Dear Future Teacher

Learn to ask the right questions
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Dear Future Teacher,

The simplest advice would be to change your major or drop out and learn a trade. We need plumbers. You’ll make a lot of money and accrue little debt. You’ll thank me when your third child needs braces.

So you have ignored my first piece of advice. It’s understandable. You admire the profession. You want to have a positive impact on the lives of children. Let’s stop right there and unpack this.

Who are teachers to shape the future? Who is anyone to shape the minds and beliefs of the future? What kind of person desires this power and what kind of society allows it?

Our modern society allows it. 

As for the person, I was one of them. I cannot completely speak for everyone else, but I can say at the very least, this attitude is dangerous. I, like you, entered a teachers college wanting to shape the future. And I, like you, knew nothing about life, forget about my lack of content knowledge or pedagogy. How preposterous is that? Shouldn’t we know a thing or two and experience life before deciding we are going to shape the future?

You don’t realize the power that you will have. Most teachers do not recognize the power that they wield because the public generally dismisses teachers as second-class citizens in the economy. Regardless of whether teachers understand their power, they use it to shape the future. This is dangerous.

The teachers and admins sitting around long desks in rooms with homemade inspirational posters that feature banal expressions — why did we let them buy a laminator — are making big decisions with little information. Their intentions are good, but they give little thought to trade offs or unintended consequences. As always, it’s full-bore “save the world.”

Your first inclination is that you will fix this. No. No you won’t. There are too many of them. They are already there and several hundred thousand enter classrooms each year. They want to save the world. Do you think they are going to follow your plan?

This is your job, future teacher. Say no. Slow the machine down. Ask questions. Interrupt every meeting. Delay every decision. Challenge our saviors by demanding that they consider the trade offs and unintended consequences. Be a heretic. Be a pain. Be the teacher that they hope does not show up for the committee meeting.

Use your power to ask, “but how do we know?” Don’t wait until graduation. Start doing it now in your college courses. When a teacher that escaped the classroom to the ivory tower of the teachers college tries to teach you about multiple intelligences, ask for the data. Ask for the science. Where are the peer reviews? Here’s a secret — there aren’t any.

This might sound scary. As a teacher candidate, you’re likely not the type to challenge authority. You’re likely not the type to stand up against the masses. It is scary, but the truth is on your side and you’re just asking questions. You’re just asking questions. Repeat that. When they push back. Tell them: “You’re just asking questions.”

Pearce Dietrich
Pearce Dietrich is a former Title I School Teacher/Administrator. His online social studies curriculum and other content can be found at his blog theconstrainedvision.com