A quick glace at social media will no doubt be met with numerous posts about "Back to School." It's that time of the year where one's Facebook timeline is filled with memes and gifs of teachers and students crying, mourning the loss of their "freedom." For those of us who work in education, summer break is officially over. Tomorrow, I officially begin my eighth year teaching high school social studies. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate having summers off. I love Spring Break, Christmas break, and there is no greater feeling in the world than waking up to find that we have an unexpected snow day. However, I'd venture to guess that most teachers approach the end of the summer with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and optimism. If we're honest, as much as we enjoy summer break, most educators are ready to get back to doing what we love.
We live in a culture that isn't always kind to teachers. Far too many people who haven't stepped inside a classroom since their own high school days, feel they know how to solve all the problems facing our education system. There is an old saying that "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." This is of course nonsense, but it is reflective of the negative view far too many people in our society have of educators. This why I've always said "Those who can teach, teach. Those who can't, write legislation for teachers." Despite the many challenges, thousands of teachers, far better than me, continue the valuable work of educating our kids.
As negative as culture can be toward teachers, it is even harsher toward our students. It is rather disheartening to hear public officials and know-it-alls around dinner tables talk so poorly about the next generation of Americans. They're lazy, they can't put down their phones, they don't understand hard work, and a thousand other insults are hurled daily at our nation's kids. The truth is that every generation has lobbied similar accusations at the younger generation. But with 24-hour news and social media that gives everyone a platform, perhaps it's just more prominent today. These complaints aren't completely without warrant, however. Drugs, promiscuity, bullying, failing grades, violence, mental health issues, and apathy are far too common within our schools. But such negative headlines don't tell the whole story.
One of the reasons so many educators look forward to each new school year, is that we get to see the many positive qualities of our kids that don't make the news. In my short time teaching, I am always encouraged by students. Amidst the frustration of working with teenagers, one can find real hope for our future. Each and every year I've been impressed by my students. While it's easy to find knuckleheads in any group of people, with today's kids, they are the exception, not the rule. The students I teach are overwhelmingly generous. They are more tolerant and accepting of diversity than I was at their age. They are inquisitive and tech savvy, looking for new ways of accomplishing tasks. They are relational and, despite keeping their head in a phone, seek out genuine friendships.
Because I teach high school, it isn't a long before my former students are full fledged adults. Now that many of them are graduating from college, it is obvious that they are ready to make an impact on the world. I know young people who are in law school, med school, and seminary. I know of former students that are traveling the world as missionaries and educators. Some of the students I had the honor of teaching are serving in the armed forces, even graduating from our service academies. There are even those engaging in politics, a place where a positive influence is desperately needed. To make a long story short, the young people of today that so many want to critique, are already making a positive impact on the world at a young age.
But Trent, you teach upper middle class students at a private Christian school. You're students aren't typical of today's youth! You're right, I do teach at a private school (my paycheck will prove that) and the issues I deal with on a day to day basis can't compare to those faced by my colleagues in much of the public sector. I'm in awe of the sacrifices made by teachers in those areas that have the greatest need. But even though teachers around the country deal with students from very different backgrounds with unique needs, I believe that one thing remains the same: kids are kids. There may be differences of race, religion, socioeconomic status, and culture, but kids are kids. Each one with unique potential, gifts, and promise. It is that potential that all educators, regardless of where we teach, see in our students that allow us to understand that we have much to be optimistic about. The future is indeed bright, despite what you may have heard. Soon, I'll be counting the days until Christmas break. But for right now, I'm excited to get back to work.
Derek Trent Ashcraft
A place to discuss, among other things, politics, culture, food, faith, and nonsense.