As I wrote on Monday, I was thrilled beyond measure to learn that Nancie Atwell had won the first ever Global Teacher Prize. How fitting, it seemed to me. Nancie has stood for all the “stuff” those of us who teach treasure: authentic reading and writing experiences for our kids, exposure to rich literature and the tools with which to appreciate and analyze its craft, the intentional and painstaking creation of a classroom that radiates a seriousness of purpose leavened with the joy of a learning community. That’s the model I gleaned from my first read of In the Middle, and that’s the model I have always sought to re-create in my own sixth grade classroom.
I have loved reading all the interviews and articles about Nancie since Sunday’s announcement, and I have listened to her lovely acceptance speech many times over, because she says so many important things about teaching that we rarely hear in the news anymore – that we transform lives, that we thrive on and nurture creativity, that our classrooms are places where wisdom and happiness are nurtured in equal measure.
But then, there was Nancie on CNN, advising young teachers to stay away from public school. If you are a creative, smart, young person, Nancie advised, teach in a private school, for public school teachers have been turned into technicians, held accountable to tests and the Common Core, .
I wish she hadn’t said that…
I am a public school teacher. Yes, I am accountable to the Common Core, and yes, I had to prepare my children for the PARCC. But I am no technician. And I hope that smart and creative young teachers really do think about teaching in public schools – we need them. I am thinking of my mentee Rachel, a smart and creative young woman who began in public schools (mine!) and continues in a public school Denver, serving a diverse community of students and a long list of daunting, unfunded mandates. I am thinking of Jessica, my student teacher last Fall, another smart and creative young teacher in the making. Neither of them think of themselves as technicians, and although they know the parameters within which they must work – parameters which often make teaching a frustrating and thankless job – they see themselves as teachers.
Now, more than ever, we need to draw the smart and creative and strong young people into the teaching profession – especially in our public schools, which are under relentless assault. We need dreamers like Rachel and Jessica, who choose to be in public schools even though they are tough places in which to try and make teaching dreams come true. We need young people to stand with us, in public school classrooms everywhere, to say that these children, too, are deserving of curriculums rich in authentic reading and writing experiences, just like the students in Nancie’s school.