First Lady Abigail Adams wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor, and attended to with diligence.” As a full-time college student pursuing my master’s degree in education for the last eight years, I think it’s safe to say that I have been attending with diligence, although my ardor has waned a bit in the last year. I, like many others in education, have become discouraged.
And I’m not even talking about the student debt crisis (because that’s a different article entirely) but rather the harsh realization that no matter how many years I put in, no matter how much education I have attained, I am still not considered an “expert” in my field.
Let’s be clear. Every good educator knows that they have never stopped learning, that there is always more knowledge to be found and ways to improve our craft. When I say “expert,” I don’t mean that I know it all. It’s become increasingly clear that we, as educators, gladly go through years of training (both through classes and required experience), take the steps to re-certify every few years, and follow the precise steps to be licensed and endorsed. We work our hardest to become the best at what we do — and God knows we didn’t jump into education for the competitive salary.
And no — we don’t get “summers off.” There are conferences we must attend to get re-certified, lessons to plan for the next year, and various other educational activities that we are required, or asked, to do. Our reason for going into education is for education — to help students learn and grow and do much of our own learning and growing in the process.
Despite all of this, regardless of how many years we spent in school to get to where we are, educators — teachers, counselors, and administration alike — are still forced to follow somebody else’s rules. We are still told how to teach, what to teach, and when to teach it. As counselors, we are not allowed to provide resources to teens struggling with gender or sexual identity or allowed to offer up the name of a place to get protection when a teen admits sexual activity. No, instead we are to silently point to the state’s “abstinence only” policy and risk our jobs by saying anything else.
I do not argue with the fact that there must be some sort of regulations in education. Any field without laws and parameters would result in all-out chaos and would render educators completely useless in that instance as well. But why is it that despite my experience, despite my daily interaction with students who have specific and varying needs, I am told, “No. You will do it this way”? Or, “No. Such subjects are off-limits. It doesn’t matter that they face them every day outside of these school walls.”
The most discouraging thing about these rules are that they are not made by the people actually in the schools. They are made by legislation that never sees what I do every day. They are often made by people who have never received a degree in education — but who are still considered my “experts.”
Some medical professionals have attended just as much school as I have. They have put in the time with patients and research and are trusted when they say, “No. This is what my patient needs.” Daily, they save the lives of loved ones — both yours and mine.
Here’s the thing: Educators are saving the lives of those you love as well. They work constantly to help students, the future of our world, become the best that they can be and to guide them out of the confusion and self-loathing we see all too often today. We need those at the “top,” the proverbial rulers of all things education, to look up, not down. We cannot continue to hear, “This is what all students need.”
Rather, we need to hear, “Tell me. What does your student need?”