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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Son with Special Needs Taught me More about Education than Seven Years in the Classroom

I am the product of a classical education. My mother, an English teacher, and my father, an attorney, instilled in me a respect for education that I embraced in my youth, fought like hell against in my adolescence and rediscovered in adulthood. I realized my calling as a teacher while on a backpacking trip through Europe shortly after graduating college. At the time, I had $20,000 in student loan debt, a degree in English, and virtually zero career prospects upon my return from abroad (see reference to English degree). As we wandered the streets of Prague, Florence, and Paris, I found myself unable to avoid the pull of Kakfa, Dante, and Hemingway; these men had defined my understanding of these cities, and I talked Brian’s ear off about their influence on modern culture. In those moments, my desire to teach was born.

Of course, upon my return I had begun to sing a different tune and thought that I could “do better” than teach. But despite a top-notch education from The University of Texas and a set of useful skills, I couldn’t find a job. Like others from the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation, I expected the offers to come streaming in. Moreover, I was told that my college degree would be worth more than the debt I acquired to earn it. With limited options and a waning confidence, I decided to revisit the notion of teaching and applied to Texas State's graduate program in education. I earned my teaching certificate and Master’s degree in Secondary Education two years later and entered the classroom still wet behind the ears, but passionate as all get-out. I fell into my role rather seamlessly. I found I actually enjoyed puzzling through discipline problems and, even though I had practically no idea what I was doing that first year, I loved my job.

Now, in my 7th year in the classroom, the only thing that’s changed is the expertise that comes with experience. I don’t feel like a braggart admitting that I’m good at my job. I’m not perfect, but I enjoy it and I forge relationships with my students that are real and based on a mutual respect for each other and the subject matter. Most importantly, we have a good time and we learn, read, and discuss. And I’m fortunate to teach on a campus that focuses on real education, not just test scores and school data. 

But yesterday in class, my eyes were opened to something I’ve known all along: despite the aforementioned positives, I’m beginning to see the perils of traditional education. It began innocently enough. We’re in the process of reading Antigone, the classical Greek drama about a young woman who risks her life for a morally just cause. To tie in poetry and help them relate to the greater themes within the work, I decided to spend some time listening to and annotating protest music. While discussing Pink Floyd’s message of anti-establishment in “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” I described the band’s beef with traditional education and the notion that school is purely a stepping stone for one’s career. I explained this in the context of mid-century British prep schools, not realizing that everything I said was true of our own system of education until a student told me as much.