A job well done

I am a teacher. Whether I mean to or not, I shape the minds of many young people every year. I do the best I can, but it is a frustrating, thankless job some days.

I am frequently asked by people who don’t teach—most who don’t really know kids—what I think of the next generation. This is a heavy subject for me, as I probably take my job way too seriously. I teach Biology, which is required by the state of Texas, but I know that the 9th graders I teach learn things from me other than genetics and photosynthesis. Because I am a leader in their lives, everything I do shapes the way they will continue their lives, and I have to think about what I am teaching them everyday.

Students learn from example and experience. They are bombarded daily by television, video games, and Internet sites that teaches them how to behave, and frankly, it’s disheartening. Mass media seems to hold little respect for anything, and students take their cues from the media. If they are fortunate enough to have parents with strong values, kids learn good habits and understand respect on a basic level. On too many occasions I have been in a parent conference, and the parent has said, “I just don’t know what else to do!” Whenever I hear this, I reflect upon what life was like when I was growing up. My parents were loving, caring parents, who wanted me to grow up to be happy and successful. They were hard on me, and they never let me give up. They held high standards for me and would not accept less than my best, no matter how unwilling I was to give. I have never been sure what their idea of success was, but I know that I have found happiness from time to time. My parents taught me that it takes work to be happy—it takes conscious effort.

It seems to me that this truth—that success in not automatic—is lost on the kids of today. Some have been taught that work leads to achievement, but too many seem to think that everything should come easily, and if it doesn’t, it’s not worth the time or effort. The expectation of success without effort also encourages a lack of respect for those who are willing to work hard. These children don’t see the damage they do, and they will not until they are paying for their lack of respect in some way. When they must repeat a class, when they must spend a day or days in in-school suspension, or heaven forbid, when they must spend time in a special program for credit recovery, perhaps they may learn what self respect can do, but even then they will think it was someone else’s fault.  Maybe they’ll blame it on me, their friends, or perhaps even their parents, but certainly not themselves. They will be blaming us for making it too hard. I think we fail them by making things too easy. When we don’t demand respect for each other and when we don’t demand their self respect, we fail them. We teach them that success should come easy, but it doesn’t. This failure to demand respect places the next generation in a sad state.

I am not really a doomsayer, believe it or not. As many times as I’ve seen kids turn things around within a matter of weeks, I cannot believe that all is lost. I do, however, feel that this generation suffers from a crisis of sorts, a crisis of parenting, a crisis of leadership. When we give every kid a ribbon or a trophy, we undermine the winners—the true achievers. Those who might pick themselves up and learn from failure—might develop into tomorrows achiever—never receive that critical motivation to improve.

As a society, we need to take a hard look at how we are raising kids. Our leaders need to rethink the belief that children must be coddled to protect their self-esteem, and we need to reward true achievers. Until education consistently rewards real work and real quality, the youth will have no way to know the true value of a job well done.

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1 Response

  1. Emmett Kirwan says:

    Well said. Having a teacher for a partner has opened my eyes to a lot. I think you and I also had a different experience from others because at least one of our parent’s was an educator as well.