Surprise Me

~Guest Blog by Joe Routhier

It shouldn’t surprise me that members of Congress don’t get it.  It shouldn’t surprise me that there are large groups of community members , even parents, that don’t get it.  It shouldn’t surprise me that some of my dear friends do not understand  the ins and outs of education; but it does.   After all, just because each of us, probably, went to some form of public education doesn’t mean that we understand its inner workings or have an intimate grasp of what goes on there.  That would be like saying that since most of us drive cars or own cars, we understand how one is made and what goes in to it; and we know that isn’t true.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that so many folks do not “get” education and teaching, but it does.  I suppose it does because I am optimistic, hopeful, and a little naïve.  I think most good teachers are or have to be.  We want so badly to believe the best about people and consequently, I think many of us still hold out hope that we are valued and appreciated, despite various movements and accusations in the nation that have shown us otherwise.

I remind myself, in times like this, that 10 years ago I was not any different than many legislators, community members, or even my friends that fail to understand education.  I was a mechanical designer working in industry, doing so successfully, and was ready to start my family.  I did not think of school or education and I certainly did not think about teachers or their professional development.  With that memory in mind, I should not be surprised that so many in our nation are standing idly by while teachers and education take a pounding from legislation and budgetary changes, but I am.  I am surprised and disappointed.

I am surprised that even though many voters and nearly every politician will publicly say, “Children are important,” or, “Education is a priority,” almost no one walks the walk after talking the talk.  You would think legislation or budgetary cuts that damage our teachers, schools, or our children’s education would cause communities and cities in to action in massive numbers, but that hasn’t happened.  And if it did, I am not certain our politicians would be listening.

I get the distinct impression that much of America and its politicians seem to think that education is somewhat broken and that educators, on any level, have no valuable input about the matter.  What could WE possibly know about education when we are “only teachers” ?

This could not be more evident than what is happening to the National Writing Project .

Let me explain.

If you were going to fund some kind of workshop or professional development on the latest in dentistry practices, wouldn’t you want dentists to be there doing the presenting?   If you were going to train surgeons about a new implant for heart surgery, wouldn’t you want a surgeon who has done the work guiding the other surgeons on how the procedure goes?  Of course you would.

Why then do legislators find it so hard to appreciate the National Writing Project’s theme of “Teachers teaching Teachers?”

Perhaps, before you invested your money in supporting such an investment you would want to see results –the ever precious data – showing that such a program was successful.  After all, before I support this hypothetical new heart surgery, tell me how many times you’ve performed the surgery and how many survived it?  Tell me about the recipients of such a surgery  and if they are they doing well now?  Those would seem like reasonable requests.  And yet, despite the data that shows the NWP’s success all across our country in the last 20 years, legislators have still cut the funding.

With some of the political movements in our country today, I shouldn’t be surprised by another kick in the proverbial education stomach –but I am.  I am shocked and saddened that the most significant professional development I have ever received is now unfunded and teachers everywhere will be missing out on all that the NWP has to offer.

In the summer of 2005, when I was a participant in the Upper Peninsula Writing Project’s Summer Institute, I was thrilled to work beside dedicated and enthusiastic teachers.  I learned more ways to incorporate reading and writing in to my high school Industrial Arts courses.  I shared my strategies and bonded with teachers about topics ranging from assessment to motivation.

Since then, I have maintained many of those relationships and forged new ones with fellow teachers through the National Writing Project.  It continues to be one of the highlights of my teaching career and, by far, the best professional development I have ever been a part of.

I am trying to remain active and informed in the various political movements that are moving across our nation today, but I will be honest when I say that I would rather be teaching.  I would rather focus on my classroom and my students’ projects.  I would rather be posting pictures to our class blog or making a digital story about the dune buggies my students have designed and built.

I keep hoping teachers everywhere will be heard when they speak out against political agendas that are potentially damaging to children or education.  I keep hoping that communities and politicians will value their teachers enough to listen.  I keep hoping, like good teachers do, that tomorrow will be a new day and that I will have made a difference.  I keep hoping others will hope with me and stand up for what they think is right in education.

As this spring winds down to the end of another school year, I hope I am pleasantly surprised.

Joe Routhier

UPWP TC

Gwinn High School

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2 Responses to Surprise Me

  1. Paula says:

    Love the picture of flowers in bloom and “hope” on the pot.

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