photo of teacher Lucille Ellis, 1972
survey by Damon Locks
With the education system a heated topic of discussion in this country, I wanted to talk to those that are on the front lines of the battle to educate, to find out how they feel about their jobs. With all of the hardships that face an educator today…do the pros outweigh the cons? Here is a healthy sampling of teachers’ thoughts about; teaching, learning, growth, inspiration, compensation, their investment in the process and the system that surrounds it.
Carlos Patino, age 39
What subject/s do you teach? 5th grade everything- Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies
Where do you teach? in Bucktown at a CPS elementary school (Burr)
What age group do you teach? 10-11 year olds
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure success as helping my students attain the Illinois learning standards. That said, I also measure success knowing that I have improved my students’ achievement and been a positive role model in their lives.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? A work day that is too short, excessive and unrealistic demands, non supportive administration
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I will be a principal or assistant principal. If that does not occur then I will still be teaching in classroom
Diyan, age 38.75
What subject/s do you teach? Printmaking (all kinds, all levels), Multiples in Contemporary Practice, Drawing
Where do you teach? Emily Carr University, Vancouver BC
What age group do you teach? 17+
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? This is a hard one, because the results are sometimes only visible years later. But there are a number of things that I look at in measuring how I’m doing. One, is designing curriculum that’s interesting, challenging, and hopefully relevant, that the students respond to and engage with. Two, is seeing students’ work develop and refine over the course of working with them. Three, would be seeing students open up and further develop their critical thinking, questioning their own as well as my assumptions.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? I would say funding for students, the cost of education and living for students in a city as expensive as Vancouver especially. So many of my students work many hours as well as go to school to fund their education, they don’t have the luxury of time or money to really mull over and experiment and play and discover — there’s anxiety about grades and having solid job-applicable skills.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? Yes. I taught my first class 14 years ago. I’m still teaching now. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if I wasn’t teaching in some way, shape or form. It’s a lot of work, often very exhausting, but so rewarding. The interactions, the people I meet and learn from, the conversations around art and ideas and making things…I wouldn’t trade that.
Sarah Lasken, age 32
What subject/s do you teach? Humanities
Where do you teach? YWLCS (Young Women’s Leadership Charter School)
What age group do you teach? 10th grade
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Student engagement, and student’s ability to synthesize a difficult topic.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The current obsession with testing is problematic. Not because tests can not be a helpful indicator of student success, but because their test scores are often treated like the only important measure of success. We do a lot more then prep students to circle a, b, c, or d.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I hope so. But, teaching jobs are fast disappearing. I worry that in a few years I may not be able to find a position anymore.
Gwen Fagan, age 45
What subject/s do you teach? Life Studies, Materials and Processes, Fiber Manipulation, Visual Studies, Critical Studies, Drawing and Painting, Combined Materials.
Where do you teach? I teach at Ballyfermot College in Dublin, Ireland.
What age group do you teach? Students are typically 18 – 23 yrs of age, with a few mature students thrown in for good measure.
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? One thing that has stuck with me since I studied with Steve Waldek at SAIC, was when he said to me, “Part of what I do is to help you learn how to teach yourself.” If I could impart that ability to my own students, I would consider myself successful as an educator.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? I think the main impediment to my work as an educator is the red tape which has a tendency to slow processes.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I do think I will be teaching in ten years, yes. I love it.
Danielle Beverly, age 40+
What subject/s do you teach? I teach Intermediate 16mm Film Production, Advanced 16mm Film Production, Screenwriting and Women & Documentary.
Where do you teach? The University of Notre Dame
What age group do you teach? My students average age 20-21, but there will be a few Sophomores next semester.
