As a kid in school back in the forties I would have laughed at anyone suggesting I would ever be a teacher, let alone love school. The loving part was due to a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Martha Radachy, who recognized that I loved to read. I had started well before Kindergarten and needed books above the level the school library insisted I had to read. Mrs. Radachy made it a point to get me books on my reading level. She also cast me in my first play.
The desire to teach part was due to Prof. Wilbur Weaver taught World History and Bible Literature when in Secondary School. He had a way of weaving historical stories around the facts and making us feel like we were watching a film rather than being in a classroom. I admit it is a style I copied during my own teaching career. Prof. Weaver emphasized research and not to take everything heard or read as truth until examined.
Later teachers in college and graduate school also encouraged me, however those two were the ones who had the greatest influence. When I began teaching it was not just me that entered the classroom, it was Mrs. Radachy and Prof. Weaver who were part and parcel with me.
For forty years I dedicated myself to teaching with part of that time as a social studies department chairman in a high school. I was also a loyalist to the National Education Association and had leadership positions on both a local and a state level. If you wanted a battle royal with me in those days all you had to do was come out in support of home schooling and vouchers. What, and destroy the institution of public education that made ours a great nation? A lot has changed in 61 years, an unbelievable number of things have changed…
My early experiences will seem old fashioned to many today. Certain traditions that made our profession almost above reproach would be laughed at. I knew what I was getting into in advance and even though I was told I would barely make enough money, even take a second job as many teachers did, my goal was not wealth. In those bygone days in the fifties and sixties I just wanted to make a difference. To help expand young minds to develop a love for learning and to think for themselves. Not to be the little robots that too many schools are encouraging today.
We were expected to dress the part. Men were to have a shirt and tie on at all times as well as a jacket. Never mind that air conditioned schools were yet to come. Women were to wear skirts, stockings and heels. Sexism was not the issue. It was recognition of two different sexes and to mark us apart from our students. I was embarrassed once when I had my jacket off and was in the middle of the classroom helping a student when some one came by the classroom, looked around and asked, “Where’s the teacher?” It drew from the kids a great laugh.
There were elements there that we would call intangible today. My future wife taught in primary grades and it was the custom in elementary school for parents to have teachers to dinner in their home such was the respect they had for her position. Sometimes as my wife’s fiancee I was expected to join her which I was delighted to do.
Another element was a welcome surprise I found waiting for me in my desk my first day of reporting for work: a Bible. The Gideons would see that every classroom had a Bible. Considering that our first American schools recognized the sovereignty of God, the Bible was considered important to be taught along with other subjects, Some may be surprised to learn the when Thomas Jefferson was president he was in charge of schools in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson saw to it that every classroom had a Bible for study and inspiration. Each school day in my early years we started things off with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. Today a teacher can be fired for that. Even then there were allowances for those whose religious beliefs were infringed upon by having to recite the pledge or pray. Though I had students of different faiths, including Jewish, their parents had no objection. One week one of my Jewish students volunteered to lead devotions and even brought a ram’s horn to call us to order. You can imagine the sound of that going up and down the school halls. It was a great cultural experience.
There seemed to be a belief in American households that teachers with religious beliefs would be trustworthy in the handling of their children. We were expected to have values and woe to the teacher who might be caught out drinking in a bar. So strict it was that when first hired to teach I was asked if I belonged to a church. Not a requirement, but cautionary none the less.
Now this is not to paint a picture that in my early years of teaching things were ideal. School systems differ and even the city environment I taught in could not be compared to New York or Chicago. However, as one involved in education associations I met teachers from across the nation and I found that there was one thing central no matter where the teacher was working. A feeling of respect for the position.
Yes, there were rules that today would seem antiquated and were. For example, my young wife during her third year of teaching became pregnant. In our school system there was concern that the image of a teacher with a baby in her belly might upset the young students. So she was released from her position or better stated, fired. However after the birth of our first child the school system tried to hire her back. She declined as she decided to be a stay at home mom and she did not return until after our two children were in school. Yes, teacher image was everything.
So what has changed? What happened? I believe you can chalk it up as starting in the mid-sixties with the beginning of ideas of freedom that did not exist at the founding of our nation. Yes, it is proper and good citizenship to question what we consider not right in society such as a need to extend voting rights and to end racial and sexual inequality. However, to question all things moral and Christian is another matter.
When a young educator with leadership roles in teacher associations I took pride that we were not unionized, did not work for liberal or any candidate in elections and did not believe in strikes. Today the National Education Association is pretty much a union. Protecting teacher rights is still key, however like other big unions the education associations will too often look after their individual interests rather than the individual teacher. The role of the teacher is very different today in that there is a political context to everything they do. Tenure may prevent a teacher from being fired, but political expediency may see them moved to whatever position and location the system sees fit.
Every day we are seeing in the news stories about teachers in public schools and colleges moved or fired because political correctness has now taken the place of good taste. At one time the only concern a teacher had with bullying was to be on guard that it did not happen in the classroom, Thanks to social media bullying today seems a bigger problem than ever and not just students bullying other students.
Teachers now find they are often bullied, bullied by administrators seeking self gain, by parents who believe that students should be accorded equality with no failures as well as politicians and the mainstream media that seek to have socialism accepted as the norm by every child. The idea is to create a nation of mindless robots where political correctness is dictated by the few to control the many.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my teaching days and I miss them. But if a young teacher again I would opt for teaching in a private or Christian school. I also know as a former published curriculum author there are programs on the internet that make it possible for parents to give a great education to their children they would not get in too many public schools. And why not? Your kids are your kids, they do not belong to Hillary Clinton’s village or big government.
Now I am not saying that every school or school system is falling into line with the national trend described. However it is spreading and parents have a responisbility to be involved no matter what grade levels their children may be in. I have to wonder if Mrs. Radachy or Prof. Weaver could keep a job today.