a clerk at the DMV. And connecting to communities helps us avoid incredibly tone-deaf acts of insensitivity like wearing police-supporting t-shirts at a moment and in a place where the police are not trusted.

There are certainly some practical barriers. For highly mobile teachers, moving for every job change would be silly. And married teachers have to balance two sets of needs. Not everybody can live right in the district where she teaches. But every teacher can spend time in that district after school hours for any purpose, even something as simple as shopping.

In times like these, teachers cannot simply hide in their caves. We have to be out in the field, visible, active, using our talents, connecting with our students and their families. We need to be loud and proud, local and vocal.

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