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure success by engaging students to think in ways they might not have before. I want to blow their minds with films, with ideas, and with the sudden realization of their own creative and cognitive abilities. I see teaching as a way to help them think about the world, and about others who may be unlike them in many ways, but ultimately human just like them. If I can do that, there has been success. The rest is up to them.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? I’m very lucky to have a great deal of professional and personal support at Notre Dame, and very small classes. So there are very few factors (yet, I’ve just started) that impede my work. I wish students would speak up more however, and am sick of the sound of my own voice.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I’m not sure if I will be teaching in 10 years. I’m “trying it on” again after a long period as a freelance documentary filmmaker – one that took me all over the country and provided lots of freedom and excitement, while I lived paycheck to paycheck. Part of me bristles at having any sort of routine or commitment! But the other part that I’m currently embracing is that teaching offers so many resources: to equipment, grants, colleagues, books, and even things like printers and computers! It is also forcing me to re-engage with my craft and the scholarship informing my craft so that I can serve my students. So in that way, it’s making my mind sharp and curious again. I’m thinking that if academia will have me, then I will have it
Anonymous, age 33
What subject/s do you teach? Asian American Studies, film, and anthropology
What age group do you teach? I teach college undergrads and occasionally graduate students.
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure success by how engaged the students are and by how well they understand the material.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? A major factor for impeding my work is not having enough time to prepare. This is because I’m currently a graduate student. I’m hoping conditions improve when I’m done with schooling.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I will be teaching in ten years, i hope.
Mara, age 43
What subject/s do you teach? History (U.S., world, women’s) and an interdisciplinary course called Politics and Film.
Where do you teach? University at Albany and JHU Center for Talented Youth (Princeton site)
What age group do you teach? College and high-school
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Most of my students take my classes because they are required, so if I can convince a few of them each semester that studying history is not the worst thing that ever happened to them, I feel I’ve done well. (Having a student tell me they’ve decided to become a history major after taking my class is the ultimate.) Judging the success of a particular course is very subjective and changeable since it depends as much on the particular group of students as it does on anything I bring to the classroom.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Number 1 is the extremely low pay. The ugly truth is that this affects the amount of work I am willing to do. The second factor is very poorly prepared students. I have college students who have trouble with reading comprehension, grasping basic concepts, and writing. This makes it very challenging to teach history and critical thinking.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? Yes, I hope so. Despite the obstacles, I love teaching. It is fun, challenging, and intellectually stimulating as few things are.
Leslie Lockett, age 29
What subject/s do you teach? I teach Special Ed Literature, Composition, and Civics. I co-teach the Lit/Comp classes with general ed. teachers (not certified in special ed.)
Where do you teach? I teach at Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy (A Noble Street Charter School.)
What age group do you teach? I teach 9th grade.
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? It’s really hard to answer this question. I measure success by how I feel at the end of the day. If I feel I had positive interactions all day and that at least one student learned something new, I usually feel good. I also like when they use correct subject verb agreement. That always feels good.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The amount of paperwork that I have to do sometimes impedes my work as an educator. When I worked for CPS, I didn’t feel like I was really a teacher at all.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I most definitely hope to be teaching in 10 years.
Stephen Haynes, age 55
What subject/s do you teach? I work one on one with autistic children
Where do you teach? local high school
What age group do you teach? 16-18
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Daily, in small bites. As a child of the sixties, I believe change is affected on a small scale in an intimate fashion.
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Level of pay. Non-recognition of my life experience. I am “under-employed”
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I have always taught in one manner or another, formally and/or informally. You cannot truly learn and NOT be charged with transmitting knowledge. This is the bodhisattva factor. you dig?! My work continues to keep me in intimate contact with humility… really. Life continues to be an unfolding mystery.
Allison Vivian Fine, age 61
What subject/s do you teach? English, Creative Writing, Literature, College Writing, Communications, Theatre Arts, Dramaturge, Acting, Directing (not all at once and not all at Westwood College–I am currently only teaching Literature and Writing there)
Where do you teach? Westwood College
What age group do you teach? adults 20-40 and beyond
How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Impossible to tell at this time. If, at the end of the term, my students have a more positive attitude toward reading and writing and can write a coherent paragraph!
What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The school I work for, the admissions policy, the administration, the educational background of the students who attend (appalling) and the corporate policy of the loathesome for-profit college paradigm.
Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I sure F(**&&* hope not! I am a full fledged artist–writer, actor, director and musician. If I am not dead in 10 years I want to be working full time at my craft(s) achieving some audience and success and earning a living at it!
see more responses to the survey in Tomorrow Starts Today part 2