Teachers: It’s Time to Be True to Yourself and Your Kids

Being true is doing what you — the teacher — know is best for your kids.

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I just received a note from a friend telling me that teachers in her district are being told “not to teach anything new” during this unexpected break, and that, as a result, many teachers were rebelling and doing whatever they thought was best for their kids.

I’m hoping this turns into a movement!

Teachers are so used to being told exactly what to do that they sometimes forget that their real task is to help their kids in the best way they know how. I have personally heard from many teachers who became very successful in terms of popularity with students and parents—if not always administrators and colleagues—as a result of being true to themselves. The reason is its definition:

Being True is Doing what you—the teacher—know is best for your kids.

So many of today’s teachers are frustrated that they cannot do this and, in fact, are told, in strict terms, not to.  In my speaking around the country and world I have heard innumerable times from teachers who were afraid they’d be fired if they did what they knew was right for their kids.  What a horrible state of affairs! 

What characterizes almost all teachers is their dedication to helping their students. Yet our system forces them—for arcane reasons that many “education professionals” will be happy to explain to you— into molds of someone’s collective idea of what kids need and what good teaching should be. These generally include: “Covering the curriculum,” “Teaching what’s in the textbook,” and in some cases, “Following this exact script”—all designed to prevent teachers from going off the prescribed track. I remember a friend telling me, when he switched careers from business to math teaching and landed a job in a top district, that he was told on day one, in no uncertain terms, that his job was “to go through the curriculum in the textbook.”

Is that all our kids need?  Is it all we want from our teachers?  Maybe in places where the teachers are not smart, independent people.  But where many of us live—and in the world into which we are all heading—it is just wrong and demoralizing to everyone.  It is why so many of our kids dislike school—despite their teachers having the best intentions to help them. While there are many prescriptions for fixing education, its problems DO NOT stem from lack of dedication by our teachers. They do stem, in great part from our forcing those dedicated and often very intuitive teachers to go against their better judgement and do the wrong thing every day. Our teachers work in a system that has become fossilized and self-perpetuating in its faults. We no longer live or work in a world where the right answers come from above.

If asked to think of the teachers who made a real difference in our lives, few of us would answer “all of them.” We are often lucky to remember one or two. I want EVERY kid to be happy with, and inspired by, ALL of his or her teachers. I don’t think we have to tell our teachers exactly what to do—within a general framework they can either figure it out or get guidance from students and colleagues. What we do have to do is liberate them. The curricula they teach are so overstuffed with useless information that kids missing even large chunks of it will not suffer, as we will soon learn from this crisis—unless the system decides to be mean and test them on it.  

It is time for our teachers to rebel against all of this and do what they know is best for their kids. It is time that every teacher makes sure every student understands that you are not just a good follower of the system, but someone who cares, individually, about each of them. I know you all can do it.  Perhaps this extended stay out of the school building will be the opportunity that our teachers have all been waiting for.  

So to all teachers I say:  Have courage! Be true to yourself! Do what you know is right for your kids!  Don’t be afraid to do so—you are not alone.  

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