Why do American schools all too often fail to provide students with a quality education, the kind that broadens their minds, makes them think analytically, and be enthusiastic about learning, and which prepares them for the demands of the job market? Whose fault is it that this sad state of affairs has come about–is it that of our teachers, the society we live in, that of the parents of our nation’s students, the media’s, a sense of apathy among today’s youth, or some combination of these potential factors? Also, how do teachers deal with the pressures inherent in their jobs, and still find within themselves the strength to come to work day after day, intent on trying to make a difference for the better in the lives of their students? These are some of the questions raised and topics explored in author Hank Warren’s stimulating and thought-provoking book, It Simply Must Be Said.
There’s definitely more to teaching than teaching. That may sound strange to anyone who has never been a teacher, but I was one, like Hank Warren. The author’s wife is still a high school teacher, also. For instance, in the chapter with the very apt title “Learning to Swim by Drowning,” the author mentions one of the most important factors one needs to succeed as a teacher in an anecdote he relates about a discussion his wife had with a new teacher “who had completed a brief alternative certification program,”– that is, the ability to motivate the students to participate in the learning process. The new teacher complains: “These kids are completely unmotivated! They don’t want to do a thing!”
What is a teacher to do in a situation like this? Warren’s wife points out “that this is our job as teachers; the daily challenge to get students motivated to want to do something, anything, that will vaguely resemble active participation in the educational process.” What was the fate of the new teacher? The author writes that: “By the middle of the next week, he was gone.”
One of the many other points Hank Warren eloquently makes is that of the general public’s misconception of the difficulty of being a teacher. Actors might be asked what profession they might have landed in if they hadn’t become actors, and some say that of teaching. It would be a tremendous reduction in salary, for certain, and the hours a teacher works aren’t just those hours that school is in session, contrary to the views of people who believe teachers have it easy. There’s the long hours after school spent grading papers, making up quizzes and tests, rereading and reviewing the material you’re going to teach the kids the next day, writing up lesson plans, keeping your grade book current, and sometimes being on the phone talking to parents. There are in-service hours you have to log, refresher teacher training classes like PET (Program for Effective Teaching), seminars, and some principals require or strongly advise teachers to show up at school events, like football and basketball games.
Before I possibly give anyone the wrong impression, I want to make it clear that the author has much more to say in his book than I can mention in a review, and I plan on doing an interview with him in which I can get a little more in-depth with some of the topics he writes about and is passionate about. He has ideas for solutions, or ways to at least improve certain aspects of America’s educational system, so the book is not just about complaining about how the system sucks, but tells how to make it better.