“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” J. Dewey
Before we leave for our road trip to Italy, I wanted to express my confidence in and compassion for our teachers and their profession. We have an educational crisis in our country! This essay will not solve any of those issues, but hopefully will bring love and happiness to our profession.
Do we need teachers?
Prior to retirement, I was an educator for over thirty years in four different countries. I’m shocked and dismayed with what has happened in our profession, especially with regards to teachers and support staff in our public schools. Such disheartening and nefarious decisions to underfunding schools, an ever-expanding standardized testing regimen, disrespect for teachers as professionals, anti–“critical race theory” and lack of healthcare for teachers and students during Covid have fueled teacher resignations across the country. According to a National Education Association report there is an estimate that US schools will be short almost 300,000 teachers and support staff in 2022-23. Given this serious predicament, the question is “Do we need teachers?” I once interviewed John Coe, who was West Yorkshire County’s Inspector of Schools, and then Primary School’s Senior Adviser in Oxfordshire. Subsequently, I interviewed John again for an article in the International Journal of Educational Reform (October 1,1996). The question was “Do we need teachers?” Although this segment did not make it into the article, I have always treasured John’s child-centered response to that question. Here is his answer to my question: John, Do we need teachers?
“Do we need teachers? Of course we do, especially those who work with children when they are young. Let me tell you a story about a teacher named Jane Handley, whom I met in 1974 when I was making my first visit to the schools in my part of the West Riding. Shiny new county council briefcase in hand I knocked on the door of the tiny school in Arthington. There was absolutely quiet and no one answered my knock. I knocked again, still no answer so I gently pushed the door open and stepped into the schoolroom. It was a wonderland, full of color, texture, design and interesting things which jostled with splendid children’s work. Incredibly though no one, not a child not a grown up was to be seen. Pencils and pens lay in mid sentence alongside notebooks, the paint was still wet on some paintings, calculations of the height of the church tower were half completed. It was like a superb educational Marie Celeste.* Exciting, demanding primary education,* in full flow, sailing on but neither Jane Handley nor her class was to be seen. I called out,” Anyone here?” But there was no reply. Then I noticed the words written on the blackboard “Gone to *Ilkley on the coach – closed tomorrow.”
I knew then that here was a teacher who seized the moment who drew learning and enjoyment out of the reality of children’s lives and who did so by seeing the world as children see it – fresh, intriguing, mysterious and magical. Who did so with great attention to detail and commitment to the response which came from each individual child. Jane did not tell me this. The wonderland of the school room and the evidence of the children’s powers was a message enough: The best way to learn is to live. Jane made life better for children and so made the future better for them.
Of course we need teachers and many more like Jane who was one of the pioneers who helped to establish the finest tradition of our primary schools in England.” John Coe
So how do I answer the question, Do we need teachers? I have to stay positive that our educational system must allow teachers to be their creative selves, and to encourage and promote child-centered education to return, forever.
*Mary Celeste, was a 1872 nautical mystery about what happened to the Captain and seven crew members that sailed from New York City to the Azores, and later found 800 miles from Gibraltar).
*English primary schools are organized from ages 5-11.
*Ilkley is characterized by Victorian architecture, a Roman fort and one of five famed Bettys – Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate – tearooms.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust