How Long Does It Take To Be a Teacher?

I’ve always loved to write. I wrote my first novel when I was 8. It was about the adventures of Sandy Satinsky and Nancy Levin and how they solved mysteries in Yeadon, Pa, their hometown. Nancy Drew was my model and I tried to be a writer like Carolyn Keene (wink wink: not her real name). I wrote the chapters in a little spiral-bound notebook, taking immense pride in the work. I wrote my first-and only-book for Scholastic Professional Books. It took over a year and required a dedicated editor who found the gold in my tsunami of words.

Between those two experiences I joined a writing group while I was a classroom teacher. The idea was that we would meet each month, share our work, and eventually publish our writing. We’d get credit for the course. We worked hard, learned to be kind but critical and saw our skills improve. The secretary who put the booklet together told me she cried when she read the essay about my daughter. We were pumped. So we asked the head of our Teacher Center to continue.

“You had one semester of writing. That’s enough.”

That’s enough? People, do you understand the hidden message? What she could have said was, “You had one semester of violin. That’s enough. You should be able to teach now.”

How long does it take to be a teacher?

You know what I’m getting at, right? Malcolm Gladwell said:

“The 10,000 Hour Rule is a definite key in success.”                               -Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Suppose you don’t have 10,000 hours? Could you be a successful teacher in 5 weeks? Teach for America thinks so. One week introduction, 5 weeks of summer training and, Bingo, you’re on your own.

When I worked with a group of teachers who were about to become mentors to new hires in their district I took an informal survey The questions was: When did you believe you were a ‘real’ teacher? When did you wake up the day before school began without butterflies in your stomach? The consensus in that room was about six to eight years.

I tell you all of this because our profession is undergoing a massive overhaul. We’re being told to revamp our thinking in order to conform to a set of new standards and the standardized testing that go along with them. And to make it snappy. And we’d better be up and running on Day One. With little or no professional development. With an increase in the number of students in our classroom. With students who have a multiple learning difficulties. With students who are hungry, who are tired, who are weary. Or with students who are overworked and fearful that the competitive nature and the cost of higher education will leave them behind.

The unintended consequences of this will surely permanently dent public education. To the well-meaning who have forgotten Testing and Measurement 101: There is little research to show us the relationship between standardized testing and success in life. To the ill-informed: The difference between the test scores of students in charter schools and those in public schools show public schools outperform charters. To the privateers, the voucher advocates, the venture philanthropists: Yours will be ill-gotten gains. The roar is getting louder from those of us who are tired of being disgraced without justification. The Movement for democratic schooling is getting louder. We are Going Public with our resistance. We are writing, and marching, and picketing and letting you hear our collective voices growing louder. We will no longer turn the other cheek.

We thought our job was to teach children. We now know it is to teach the public as well.

About Nancy Letts

Nancy Letts consults with school districts, professional organizations and public sector agencies.Her teaching appointments have included public schools in Pennsylvania and New York, and at Pace University and the City University of New York. She and her work have been the subject of articles in the New York Times, Teaching K-8 Magazine, Thinking: the Journal of Philosophy for Children, and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” She has been a contributor to the Teachers College Record, The Quarterly at UC Berkeley, and Teaching magazine. Audio tapes include”Building Learning Organizations,” and “Getting Started With Portfolios,” from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her book "Creating the Caring Classroom" is published by Scholastic Professional Books.

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  • http://twitter.com/allanalach Allan Alach

    Good one, Nancy. Have added it to my weekly educational readings list that I distribute.

    • Nancy

      Thanks, Allan. Your work takes my breath away. I read you every day.

  • Abk816

    Thank you for being the courageous voice and inspiration for all of us. I will add my voice to yours whenever possible!

    • Nancy

      Thanks for the support. We’re all kindred spirits after all.

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